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Goodluck Jonathan: Nigeria's Last President? By Chido Onumah

September 26, 2011

President Goodluck Jonathan did not disappoint during his recent appearance at the 66th United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. At least, he said what he thought the international community expected him to say.

President Goodluck Jonathan did not disappoint during his recent appearance at the 66th United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. At least, he said what he thought the international community expected him to say.

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The focus of his speech was global terror. “We must win the war against terrorism because it infringes on the fundamental rights of all peoples to life and to live in safety from fear,” the president said. “For us in Nigeria, terrorist acts, rather than intimidate, will only help to strengthen our resolve to develop appropriate national strategies and collaborate even more closely with the international community in the fight against this menace”.

Regrettably, there is little to indicate that the Jonathan administration has plans to develop an “appropriate national strategy” to deal with terrorism in Nigeria. But while Nigerians are used to the rhetoric of the present government, I am sure his audience at the UN expected to hear, not empty talk, but the practical steps the government has taken to tackle terrorism in Nigeria.

His audience would also have been interested in hearing what the government was doing or has done to address other issues, including poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare, all of which “infringe on the fundamental rights of all peoples to life and to live in safety from fear.” But it did not happen and it wasn’t surprising. Under President Jonathan, we have come to expect more rhetoric and less action.

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For those looking for proof, you need look no further than the president’s first media outing a few weeks ago. If there was any hope of an early resolution of the lingering political and social crises in Nigeria, that hope was dashed by the president himself during his national media briefing. The president’s remarks were a bizarre mix of platitudes and a frightening lack of appreciation of history; a bitter foretaste of what to expect in the next four years.

“Nigeria won’t break up” was the bold headline the morning after.  The president had offhandedly dismissed insinuations that Nigeria could disintegrate by 2015. His reason, according to press report: “The country that will disintegrate, you can get it by the study of the psyche of the people. During the civil war, the South Easterners were the bulk of members of the proposed new country called Biafra. Now, the Igbos have investments across the country. Go to the South-West, go to the North. As small as my village is, Nigerians from North, East and West have bought land. People who want to disintegrate will begin to shift back into their own geo political zones. The behaviour of Nigerians shows that we are not really going to disintegrate. People look at us because of our ethnic diversity and begin to predict that we will disintegrate. We will not disintegrate. I will not preside over a country that will disintegrate and I assure you that from now till 2015 Nigeria must remain one united nation.”

I don’t know whose psyche the president has been studying, but to dismiss the threat of an imminent national implosion on the basis that people are not “shifting back into their own geo political zones”, would have been laughable except that it is misleading and terrifying. But even at that, the reality does not support the president’s position. Across the country, there are thousands, if not millions, of displaced people fleeing violence and palpable threat to their lives. Many of those who have not moved may have no place to go having lived in their current locations for decades. Nigerians leave their homes everyday not knowing what to expect. Not since the civil war has there been this level of anxiety and insecurity.

The reality is that Nigeria is on the brink. The frightening truth is that the “war” this time will not be between any clearly defined ethnic nationalities. It is for this reason that we should be concerned. 

There is nothing “sacred” about Nigeria. Our country, like many of the 54 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations, was the result of British commercial and expansionist interests. However, unlike some other countries born out of colonial or imperialist conquest, Nigeria has managed to survive for 50 years. We shouldn’t take our unity for granted. Nations survive and maintain cohesion through concerted efforts, not wishful thinking.

I hope President Jonathan does not think that by saying Nigeria won’t disintegrate, that is enough to secure the unity of the country. There are ominous signs all around us. Indeed, it is a miracle that Nigeria has survived for so long considering the decades of abuse?

The president was blustery about his single tenure proposal, saying: “I have no regrets at all (in proposing the change). The issue of single tenure is to stabilise the polity because you have to stabilise the polity to stabilise the economy.” Expectedly, there was nothing on corruption, the major issue that threatens to grind the Nigerian state to a halt.

For a regime that talks about a transformation agenda, one would have expected the president to be more forthcoming on a blueprint to tackle corruption. Clearly, it is not likely to happen, not when he has refused to make public his asset declaration. Hopefully, now that it appears the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) wants to act, starting with the case against former governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, it is expected the CCB will accede to request to make public the president’s asset declaration. This is one issue the mainstream media in Nigeria has refused to touch. Its criminal complicity on this matter is a great disservice to the country.

Of course, we can agree on one thing. The current crises, whether it is infrastructural deficient, the collapse of public institutions, or the lack of national ethos, did not start with the Jonathan administration. But the job of a president, particularly one at a period of national emergency, is to show a sense of urgency and courage in confronting problems. These two factors are lacking in the way the country is currently being run.

I did not vote for President Jonathan, but that point is irrelevant. He is president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and holds the destiny of 150 million people in his hands. For that reason, I want him to succeed. His failure does not bode well for the future of the Nigeria project.
But for a man who claims he had to walk to school without shoes, President Jonathan, now the proud owner of all manner of designer shoes, doesn’t look like a president in a hurry to “walk the talk”. He many well etch his name in history, although for very tragic reasons.
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