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Understanding Jonathan’s Deepest Fear By Sonala Olumhense -Exclusive For NVS/SaharaReporters

I do not know if, last weekend, President Goodluck Jonathan gave “transport money” to the leaders of the Trade Union Congress and the Nigeria Labour Congress, collectively referred to as the Labour Movement, to encourage them to abandon the nationwide protest.

I do not know if, last weekend, President Goodluck Jonathan gave “transport money” to the leaders of the Trade Union Congress and the Nigeria Labour Congress, collectively referred to as the Labour Movement, to encourage them to abandon the nationwide protest.

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Remember: last week, the Movement was roaring like an injured lion.  And then, curiously, it entered this week spread-eagled like an overpaid prostitute.

Not a kobo less than N65, the Movement had declared it was screaming into the ears of the government, not one brown kobo less.  And then, as the Labour leaders vanished into the mists of history, President Jonathan announced how much they had sold for: 32 pieces of silver.  

Thirty-two is the difference between the “victory” N97 the labour leaders said they won, and the N65 they had sworn by.  

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But Mr. Jonathan had heard the voices in the streets much more clearly.  The sycophants at NTA did not want him to, but he learned that Nigerians had gone beyond merely asking him to revert to N65; they were asking him to justify himself.  They wanted him to prove he is not corrupt, and that he can and will fight corruption.

And Jonathan knows that is beyond him.  Instead, he gave up his allegiance to democracy and decided to share power with the military.  In one day, our democracy was given over to armed soldiers who then engaged, unwittingly, in helping Jonathan avoid the corruption challenge.  The soldiers thought all they were required to do was rip away from peaceful citizens a right of protest that is a constitutional relative of the right to vote.

What was more laughable—and I do not know if NTA permitted Jonathan to see this—the soldiers pointed at the unarmed citizens guns purchased with their tax funds and remnants of the oil revenues in contention. “Step back,” they ordered, “or we’ll shoot.  We have orders to shoot!”

It was pretty horrendous to hear, not to mention treacherous.  Once, just a little while ago, Mr. Jonathan was appealing to voters—not soldiers—for their support.  Once, just a little while ago, Mr. Jonathan was a boy without shoes.  Now, armed with a transformation agenda by which he believes he has metamorphosed into a tiger, he authors orders to kill the people who paid for his shoes.

But remember: Jonathan was clear about it all: he sent soldiers to the streets not to fight against N65, but to sidetrack the growing din to confront corruption.  

But let me return to Labour.  Actually, as last week wore on, it was clear labour was bartering away its credibility.  In an article on Sunday, I urged its leaders not to misunderstand their place in the story.  

They did not listen, and as a result, they will now be remembered for trading vision for blindness, strength for weakness; wisdom for idiocy, and relevance for ignominy.  When the stench dissipates, they will share the graveyard of infamy with the politicians who sold Nigeria into slavery. 

The first mistake Labour made was the easiest temptation of all: arrogance.  Dressing themselves in borrowed robes, they posed as leaders and spokesmen for the protests, rather than as one of the parties in it.  They forgot there were robust protests before they started borrowing those robes.

Elsewhere in the world, there have been remarkable labour leaders with a clear ideological grasp of the contest between the poor and those who keep them poor. 

Not Nigeria, where our labour leaders, deficient in strategy and substance, claimed negotiations with the government.  They probably were negotiating with the government, but as we now know, it was hardly for the people.  They did not understand the people.  They did not understand the moment.    

Labour, just like Mr. Jonathan, cannot see the welts on the backs of the people of Nigeria from five decades of being flogged with empty political promises.  Labour, like Mr. Jonathan, cannot see the deep stab wounds on the spirits of Nigerians leaking with pain and disappointment.   Labour, like Mr. Jonathan, cannot see the blood gushing out of hearts of Nigerians where hope used to gush.  Labour, like Mr. Jonathan, cannot see the tears streaming from the faces of women and children, and the old and the infirm as they tire of waiting for justice and fulfillment.  

Instead, Labour was satisfied simply with another free-food, free-form negotiation for “improved conditions.” 

What about strategy?  Every schoolboy negotiator knows that if you are foolish enough to travel into someone’s territory for negotiations, you have already absorbed half of the defeat.  But our labour leaders, easily outmanoeuvred, went posing for pictures in Aso Rock wearing rock star smiles where grins of granite were required.  In a contest in which the entire farm was on the line and lives were being lost, they seemed delighted Aso Rock had merely opened the gates.  

I am sure the cakes and coffee of the presidential palace are delicious: Mr. Jonathan is spending nearly one billion fully-subsidized Naira this year to guarantee that.  But when you are negotiating the lioness with the lion, you insist on a neutral location, not its lair.  When you dine with the devil, you do not take the chance he will not flavor your tea with something nefarious, or that he will not manipulate the airconditioning and meeting schedules to his advantage, or send a bevy of voluptuous women to count dollars bills in a corner.

And Labour did not seem to have bothered with a written set of demands, either; if they did, there is no evidence they won any, unless you consider 32 pieces of silver to be some kind of victory.  Clearly, aggregating and articulating the demands of Nigerians was beyond those amateurs.  

It is doubtful they had actually heard what the protesters were saying in Nigeria and all over the world, or read the scandalous KPMG Report, or studied the subsidy subject.    It is doubtful they saw the need for specific proposals and timelines in line with the demands of the protesters they claimed to be representing.

The re-dedication of civil society organizations and the more intelligent and focused arm of labour this week must therefore agree and sustain the clear and simple message that the war against corruption, represented by N65, is the agenda of the moment, and that it must be conducted and governed by definite reporting timelines, measurable achievements, public recovery of assets, and punishment.

The government is still the same.  It is the people who have changed, and to whom the government must prove its credibility.  To that extend, all the old tricks of speeches without action must end, NOW.   


This must begin with Mr. Jonathan who must place action where words and pretences are.  In 2006, a Joint Task Force on corruption which was set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo listed Mr. Jonathan for prosecution for false declaration of assets, including a Lexus Jeep worth N18 million; a BMW 7351 Series worth N5.5 million; and acquisition of properties outside legitimate income.  

It is one of the wonders of Nigeria that the same Obasanjo eventually placed Mr. Jonathan on the 2007 PDP presidential ballot.  But it is no surprise that when they won the election, Mr. Jonathan refused to declare his assets.  When he was finally forced to do so, he was worth an incredible N295 million.  It is not much of a surprise that now he is the boss, he has refused to declare.

Perhaps it is understandable then, that although he speaks about corruption, he is not really doing anything.  The subject of well-investigated corruption allegations by NEXT newspaper in 2011, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, retained her position as Jonathan’s Minister for Petroleum Resources.  It is the joke of the moment that the same Minister now claims she is deepening reforms and rooting out corruption.   

This is further proof that Mr. Jonathan’s anti-corruption scheme is a bundle of loopholes and contradictions.  It is all thunder and lightning; there is never rain, and nobody goes to jail.  That is why any further engagement with him must involve specific deadlines of a short order, including immediate, 30-day and six-month commitments.  There has been an entire library of corruption-related reports hidden away in the presidency since he assumed office nearly two years ago; let him publish and implement them.  

I do not think this is likely.  Jonathan is scared of what might come down the tree should he shake the branch, an option that should not be available to anyone who prospected for votes.  In this case, Jonathan can see where such an attempt would lead, and the soldiers on the streets in his new power-sharing arrangement are his secret weapon for guaranteeing the status quo.

This is Jonathan’s deepest fear, and his gamble.  And Nigeria’s poor and marginalized, as long as we are docile and forgetful, will have our own money and our own soldiers used against us in this way forever.  

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