Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s greatest undoing was silently nursing a second term bid early in his first term. That ensured that most of his actions were dictated by the need not to offend those who would help him secure that his second term. In spite of his efforts, he still did not get that second term.
Compare that to former Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State. In his first term, he worked like someone who did not care about a second term. Indeed, he was reported as having promised earlier that he would not go for a second term. Because he was not angling for a second term, he was bold to step on toes. He did what the people wanted. Consequently, he won the hearts of those who mattered most: the electorate. When his godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, fell out with him before the 2011 elections and there were rumours that he would drop Fashola, Lagosians geared up to vote in Fashola even if he contested on the ticket of XYZ party! Tinubu read the handwriting on the wall and knew that he would be demystified if he denied Fashola a second term ticket and he moved over to another party and still won the 2011 governorship election in Lagos State. He resolved the issue he had with Fashola and allowed him to complete his second term.
President Muhammadu Buhari should copy that and not allow what happened to Jonathan to happen to him. Already, his actions reek of a President who is more concerned about winning the 2019 election than someone who wants to make radical changes in governance. First, his ministerial list was more of what many people called a “reward list” than a ministerial list.
Jonathan is naturally an easygoing person but his quest for a second term made him too eager not to step on any toes. People did what they liked, said what they liked, including threatening the security of the nation, but he let them be, because obviously he did not want to anger those who could help his re-election.
When the immigration recruitment tragedy occurred in March 2014, everyone expected that he would act immediately by relieving the Minister of Interior, Mr Abba Moro, of his job. But he did not act. The anger of the people raged. The bereaved and injured mourned. What was Jonathan protecting? It was rumoured that Moro was nominated by a powerbroker. Probably, Jonathan did not want to hurt that powerbroker. But what would he have lost if he had sacked Moro and told the powerbroker to send three fresh names to him to choose one as Moro’s replacement?
In the case of Ms Stella Oduah, the Minister of Aviation, the same scenario played out in 2014. Even though it was alleged that those who lost out in the aviation sector due to some actions taken by Oduah were after her, yet there was a scandal over the price of the two BMW cars. Perhaps, she was wrong in the bulletproof cars’ purchase, perhaps she was not. Recently, a similar case played out over the high cost of creating a website as well as drilling a borehole, etc, during the term of Fashola as Lagos State governor. Fashola told the Senate during his screening that he did not sign cheques. Interestingly, many of those who criticised Oduah applauded Fashola for “lecturing the Senate.” So, whether Oduah was wrong or right, the reality was that there was an outcry of corruption against her. To ensure that his government did not inherit that corruption tag, Jonathan could have had a private discussion with Oduah, asked her to resign immediately, while assuring her of giving her another position later, if he was convinced she did no wrong. That would have doused the indignation in the land and shown that he was not condoning corruption. But Jonathan seemed more concerned about a second term. He did not want to hurt Oduah, who anchored the “Neighbour to Neighbour” campaign to get him elected in 2011 and could be useful in 2015.
Even in the war against Boko Haram, he seemed afraid of being accused of killing the northerners. So, he was too cautious of dealing with Boko Haram. To ensure that the image of being anti-North in the fight against insurgency was completely eliminated, he made his National Security Adviser, Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, and Inspector General of Police all Northerners.
The irony was that because he did not want to hurt anyone so as to be given a second term, Jonathan ended up being painted in uncomplimentary colours which ended up making him lose that same second term he desired.
Buhari has already started acting like Jonathan. Even without his first term taking off fully, he has started showing that he seems more concerned about not offending his party men than offending Nigerians who would determine whether he gets a second term or not in 2019. During his British Broadcasting Corporation interview in which he explained the rationale behind his appointments, he made it clear that he appointed those who had been loyal to him from his All Nigeria People’s Party and the Congress of Political Change days contrary to the claim of his supporters that he appointed people based on merit. His ministerial appointments followed the same trend. The unnecessary fight over Mr Chibuike Amaechi was also another sign that he was more concerned about not offending those who worked for his election, so that they will also work for his second term in 2019.
Why, for example, would the President not publicly protest the choice of Abubakar Audu and Timipre Sylva as the governorship candidates of the All Progressives Congress for Kogi and Bayelsa states respectively? What has Buhari got to lose? Even if the APC loses those two states, it still does not make the party the opposition. The APC does not need to control all the states in Nigeria to be the ruling party. But showing that he does not support the choice of the two people who have corruption question marks may anger some party men but would help him worm his way into the hearts of the electorate who matter at elections.
Also, the Halliburton case affords him a good opportunity to show that he is not afraid of stepping on big toes, but he has shot himself in the foot by saying that he would not investigate any corruption case that happened before the Presidency of Jonathan. But beneath that excuse is the fact that those fingered in the Halliburton case supported his presidential election.
The most powerful statement Buhari has made as President is: “I belong to nobody.” It energised the people and filled them with hope that their President would not be held captive like most of their past presidents. That statement should be his guiding principle. It may anger those who worked for his electoral victory but he will get both those who supported his 2015 presidential ambition and those who did not support him on his side.
If Buhari continues protecting the interest of his party and those loyal to him as he is doing, by 2019, he will be seen as one of Nigeria’s presidents who tried their best but could not achieve spectacular results. Any Nigerian president who wants to be remarkable and outstanding must do two things: One. Forget about winning a second term and concentrate on stepping on toes and undertaking radical changes; Two. Make up his mind that he may lose his life in the process of stepping on toes and taking radical actions. Such a President will not be killed in office but will most likely get a second term.
But can Buhari be that type of President? Only Buhari can answer that question.