As the Jonathan regime winds down, a post-mortem beckons. What were its strengths or its failings, and how much of a legacy will resonate a generation from now when historians ponder its era?
Whatever we say today may be revised by a generation or two from now for ill or for good. But the moment compels us to look back at a regime that is incapable of sliding into the oblivion of memory.
It was a period of intense activities, but it was marked by epic failures. Its greatest undoing however was its failure, some will say unwillingness, to tackle the fundamental flaw of the Nigerian nation: a value system. The consequence of this was a reign of impunity, the subversion of the rule of law and the inability of institutions to rise to their promise.
No doubt, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan ascended the throne in historic circumstances. His predecessor, Umar Yar’Adua, died in office, and that unleashed a constitutional crisis that some thought threatened our frail democracy.
A cabal loyal to the dying leader jousted with him, ethnic moguls whipped up atavistic sentiments, lawmakers clutched at straws for a way out, the leadership of the judiciary was hazy, ambitious politicians schemed with subversive opportunism, and furtive speculations of military intervention stirred conversations about the longevity of our political experiment.
Eventually, the nation settled for a workable oddity known as the doctrine of necessity, and Jonathan segued from acting president to full president. Months later he staked himself as presidential candidate for his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It was from that time that questions arose about his sense of values as some Nigerians wondered if it was right as a signatory to a zoning arrangement that Jonathan decided to run.
But the resistance was feeble and he rode to power on two sentiments that would later dog his era: religion and tribe.
Once he won the 2011 polls, he rode the wave of these two sentiments, and occluded the north and Muslims in what his followers described invidiously as a pan-Nigerian mandate.
The first value that suffered was a sense of fairness and inclusiveness. He never built a bridge across to his northern subjects, even if in an act of ill grace his runner-up, Muhammadu Buhari, did not come out in strong and clear terms to condemn and dissociate himself from the turbulence that racked parts of the north in the aftermath of his historic victory. Rather President Jonathan consciously played a politics of divide and rule, and showed ethnic partiality in his association, appointments and preference of visits in the course of his reign.
That was the beginning and it turned out he was not willing either by words, deeds or symbolism to shed that image.
When the Boko Haram insurgency tore the north apart, he and his men began to see it in terms of a conspiracy theory rather than a task to cement a fractured nation and emphasise the sameness of a heterogeneous people. The result was a neglect of the war whose narrative culminated in the abduction of about 276 girls from a school in the rustic town known as Chibok.
His handling of it started with rage against the news breakers and then denial. His wife, Patience, made a mournfully comic drama out of it by subverting the culture of mourning when she – and later the president -invited the mourners to Abuja rather than visit them in their downcast homes. She also turned the visit into a platform to castigate the government’s perceived enemies.
With the ethnic tension, add the religious. We do not begrudge the president his right to confess a faith. But he turned it into a balkanizing treasure. He started to play up the pious card, and became a president as pilgrim not only in his sojourns to churches and sermons on pulpits but also his act in Jerusalem.
As the election cycle came to an end, his visits to Lagos became emblematic of his manipulation of ethnic and religious cards. A few years earlier, he said that the non-indigenes outnumbered the indigenes in Lagos. He exploited that in the firestorm of election campaigns.
President Jonathan also surrounded himself with persons who had cases to answer on corruption. Significant was a former governor who received presidential pardon and became a mainstay of his regime. He also had ministers tarred with either corruption or appearance of it, but the president looked the other way and in other instances sullied the dignity of his office by lining up behind them.
One instance concerned the aviation minister, Stella Oduah, who was accused of corruption and double standards, and the matter lingered with the media and civil society bodies pelting the president with various epithets. The president never issued a statement to dissociate his government from her activities. He hid under a reshuffle to step her down, while she still played a role, if informal, in the running of government.
Before that Abdulrasheed Maina was involved in a pension fraud case, and the matter that involved the fortunes and welfare of millions of our senior citizens ended shamefully. Maina was a close confidant of the president and he was never brought to book in spite of an official indictment.
The most contentious was the accusation that came from the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to the effect that about $50 billion of our oil money could not be accounted for. Although it was later denied and pruned to $12 billion by the government under finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Jonathan Presidency never did any clear accountability of the money. The newly unified Governors Forum that included mainstays of those who defended the Jonathan administration’s footloose regime, agreed it was $20 billion. When the Jonathan administration asked a firm, PriceWaterhouse Cooper Nigeria, to look at the books of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), it turned out to be an elaborate charade. The NNPC and the Central Bank did not cooperate with the audit team.
Even when his oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was accused of spending a superlative sum of N10 billion on air travels, she shunned the flurry of media inquiries and snubbed the National Assembly.
The lesson is that the Jonathan administration ruined institutions, allowed corruption to fester and the nation reeled morally.The Buhari administration that will succeed it will do well to watch out for any moral traps and lead this country on the path of a values rebirth. If the Jonathan era failed, his should act as a bail-out era.