by Odia Ofeimun
ONE remarkable paradox about the 2015 General Election is that it ought to be a referendum on whether President Goodluck Jonathan has done well in Agriculture, Aviation, Road construction, Education, Health and especially Ebola, Railways, Electricity, and whether he achieved the purpose of putting constitutional reforms on the agenda of the Nigerian state as most Nigerians have been asking for since the beginning of the Fourth Republic.
It is simply true, and provable, that in these areas, Jonathan has done exceedingly better than his illustrious predecessor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a very remarkable under-achiever, who has been needling him on all grounds and coking the mythology that Goodluck Jonathan has no clue. It is also quite true that President Jonathan’s achievements have been made possible in spite of the devious antics of stalwarts of his political party, the People’s Democratic Party; a party on the verge of earning a National merit award for looting the treasury, a malfeasance for which so many of its former executives are in court awaiting the kind of long trials that give a stinking name to the judiciary.
It happens to be a political party mis-constructed by Obasanjo in his days as his own two-term oil Minister, to function with cabals that President Jonathan once had to alert the country about on discovering that he could not take any serious steps without being checkmated by those who assumedly made him a President. Trying to unriddle his way off the hold of the cabals has earned Goodluck Jonathan a permanent needling for clue-lessness that has been joined by a protest movement which has not cared to face the cabals, because protests in the country are partly sponsored by cabals, but has since merged with a very vibrant opposition, clever at brickbats and hyper-inflating about how poorly Jonathan is doing, without having the ideological savvy to set a new agenda for Nigeria. Indeed, the hard part and what rankles is that, without showing evidence of a clue as to how an opposition, given Obafemi Awolowo’s enduring example, marshals a strong sense of policies and programmes to lift a country up, the party of opposition has acquired the reprehensible features of the PDP and is confronting the country with a mirror image of that other party in the name of an electoral choice.
The crucial point here is that, in the face of the menace of Boko Haram, the Islamic religious sect pursuing a propaganda of arms and suicide bombers against Christians, Muslims of other sects, and against western education, of which its prime minders are evident beneficiaries, it is needless to ask why President Jonathan’s better performance, above Obasanjo’s, is not getting a fair hearing and an objective appraisal. It so happened that Boko Haram was pampered from a foetal stage into grand terrorism by Olusegun Obasanjo’s government with the help of all the Governors of the Northern states who gave a subvention to the sect until President Umaru Yar’Adua stopped it. After the extra-judicial killing of Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram during Yar’Adua’s term, the sect went nuclear in search of external aid that has still not been fairly distinguished from domestic sponsorship. In the face of the kidnap of the Chibok school girls, the bombing of markets and public places by the sect, and successful compromising of the territorial integrity of the country, whoever was President of Nigeria ran the risk of never getting fairness of judgement unless he found a means of ending the terrorism.
The truly intriguing part is that President Jonathan needed to do his job as chief security officer of the Nigerian state in the face of many Northern leaders who saw anti-terrorism as a war on the North, while seeing Boko Haram itself as a fit response of the North to Niger Delta militancy. A President of Niger Delta extraction caught in the web of such presumptions was bound to suffer distraction of a kind that required him either to let his government be controlled by the antics of the terrorists or to learn to steer his course irrespective of the distractions that are designed to put his resolve off balance. Learning to steer his course has had the implication of sometimes making him look uncaring about the massacres and pogroms being committed across a wide swipe of the North East and North West of the country by suicide bombers and stray gun-totters. But, clearly, he has owed a responsibility that he could only discharge by standing with the military and other security forces that have been ritually under-equipped and under-supplied for decades.
This has also meant standing at the centre of the political class in disgrace when school girls and others are abducted by terrorists and the country’s territorial integrity is assaulted with impunity. The disgrace has been made most obvious by the United States of America which has rather brashly refused to share intelligence information with the Nigerian government and insisting on not selling ammunition to the Nigerian state, because of the infiltration of the Nigerian government by the Boko Haram sect and the disrespect of the Nigerian Army for the fundamental human rights of the insurgents. Surely, with a foreign power earning a role that is not so innocent in the narration of the events, the matter ought to be seen not so much as problem for just the President of Nigeria but one on which a sensible political class ought to see a high-powered annulment of its status and an oblique pressure for its members to be pushed sideways for a foreign body to be inserted as problem-solver. That this is not the case and that there are sensational disagreements of a partisan political nature between the government and the opposition, without a sensible proposal for an alternative handling of the matter, portends a serious challenge to the integrity of Nigeria’s political class as a whole. To have allowed matters of national security and survival to degenerate to partisan brickbats in such a manner is like refusing to see the handwriting on the wall. Which makes it quite a sore point that President Jonathan has not volunteered what he is doing about those Nigerians, within or outside his government, who are alleged by the United States to be working for or sponsoring Boko Haram.
When will they be ousted and exposed? Or what are the highly explosive Nigerian dynamics that the President is keeping quiet about because of the need to defeat Boko Haram or prevent the break up of Nigeria which a United States Intelligence outfit almost gleefully fixed for 2015, a decade ago? Well, these are questions which have cut into an assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s term of office and which may explain why he is being denied objectivity or fair hearing in many quarters.
The truth of the matter, however, is that there is simply no running from the reality, which some may wish, like ostriches, to forget by burying their heads in the sands. This reality is that Boko Haram is part of the running sore of competition between “North” and South which must be resolved either by capitulating to those who wish that the North be treated as another country or by acknowledging that the harsh drawline between North and South must be removed by proper social engineering and the building of a new national consensus. Once this is realized, it becomes clear that the inverted commas used in the case of the North are worth emphasizing. This is because the North is a diverse zone in which forced-draft unity (northern exclusivism) has become the means deployed to create violence on a large scale by those who believe that all who live in the region must have the same standpoint on all issues, without dissent or difference of opinion. Those who so believe are the real culprits of the Boko Haram insurgency even when they have nothing to do with Boko Haram. Otherwise, there is no reason why any set of citizens should be allowed to act with such brashness and impunity as flaunted by those presuming to have a divine mandate to prevent other citizens from having or taking to, a different viewpoint form theirs. The crisis in the North East and across the North is, in this sense, simply one that requires Nigerians and the Nigerian government to defend the right of every Nigerian to self-respect, integrity, freedom of opinion, worship and association. Mercenaries and suicide bombers who seek to force the rest of us to abandon our own idea of Islam or Christianity and to buy into their rejection of western education, must be seen as enemies of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious Nigeria who think that taking over the North East and, maybe, the North West, will give them a place to stand from which to take the rest of the country.
Ofeimun, a renowned poet, is a former president of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.