By Rotimi Fasan
LET’S just say last week was the week of choice for President Goodluck Jonathan and his media team to take on their critics, real or imagined. The President’s remark that he was the most criticised president was prime news.
So was a widely circulated piece, written by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati. The President attacked the Nigerian media for what he said was its bias against him. According to him, the media simply couldn’t see what is good about his administration and his self-avowed effort to turn the country around.
In Dr. Abati’s article, dripping with ‘insider’ insights and knowingly titled, “The Jonathan they don’t know”, anyone and everyone who has ever had anything slightly critical to say about the President, from those he called uninformed devotees of social media and street side gossips to more talented people who, nevertheless, fritter away their talent on worthless criticism of his boss, as he perceives it- all got their share of the ‘publicist’s’ harsh judgement.
Are these words of the President and his media adviser justified? Are they right in their reading of Nigerians’ perception of this administration?
May be not, as I would, hopefully, show in the following comments, basically re-readings of Abati’s comments. The ‘he’ in the title of this article therefore refers to Abati, the President’s spokesperson, in the fashion of the ‘they’ in his own article that referred to critics of the President.
We need not elaborate on the obvious turnaround in Abati’s public position from a harsh, sometimes impudent critic of the President to an avid supporter of his administration, a sagely and sympathetic reader of human character, especially, the President’s character and heretofore hidden talents. No, we need not comment on all of this- and I honestly mean it.
His present job requires that he defends the President and the position of his government as best as he could. It is not always possible to know all about an individual from our understanding of their public persona.
Which goes without saying that once you come close to people, know them with a measure of intimacy even of mere acquaintanceship- to know them at any of this level is to come away with insights that might bring about a change in how we view them. The outcome is usually more sympathetic and understanding than many may care to know or realise.
Therefore, it would be very shallow indeed to see Abati’s present defence of the President as a consequence of his being invited to partake of the unending pork that many Nigerians believe public service entails. Rather, let us see it as genuine change in his view of the man. But is this view wholly correct? That’s the question we have to answer.
First to President Jonathan: Is he the most criticised Nigerian president or leader, to say nothing of the world? The answer is a resounding No! Where would we put the likes of General Olusegun Obasanjo or General Ibrahim Babangida, even Sani Abacha, who in and out of office, dead or alive, have never enjoyed any respite from the avalanche of criticisms/scorn they have often been covered in, if President Jonathan begins to see himself as the butt of Nigerians’ criticism?
He overstates his case and Nigerians’ criticism, mainly of his (non)performance without reference to his person as they tend to do of Obasanjo and to a lesser degree of Babangida, whose performance in office or otherwise as well as their personal conduct are often fair game for critics.
Nobody has yet taken President Jonathan to task on what are his personal choices with regards to the way he lives his life. No dirt has been dug up about hidden girlfriends or children. Not many have found it necessary to comment on his children, their identity or conduct.
Except for the way and manner his permanent secretary wife has been carrying herself in recent weeks, it’s as if the President is a bachelor whose life revolves simply around his official responsibilities. No Nigerian leader has been this lucky. Yet, President Jonathan makes loud claims about a biased media.
His spokesperson rounds in on his critics and seeks to make fools and liars of them all. No, not too fast Mr. President. Things could definitely have been and could yet be worse, no matter how many more Doyin Okupes are hired to take on his critics many of whom have solid grounds for their criticisms.
The truth is that right from the moment he emerged as the governor of Bayelsa to the time he became president following a concatenation of providential events, Goodluck Jonathan had become Nigeria’s favourite child even when he had little else to recommend him beyond his apparent good luck.
People were prepared to make excuses for him and tried to see light when darkness was all that was evident after he became president and things didn’t look like what many had expected of a man some also celebrated as Nigeria’s first president with a PhD.
In the same manner many felt disappointed in their expectation of a likely cerebral administration following the election of Umaru Yar’Adua (may his soul rest in peace) as Nigeria’s first president with a university degree, so do they feel frustrated now by the non-performing Jonathan.
It’s stretching imagination too far for either the President or any of his minders, therefore, to see him as the most criticised Nigerian leader. He does not come within the first five of such leaders that could rightly claim they’ve had a bad run of the press.
He has had far better romance with the press than his score sheet justifies. If in spite of his too obvious shortcomings in office he still wants the press to keep mute, he must be asking more than is appropriate for his own good.
He does more harm to himself and his place in history if one were to judge him by his growing sensitivity to criticism while he blunders his way through office.
It would have been better if he makes effort to mend his ways or the growing but distracting influence of his wife. These are the issues he should reflect upon and proffer solutions to.
Not much would be achieved by his self-pitying cry or the name calling of his media publicist. If Nigerians are today critical of him, it is not out of any personal hatred but the fear that their hopes in him are being dashed.
More importantly, his failure reflects badly on the aspirations of the minority groups of Nigeria who believed his rise would provide a fresh start away from the failures of past leaders from so-called majority groups. But alas the President is setting the bar far lower than the most incompetent of his predecessors.