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The metamorphosis of uncle Jonathan:A messiah or a Nebuchanezzar?

Dr Ugoji Ebujo

It may have been long coming but it’s a denouement now. I really hope so. It surfaced in traces publicly at the Lagos rally and acquired an unrestrained exuberance at the Enugu rally. The president is free from something. The fight was not expected to go the long haul , decisive knockdowns were to have been achieved leaving the ritual of an election a mere formality .

As it was in 2011 after Tinubu was clandestinely recruited so it should have been now. APC primaries didn’t send the opposition to the canvass. In converse it energized them and we have a fight on our hands. And like a boxing champion who had been expected to decimate his challenger in the early rounds but who must now contend with an unflinching opponent in an uncertain final round, something must give. Jonathan’s characteristic facade of calmness has been shed. It’s crunch time. If internal polls conducted by his campaign group and PDP has not delivered widespread jitters then he can rely on the confession of the senate president that the race will be extremely close.

Though David Mark has imbibed guile in his many years of political apprenticeship, he exuded candour in that caution. So the champion on leaving his corner for the deciding round will get to all the morale boosting “ you will do it” “ go for him” “he is a nobody” “ he is a serial loser” but will read their eyes and see trepidation and read the exaggerated gestures of his men at his corner and find enervating fretfulness . It has not definitely gone as planned, It’s delicately balanced now.

It can all end so badly. Self doubts will creep in and he will wonder if he had in the past really been tested and if he is really a lucky weakling as some have often taunted. He will nod or shake his head to resist unbelief and perhaps even contrive a smile seeking to bury the doubts . As he rises, wiping away for the last time streams of sweat, he will throw the towel back at them in his corner. Cast off with that towel is some degree of caution, restraint. The champion is rattled but now unleashed. Its now or never.

The Jonathan that has been on the recent campaign trail is unmistakably a different Jonathan. Lacking in charisma, laden with good fortune, Jonathan has always had his battles fought for him by fate. Often manifestly diffident and colourless, Jonathan comes across to some as humble. Perhaps humility should be natural to him considering his shoeless beginnings but others point out that in Nigeria when the poor and lowly come by wealth and power , power suffers misuse. Yaradua took ill and left him without a word. Reticent Jonathan stayed back while others fought for him to assume the presidency.

That apparent lack of ambition leaves him almost always underrated and incapable of attracting envy . He was humiliated but remained so indifferent that even his oppressors were confounded by his capacity to endure . President Yaradua passed on, the ‘cabal’ lost out and power passed on to Jonathan . Lowly , trampled –upon , vice president was literally conscripted by fate and the constitution. Some said he was meek, chose not to be ruthless, but others said he was simply overwhelmed , timid. With benefit of hindsight he navigated those circumstances fairly well. To remain calm and do nothing can be a strategy in crisis. It’s not impossible he had no strategy at all besides contentment. In a sense he had over achieved.

In 2011, he literally begged for a PDP ticket some others would have appropriated without scruples. He was handicapped, he lacked structures. So he negotiated with many. On the campaign trail then he danced in slow mechanical motions and churned out passionless speeches. He looked not totally convinced of the choice he had made . He made promises everywhere he went to both men and communities. Some say he promised to run only for a term. 2011 Jonathan was one handicapped by a moral burden of not disrupting the rhythm of an agreed zoning arrangement after Yaradua’s untimely exit.

The initial strong resistance by the north to prevent power from shifting back south so soon compounded his predicament and may have contributed to the manifest deficit in political authority on some issues exhibited by Jonathan. Against a failure of CPC and ACN to reach any agreements, Jonathan only had to meet the price tags on many of the noisy politicians and the election became a mere formality. For most of his reign he remained easy going, dour and uninspiring.   In a sense he invited scorn , derision and mockery. Governors bullied him and ministers engaged in many excesses. Many, including me , sometimes only had to look a little deeper to see a simple man with simple ambitions for whom the presidency had become an albatross he could not wean himself of.

The nation went from crises to crises, Jonathan remained visibly calm and unperturbed, nearly imperturbable. No wonder some awarded him the epithet – “Clueless” . He didn’t help by surrounding himself with a medley of committed sycophants and veteran court jesters. Even when he made drastic interventions he showed no emotions. From Kidnappings to Boko haram upsurges and resurgences to clamorous suspicions missing oil monies, to trillion naira subsidy scandal to Obansanjo letters , Jonathan only barked through others. Even Chibok that got the first lady all melodramatic didn’t manage to fluster him, at least publicly. And he didn’t go there. He left many bemused. “Can’t he just fake it”? At least show convincingly that he gives a damn.

Many knew he would run for 2015 elections and he confirmed their suspicions by re engineering the soul of the party to guarantee his ambitions . He bullishly moved to take over control of the then powerful governors forum in a most undignified manner. He failed , divided the forum but whittled its influence . In all these he splintered the party.

The presidential elections are barely 4 weeks away and a new Jonathan has hit the campaign trail. This one cannot be said to be plastic and spineless. Sitting on the front row at the PDP Enugu rally, the president twisted and turned, asked for this and returned that. A bit restless. He may have attended to an itch or two and swatted a fly himself. He wrote , scribbled , read and wrote again as others made their speeches. He was suddenly accessible in some sense. He read his speech with the concentration of a student just about to get into an examination hall. At least he gave that impression.

He had become a bit more ordinary, more spontaneous , more of himself. You could see him. When he got up to take the rostrum he danced in same mechanical, rhythm–less , sickeningly monotonous fashion of his but with more energy , more passion ,making more eye contacts seeking to energise the crowd. Perhaps he can even fake, feign things now. The new Jonathan truly reflects a desire to engage , attract support.

His speech in Enugu was essentially focused on decimating his opponent. An obviously rattled Jonathan who cannot completely trust his achievement in the last 6 years to secure him a re-election must then throw in all to tar or diminish his main rival. It must be that desperation that made a democratically elected president treat a coup speech as authoritative. He read many portions of Babangida’s coup speech ostensibly to indict Buhari. If he had read portions of Orkar’s coup speech too he would have discovered that speeches made by coup plotters mean nothing and to rely on them is naivety at a high level.

If the content of his speech at Enugu had the pettiness and sheer vindictiveness that , he once theorized, make African leaders small men, the form of delivery revealed an animation and spontaneity on a big stage, qualities many African leaders lack. But some say he was just angry and belligerent. They see the new found bellicosity as a negative acquisition but I have a different perspective .Every one knows he lacks fluency and poise but not many know he can throw a punch in the air while making a point.

“Ask them, how many guns did they buy for the military? How many helicopters did they buy? Nothing!” he thundered. He spoke with his hands, feet and soul. He was engaged. “He jailed Nwobodo for over 300 years for doing what? For stealing money not enough to buy a Peugeot? “ Kitchen sink fully deployed. A most unpresidential comment but one that throws more light on Uncle Jona’s thought. Some say he didn’t even get to address some promises he didn’t keep and didn’t make new ones. But that is the general drift of the campaign on all sides.

But when he suggested that Buhari no longer remembers his phone number , I clapped reflexively. I cheered not because   the comment was not thoughtless and shameful but because we may finally have a Jonathan who can bark , push and bite. A Jonathan who perhaps can get angry, make mistakes and show regrets or defiance. While it is troubling to have a leader who inspires no confidence , who often appears helpless, it is a profound tragedy to be led by someone whose reassurances mean little because he cannot convey or transmit any sense of commitment.

Once on CNN he dabbled needlessly into the definition of corruption and inadvertently portrayed himself as someone who is tolerant of corruption. It is true that by definition stealing is not corruption but what would a Jonathan gain by elaborating that purely legalistic distinction . Culturally speaking , stealing of government funds by officials is seen by Nigerians as corruption. Jonathan has chosen to whittle Buhari’s perceived anti corruption credentials by saying Buhari was overzealous and rigid in the fight against corruption and suggested that the rich had to fear a Buhari presidency.

That is a gamble. That inclination may not help him with a majority of Nigerians who are desperately poor and hold corruption responsible and see Jonathan as soft on corruption. For them , if crating corrupt officials would stop corruption then let them all be crated. The desperately poor majority have no luxury for the ethical niceties that shield their oppressors. While his stance isn’t a product of clear thought, his fidelity to that perspective may show a more confident president. I don’t want to believe he is aloof. “My dream is to see a Nigeria without prisons” he enthused.

Jonathan has saddled himself with needless liabilities. Take the choice of Fani Kayode as the face of his campaign for instance. For a government bedraggled by accusations of corruption , why make a man once prosecuted by your government for corruption the face of your campaign? Isn’t that decision a self inflicted injury? But again even his choice may be interpreted as an expression of an obstinate streak. He once reversed himself on our football after FIFA barked and left some wondering if he thinks through decisions and if he can stand any grounds. Perhaps this new Jonathan would have bluffed FIFA . Keshi is still there. Some may however label him a desperate and bumbling man.

While he may not have shown political astuteness in some of the positions he adopts , it is heart warming that he now has convictions he is ready to publicly defend. Perhaps one day we may get to know his thoughts on death penalty, Sharia, abortion, resource control, quota system, abandoned property and other topical social issues. Poor us.

We may wait to see if these changes are reactionary and perhaps temporary or definitive and permanent. Whether he is now a Nebuchadnezzar or a messiah as different soothsayers have muted we will see. Some say he is god-sent while others now say his is bad luck embodied. 2015   elections campaigns may have changed Jonathan , the results may even change him more. If he wins it’s likely an ebullient, fearless , battle ready, hands- on , president brimming with confidence would emerge for good or for bad. Taking on Boko haram and turning on corruption , firmly focused on tangible legacies.

If power is allowed to corrupt   then he will morph into an emperor and attempt to make the nation his foot stool. Perhaps Soyinka’s reference to Nebuchadnezzar was after all cautionary. And if he loses then a forthright elder statesman, free from shackling compromises with an unbound conscience , making peace and building bridges in gratitude to God who lifted him out of the swamps and marshlands and located him for 8 years in Aso Rock, may be born. Or we may have one more ’ motor park tout’ making dangerous mischief. The national status quo is unsustainable, the nation needs change. Win or lose the nation needs a new Jonathan.

 

Dr Ugoji Ebujo, MBBS, LLB, LLm (Medical Doctor and Criminology

 


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