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Goodluck, leave politics, face the people

By D.K. Merije

I do not envy acting President Goodluck Jonathan. The politics swirling around him at the moment is a vicious one. Nobody is willing to risk vesting him with full Executive powers. The Yar’Adua cabal (as the Information Minister called them) is keen to keep the President in the picture as both a check on the acting President and also to safeguard their own jobs and political influence. The North is keen to keep the President in the picture to prevent Goodluck from growing political ambitions for 2011 since Nigeria has not yet seen a situation where the incumbent failed to get the party ticket.

The Governors’ Forum is keen to keep the President in the picture to ensure that no dangerous precedent is created that could later affect them and their own Deputies. They are also keen to widen their influence over a politically vulnerable acting President. There is also the jostling for the slot of Vice-President, just in case, somehow, Jonathan becomes substantive President. The weaker the acting President, the less able he would be to exercise influence over the choice of his deputy or anything else for that matter.

There is also the power of elitism at work; that tendency for the political elite, regardless of region and religion, to defend the interests of their own. People have already started saying- illness is not an offence warranting impeachment. The issue has been personalized. In other words, tomorrow it could be me who is ill; how would I want to be treated? This factor, combined with the upward surge in regional self-interest in Northern legislators, has helped to suppress attempts to address the issue in both the House and the Senate. Already, the more “radical” Ministers have started being cautioned to watch their tongues.

The unveiling political mood has strengthened the hand of the “reactionary” elements in FEC so that the rumored recourse to s.144 did not materialize at the last FEC meeting. Jonathan dare not appeal to his geo-political zone for support for fear of provoking an extreme sectarian reaction from the North and unleashing chaos. So, the acting President is, literarily, stuck politically in his present capacity. He does not control the party machinery. It is doubtful if he is in full control of FEC and, thereby, the government machinery.

He has little support in the National Assembly. He has no substantial backing from the powerful state Governors. He is even cut off from his own state by the hostility of Timipre Sylva. Labour is conspicuously missing from his array of defenders. His only real support base is that amorphous group of Nigerians with an impersonal, objective belief in constitutionalism and the rule of law i.e. civil society. It was their agitation that even got him this far politically.

It it possible that their continued agitation may move the lethargic political class to let the rules prevail. Ordinary Nigerians are, generally, too cynical of politics to lift a finger to come to his aid. There still remains the vague threat of resurgence in militancy in the Niger Delta if “anything happens to Jonathan” but it is doubtful if Goodluck was ever the type of politician that actively cultivated links with the militants so that his control over them could now be a significant factor in the power play. By my calculations, I think Goodluck Jonathan is politically isolated in Aso Villa. So, what should he do? Leave the politics alone. If he has political ambitions, he should forget about seeking to realize them through PDP.

The battle he will face if he attempts to dismantle Yar’Adua’s power structure and replace it with his will tear both party and country apart. He should also leave the impeachment option alone. In this he has been wise, if he is perceived as being hell-bent to replace Yar’Adua as substantive President, he will call out the killing daggers. The speed with which the fight would degenerate into North versus South will be shocking.

He should also not try to play patronage politics by frivolously giving out political appointments in the hope of bolstering his political position. The world of patronage politics is a world of cloak and daggers; the political elites you court today can, without losing a night’s sleep, turn around and betray you tomorrow. So, packing all sorts of political heavyweights into unnecessary Presidential committees is not going to yield any political capital for the acting President. It would just add another layer of stilting bureaucracy to a government already famous for its slowness.

Goodluck’s only option is to take cover with the ordinary people of Nigeria. 2011 is just around the corner. The time is too short to win a messy political struggle. He is still young in politics. There is still 2015 and 2019 and 2023 and so on. The way he handles the next few months can make or mar him politically. He should learn from the likes of Chris Ngige and Peter Obi. These were people who were in a similar position to the one he is in today; seating on top of a government/political machinery they did not control, in office but without power, the Executive but surrounded by unfriendly (and powerful) politicians. What did they do? They went to the people.

It was the people that protected Ngige from the wrath of the almighty Federal Government and transformed a political lightweight into a politician that, today, cannot be ignored in Anambra state. It was also the people that hemmed Peter Obi in and allowed him to turn the tables on his political rivals. In a democracy, no matter how defective it might be, sovereignty still rests with the people.  There are things that need doing. It has been said so many times that it is almost painful to repeat.

We do not need a 7-point agenda, one or two points would do. The acting President should forget the politics and face the socio-economic problems of our people. Take one or two things and pursue them with single-minded zeal for the rest of the Yar’Adua presidency. I suggest, firstly, the post-amnesty program in the Niger Delta. If post-amnesty is not handled properly, the Niger Delta will rise again in an even more virulent and violent fashion. The next generation of would-be militants have seen their senior brothers profit from militancy. They have seen Asari Dokubo and General Boyloaf become celebrities on the back of militancy.

If nothing is done, they will slowly re-build. Our borders are still porous. Arms can still pour into the region. There are still legions of unemployed youths to recruit. If (I almost want to say, when) the Niger Delta explodes again, it would not be a pretty sight.  Strategically speaking, Niger Delta militancy is Nigeria’s number one problem. We have already seen how the militants were able to cut our crude oil production in half and practically shut in most of our production from land. No crude oil, no money for federal, state or local governments. Militancy can bring Nigeria to its knees.

Crude oil is of strategic interest to the U.S, a nation that is never shy to interfere in the affairs of other countries in other to protect its own interests. America’s enemies also know that, next to the Middle East, Africa is the super power’s main source of crude. If Al-Qaeda were ever to come to Nigeria, you can be sure that, though they may enter the country through extremist groups in the North, their final destination would be the pipelines of the Niger Delta. Unless the instability of the region is dealt with, it is not hard to imagine our own Niger Delta as another front in America’s messy “war on terror”.

The acting President should face the Niger Delta squarely and drive through a substantive post-amnesty program. I suggest that ex-militants should be rehabilitated outside the Niger Delta. Bringing someone who was earning so much from bunkering to start learning how to be a mechanic in Port-Harcourt is asking for trouble. We should even consider sending those who are so inclined on scholarships to other countries.

For a re-orientation to be successful, there must be total separation from that environment. Even more importantly, infrastructural development in the area must be fast tracked. I cannot over-emphasize the fact that, with the Niger Delta, Nigeria is playing with fire. Dealing with the Niger Delta will have knock on effects on power. If the area is peaceful, pipelines can be repaired and the required gas can flow to all the gas-powered power stations that are either un- or under-utilized today, helping to improve the power situation across the country. Beyond this, there is not much the acting President can do in a few months to deal with the power problem. Therefore, I suggest he focus his attention on something else, like police reform. Here, he could possibly make an impact in a short time.

The Police are highly strategic to any effort to change this country. Security is the raison d’etre for society. People come together to be safer, first, before anything else. The recent robbery on the Lagos-Benin road has exposed the abysmal depths of insecurity in this country. Insecurity frustrates commerce and devalues life. Moreover, the Police Force is the face of the government. Nigerians will know that Nigeria has changed when the Police Force changes.

There are already efforts being made in the National Assembly to put the spotlight on the Police, the acting President should strongly complement these efforts. Even if it is only to make public a coherent strategy for reforming the Police, he should do so. The acting President should avoid loading his plate with too many objectives in the short time he has, but, if he must take on any other challenge, let it be that of civil service reform.

Here, again, he can only begin what would be a lengthy process but anyone interested in real change, change that means something to ordinary people, must face the decadent state of civil service in this country head on. However, like I said, let him not try to do too many things at once.

That was the bane of the legendary government of Tony Blair; too many things, too little time. But Tony Blair, apart from being Britain’s longest serving Labour PM, also bucked the trend in another less known way. He was one of the few British PM’s that achieved more at the end than at the beginning of his tenure. Sometimes, the shortness of time and the inevitability of losing power soon, can help to focus one’s mind and strengthen one’s will to leave a legacy behind that people will talk about in years to come.

So, I urge the acting President to leave the politics alone. Let him go to the people. Let him give them something that will make their lives better. This is the only fight that I think he has some chance of winning in his present position.


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