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Jonathan: Living history; making history

By Rotimi Fasan
IT’S been two weeks since the passing of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. With the official mourning period, during which flags flew at half mast, now over attention is gradually turning to other matters.

Valedictory sessions have been held for the late president in both chambers of the National Assembly and the immortalisation of Yar’Adua has begun in earnest with a major highway in Abuja and the international airport in Katsina, his home state, named for him. More of such honours, Nigerian may expect, will follow in days, months and years to come.

But in all this the wheel of governance grinds on unrelentlessly. With all indicators pointing in the direction of Nenadi Sambo, Governor of Kaduna State, a Vice-President should by now have been named after several names had been speculated as potential contenders for the position.

In general terms President Yar’Adua has been presented as more or less a victim of circumstance and those around him- a man more sinned against than he had sinned. But we must move beyond the level of sympathy and saccharine eulogies to a critical appreciation of the drama that preceded the death of this ‘good man’.

In this wise, I will go back to my call, last week, that President Goodluck Jonathan has the important task of unravelling the mystery surrounding the circumstances under which Yar’Adua died.

It’s not enough, even foolish, to celebrate the memory of the dead while we ignore the conditions that might have been responsible for such death. Such is the attitude of those who abandon their aged ones to hunger and disease at old people’s homes or such others places, not bothering to meet their smallest needs, only to call out the entire town in lavish celebration of their funeral when they are dead and gone.

The circumstances of Yar’Adu’s death imposes a duty on us all, particularly President Jonathan, to help set standard for future conduct. As a Yoruba proverb has it, the death that kills one’s benefactor serves warning of what fate awaits one.

We are a forgetful people- a people that would consign contemporary history into prehistory. There is much to be learned from the Yar’Adua saga, if we’ll allow ourselves to. President Jonathan in particular has a lot to learn from all this and he must, as a matter of self-interest, try not to let us forget where we were coming from.

That task, for me, begins with how he treats the memory of his predecessor, to wit, the circumstances that led to his being taken to Saudi Arabia and returned home in total secrecy, in a manner that raises questions of possible foul play.

While all of this played out and the likes of Michael Aondoakaa, erstwhile Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, spoke from both sides of the mouth, turning the law on its head as he lectured Nigerians about a Nigerian constitution that permits the president to rule from any part of the world, important state decisions were taken and executed possibly by persons who had usurped the powers of the ailing president.

Perhaps it is true, as some historians say, that history does not repeat itself. Yet we must not forget the wise words of that other philosopher that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

We must not forget all too soon how this country came to the very brink of disaster in those months when nobody knew in what direction we were headed as a consequence of the ring that was thrown around the illness and eventual death of President Yar’Adua.

If Nigeria and Nigerians could in those circumstances describe themselves as victims of power mongers we cannot now plead the same excuse. We have now the opportunity to steer our future in the direction of our own choosing and President Goodluck Jonathan, I insist, must not fail us. The short-term demands of everyday politicking must not turn him away from this task. He is a child, a figure of history whose lessons he must neither be blind or deaf to.

And in learning from history, he must avail Nigerians of the same opportunity. Which leads me to the other important question as to what should be President Jonathan’s role now and in the period leading up to and after 2011.

This matter for me can be addressed in both personal and collective terms. In his personal capacity, that is as the matter relates to him directly, I’ll say President Jonathan should not seek to be president after he completes the Yar’Adua term.

His major task should be to help correct the lapses of decades past, laying the foundation for credible elections, a less corrupt and true Nigerian federation in which Nigerians can all aspire to live as one in a country in which our diversity is an advantage rather than the cause for avoidable friction.

A Nigeria that is respected around the world. I’m sure this view will not be popular with many people, not the least those who may now see the rise of Jonathan as a mark of his personal genius and ingenuity as a politician.

Without taking away from his personal merits, President Jonathan is in every terms a child of Providence. His rise as a relatively obscure deputy governor of a small state like Bayelsa, to the position of Vice President and, then, President within a space of six, seven years is in every sense the ‘Lord’s doing’.

Little if any of it has to do with how well he had positioned himself as a wily politician. In that wise, he should simply thank God for bringing him this far and try to repay God’s goodness by extending His blessings which he stands as testimony of to the rest of Nigeria.

This is the statesman’s role that many of our past rulers have failed to play. He could choose to follow the example of Mandela.

But the matter is not entirely in his hand, as many, especially longsuffering Niger-Deltans would justifiably see his rise as their own chance to lead Nigeria. Yet the matter is far more complex than one of it’s-our-time-too-to-rule nor than space would permit me to explore.

Suffice to say that Jonathan should create the enabling environment for justice and fairplay in a Nigeria in which merit prevails and all is equal before the law.


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