By Donu Kogbara

SEVERAL  PDP dignitaries attended Jonathan’s declaration ceremony. Some grinned supportively from the sidelines. Others eagerly grabbed the microphone and assured the world that they were fully behind Jonathan’s aspirations.

When I laid eyes on some of the big shots who had turned up to pledge their allegiance, either vocally or by their mere presence, I almost choked on the snacks I was nibbling!…because I clearly recall that these very same fellows didn’t display any respect towards Jonathan when he was a beleaguered Vice and Acting President.

Some of them even tried to block and totally destroy him.
But I guess that I shouldn’t have been shocked about the fact that some of the VIPs who once tried to derail Jonathan have been rushing into his camp since he got promoted and acquired the clout to enrich and empower or undermine them.

These guys are, after all, slippery survivalists and shameless opportunists by nature. And one assumes that Jonathan is allowing them to flock into his fold because they are forces to be reckoned with and potentially useful to him.

Meanwhile, many real Jonathan loyalists – people who genuinely love him and took risks on his behalf and doggedly stood by him when he was less important and under pressure – are privately accusing him of ignoring them…and of caring more, nowadays, about “pretenders” who are now kissing his feet but treated him shabbily until circumstances catapulted him onto the number one pedestal.

When I hear such bitter bellyachings – which typically come from old pals who are decent but not particularly influential – I wryly remember that Jonathan is a politician, like his new “allies”…and that it is often said that politicians have “no permanent friends and no permanent enemies…only permanent interests”!

The personalisation of patronage

I WAS once sent to interview Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. He had just, at the time, become Obasanjo’s Vice-President; and I’ve never forgotten what he told me when I asked him what aspects of Nigeria he would most like to change.

He sighed sadly and said that he really regretted the fact that it was very difficult for average citizens to solve their problems and fulfil their potential if they didn’t have access to influential people who were willing to help them.

He concluded by saying that he would be very glad if our society eventually evolved to the point where the government provided safety nets that would enable individuals to get what they needed and deserved without knowing anyone

Atiku sounded completely sincere when he made these observations and went up quite a few notches in my estimation – for pinpointing a serious problem that has never been even fleetingly acknowledged by the other Nigerian leaders I have met.

While Atiku was agonising about unlucky underlings who have no godfathers or godmothers – and advocating innovative policies that would reduce his powers – his contemporaries did not appear to be giving the matter a second thought.

I strongly suspect that most of our grandees are egomaniacs and sadists who actively enjoy a tragic status quo that compels us to behave like slaves and beg them for benefits that should, ideally, be impersonally provided by the system
When an individual is a rare source of patronage and welfare, he or she can feel omnipotent and play careless and cruel chess with ordinary folks’ lives.

Atiku was so right to be concerned about this issue because it has wide-ranging implications. And I will discuss this topic in greater detail in next week’s column.

A day to remember

LAST week, I told you that a reader had complained about my “boring” penchant for frequently focussing on President Goodluck Jonathan; and I admitted that this was a reasonable complaint and promised to write about him less often in future.

But before I take a breather from Jonathan stories, I must comment on his declaration ceremony, an important event that took place last weekend.

It was extremely moving. While he was being serenaded by D’Banj, the star musician, and being loudly cheered on by supporters from all over the Federation, the first ever Niger Deltan President of Nigeria, accompanied by his pretty wife Dame Patience, semi-danced his way – smiling shyly and arms raised happily but somewhat tentatively – to the podium in Eagle Square.

Tears trickled down my face when Jonathan told the crowd that it never crossed his mind, when he was young, that someone from a small minority community – Otueke in Bayelsa State – could ever rise as high as he has risen.

I was also deeply touched when he talked about the poverty he endured in childhood and said: “There was no car to take me to school, but I never despaired. Some days, I only had one meal, but I never despaired”.

Jonathan wound up his speech by saying that if he could make it, ANY Nigerian can make it. And I pray that if he wins the election, he will regard it as a sacred duty to make life MUCH easier for the many Nigerians who also come from humble backgrounds and are struggling silently in all four corners of this nation.

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