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President Saviour? Not a chance

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By Obi Nwakanma
An amusing cartoon last week in the Vanguard raised the question of whether President Goodluck Jonathan is finally the political saviour Nigerians have long awaited.

Well, first, there is much politics in the idea of the individual as saviour. In the first place, the Church has placed a copyright on the myth of the saviour. That copyright belongs to a Nazarene rabble-rouser who probably lived wild, tippled some, partied hard, was not averse to a little illicit consolation from the damoiselle from Magdala, and was done in by what the conservatives of his era, the keepers of the law and guardians of morality would then see as his excess. They took him publicly to a hill and put him to a mean death, to teach him the lesson of his life.

Well, some smart Alecs have since resurrected Him into this powerful image of the eternal saviour of mankind. He is a good brand and He continues to earn good advertising revenue. President Jonathan has no chance against Him. Second, national salvation is a huge and public act of faith. No individual can save a nation. The era of the charismatic big man politician – the ones anointed by God and destiny to lead people from the desert of history into some mythic oasis or some political Canaan is gone.

It is an illusion of the mind. It is the hope of the woebegone that someone would rise out of the cloud and in great majesty save him or her from the destructive conditions of our humanity. That illusion is rather high in Nigeria. Nigerians are seduced by religious and by political fantasy.

There is something utterly primitive about the Nigerian fixation with faith: faith in some external power bigger than the self, potentially more sublate and dangerous, and extremely refractive of our psychic desire for transcendence, a state or condition which we feel incapable of attaining on our own steam, is the current condition of the Nigerian mind.

President Goodluck Jonathan will not save Nigeria. He is part of its problem. But, let me quickly say that looking at the entire field, I see Goodluck Jonathan, indeed, as eminently qualified to lead Nigeria. He comes with solid academic training; a background in the sciences.

His earlier work as a highly-trained scientist who earned his doctorate squarely through scrutiny and research in the biological sciences may not have given him much leg-up on the crudities of politics but it ought indeed, to have exposed him to the workings of the Food Chain. Politics is much like that.

And, Nigerian politics as he has since learned is carnivorous. It is also full of ironies: it is public knowledge that Goodluck Jonathan began life in the lower rungs of the Nigerian Customs Service after high school. By then, Atiku Abubakar was already a mandarin of the customs.

The Nigerian Customs Service was also a well-known pit of corruption. Jonathan, of course, did not waste much time before going on to the university and turning to the quiet, academic life, while Abubakar grew into one of the most powerful customs officers, leaving in fuzzy circumstances in the 1980s.

He was plainly Jonathan’s very senior colleague in the business. But two weeks ago,  Jonathan, as the incumbent PDP president trounced Abubakar, who was already Vice-President while he was still Deputy Governor to the man many call the Alibaba of the Niger Delta, for PDP ticket.

They were two deputies at the same time headed into different directions: one from the lower ladder towards the Presidency and the other, by some act of overreach towards a political desert. They are both products of the toxic politics of placements and displacements in PDP – that elephant in the China shop called Nigerian politics. There were sighs of relief and frustration in equal measure in many quarters about Jonathan’s triumph.

But, of the hope, there was plainly much of it hinged on the immense expectation that Jonathan, with his quiet, humble, but apparently firm and stubborn style would finally, as president on his own steam, inaugurate a departure from a past of political leadership marked mostly by inadequate intellectual preparation.

There may be something to this. President Jonathan has promised more electricity – a better energy environment: and he seems bent on this. By next year, Nigerians might experience more constant power. I noticed last Christmas, for the first time, at least, for me, in years, that there were no long queues in dry petrol stations charging usurious prices for fuel. There was fuel and it made things a bit more easy and joyous for commuters.

The Jonathan administration seems to be plugging a hole in the leaks in the supply side of that industry. However, the President does not seem yet to have answers for the terrible level of insecurity in the land; the extreme levels of corruption; and to the extreme levels of national infrastructural dilapidation – from schools, hospitals, public roads and such public things.

This President also seems hand-in-glove with the fundamentalists of privatisation, and on the verge of selling off Nigeria’s national wealth to a few individual investors without weighing the future consequence, particularly the conflict that might arise, as it would surely happen, not a few generations more from now when a new generation would come to review privatisation.

Government is still reeling from massive levels of corruption. Our national security infrastructure remains at very primitive and dependent levels: a military that does not produce anything; a police service with an inefficient central bureaucracy and extremely corrupt personnel, incapable of solving the simplest crimes; a state security service whose greatest achievement it seems, is to apprehend travelling journalists at the arrival lounges of airports while the country is upended by serious cases of kidnapping, terrorism,  mail fraud and other economic crimes at the highest levels.

President Jonathan does not, in fact, seem to have clear ideas drawn and fully explained to the Nigerian electorate about his plans to deal with these. Yet, it seems, and comes the question, and the hope, that Jonathan will single-handedly save Nigeria, whence he commeth as a redeemer for some. And, I say, not a chance.

There is no single individual who can or will. National salvation is a condition of the national mind. It is about Nigerians saving the nation from wherever they stand, and from their own acts of self-accounting, and self-propulsion. It is happening in Algeria and Egypt recently.

Even if the Nazarene assumes the office in Abuja, an inarticulate, unengaged, undemocratic, unconscious population, will turn him into a corrupt tyrant. Nigerians struggled to earn the right to vote. But the right to vote is meaningless if after we vote we leave those we vote alone to be gods over us. To save Nigeria we must act with fierce civic will to hold those we elect to account by all means necessary. It begins by saying “No! in Thunder!”

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