By Rotimi Fasan
IN an ethnically-alert Nigeria, the people of the Niger-Delta, particularly Bayelsa, must feel proud of the achievement of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who was three days ago sworn in as Nigeria’s 13th president.
Jonathan is not particularly new to the Aso Villa residence of the Head of State; he has been the occupant of the place for many months now since the death of former President Umar Yar’Adua and he emerged the winner of a seat some had schemed to hold on to even after the then occupant had all but ceased to function in the capacity of President.
The difference between the Jonathan presidency now and when he took over to complete Yar’Adua’s term is that he is, to the extent he permits himself, now his own man. Although no person can truthfully/entirely be their own wo/man in the give-and-take world of politics, but there is a sense in which the case of Jonathan had to be understood when one speaks in such terms.
Having become President in circumstances that came straight out of a fairytale, relatively unprepared and thus dependent on others to learn the ropes of his new position, President Jonathan has had to rely on the crutch provided by others to find his way.
In the wake of the demise of President Yar’Adua, for example, he had to assure certain section of the Nigerian people that he was loyal to the memory of his predecessor by toeing in his steps and pursuing his programme as a matter of obligation.
While not actively talking of a seven point agenda Jonathan, nevertheless, continue to harp on a so-called 20-2020 Vision that Yar’Adua himself apparently adopted from previous administrations. That situation cannot hold anymore, beginning from May 29, 2011. From this day onwards, Jonathan bears full responsibility for his own programme.
Jonathan’s steps, still gentle and mild unlike the brash treading of others who imagined themselves born into power, have in the last one year become more assured. He has been able to make several appointments that reflect what might be called his personal preferences and the nature of Nigerian politics. He is surrounded in certain regards by persons he feels comfortable working with. His National Security Adviser, NSA, Azazi Owoye, a retired General, is from the Niger Delta as is his Chief Press spokesperson, Ima Niboro.
He has appointed persons from the Niger Delta into other important positions. The rather sensitive post of NSA has more or less been monopolised by persons from the North for long. Not even under the Obasanjo administration did the situation change. But while Obasanjo as a long time player in Nigerian politics could afford such ‘gamble’, Jonathan needs the assurances of ‘home support’ to navigate in these early times of his emergence.
Perhaps matters couldn’t be otherwise given the ethnically-charged circumstances of his emergence and the determination of certain ethnic revanchists to ensure he did not enjoy the constitutional progression from Vice President to President. Which is not to say that Nigerians should continue to be run as an entity in which ethnic allegiance should take precedence over national considerations and competence.
What we must continually aim at is to transcend ethnic bigotry and work for the enthronement of a true sense of national consciousness without any contrived denial of individual or group identity. But it says something of our ethnically-charged surroundings that the first thing a leader does is to look out for familiar faces, and those from among their own ethnic group.
It is in this sense that the people of the Niger Delta must feel proud of Jonathan’s achievement. Nigerians from other parts of the country should feel good about this development too and try to view all that had happened between the passing of Yar’Adua and the rise of Jonathan as God’s way of saving Nigeria from itself and setting right a defect that was no longer tenable- the failure of Nigeria, not for lack of competent hands, to produce a President from any of the so-called minority groups after half a century of political independence.
Given the way things were going and the sense of entitlement with which some Nigerians were beginning to view the presidency as exclusively theirs, there couldn’t have been a better way for the emergence of Jonathan than in the manner he did. The agitation by activists and armed militants from the Niger Delta for environmental and economic justice has in the main subsided since Jonathan took over last year.
But this has thrown up a different challenge that the President must now confront: armed militancy from the North either in its ethnic or religious mask.
The North East, Abuja and parts of the Middle Belt have been the arena of mindless violence in recent times. The militancy that was hitherto identified with the Niger Delta has since shifted to the North and not for all the right reasons. It’s a reflection of the state of violence in the North that last Sunday’s inauguration of the President was preceded by rumours of terrorist attacks.
The Eagles Square, venue of the inauguration ceremony, was under tight security for several days to forestall any attack as was witnessed when the President was sworn in last year. Such state of anarchy cannot stand. Nigerians from outside the ethnic North, including those on national service have become targets of attacks. The situation has not been helped by the somewhat insensitive remarks of some influential Northerners.
Their aim, it appears, is to render Nigeria ungovernable for anyone but themselves or others chosen by them. But to the extent they make Nigeria ungovernable do they rule themselves out as potential beneficiaries of a pan-Nigeria mandate. President Jonathan must realise one task before him now is to ensure the security of Nigerians and provide a safe environment for them to pursue their legitimate aspirations.
Nobody, including past and present leaders, out to promote ethnic or sectarian violence under whatever guises, having enjoyed the benefits of a peaceful Nigeria, should be spared the sanction of the law. In addition to this, President Jonathan should, as he has been advised by Oladipo Adamolekun during the presidential inauguration lecture, tackle the long time problem of the power sector. A Nigeria without constant electricity cannot be functional.
Nor can a hungry, destitute and ignorant people be patriotic. Agriculture, health, housing and education are sectors the President would do well to pay attention as he begins a presidency which should, hopefully, usher Nigeria into a new era of responsible leadership.