John F. Kennedy, one of America’s most loved and flamboyant presidents, in this poignant statement, said: “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
With a little modification, you’d think Kennedy was referring to Nigeria of the 21st century under President Goodluck Jonathan. Just super-impose ‘Jonathan’ where ‘nation’ is, and you’d be right on point. But in place of ‘a nation that is afraid of its people’, simply put ‘a leader that intimidates his people’. That seems to be what our president continuously throws on our faces. For him, every Nigerian has a vote to cast, but some votes are more important than the others.
How else do you describe Jonathan’s campaigns cum visits to the House of God and royalty? It began with a visit to Jerusalem, when the president and his loyal governors and aides openly sought the face of God and got ‘anointed’. I have been told by my Christian friends and colleagues that pilgrimage to Jerusalem is not a doctrinal issue in Christianity, but because religion is a sensitive issue in Nigeria, right-minded people (Christians and Muslims) mostly held back their criticisms of the president’s largely political voyage then. The silence from religious groups especially emboldened the president to engage in more church shuttles. So for weeks, he moved from one church to another. On face value, there is no problem about visits to God’s Vineyard. But for the president of a religiously diverse country like Nigeria, it’s an abuse of platform. On each occasion, he used the opportunity to showcase his programmes. Each time he canvassed for support for his programme, he gained political edge. Not to talk of policy statements he made from the pulpits, which invariably have witnessed a lot of condemnation.
We thought we had had the worst of our president. When it comes to annoying the electorate, this president has the capacity to churn out new ideas; for that was what he did last weekend. He met with some of the most powerful traditional rulers in the land—the emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero; the Alafin of Oyo; Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade. In Kano, the president told the emir: “I’ve been longing to see you since you returned from a medical trip abroad. I’m happy to meet you in good health.” Pray was he also longing to see the other two royal fathers? Were they also sick or did they also travel for medical check-up?
In the days ahead, the president, going by his antecedents, will visit more religious leaders and traditional rulers. To say the least, the president is missing the point. When he told his ‘no shoes story’ in 2011, he was obviously not referring to this category of people. Ordinary Nigerians thought that was his way of identifying with them. However, the president has since turned out to be a big let-down, and has since abandoned his primary constituency where the voting power lies to hobnob with the VIPs. No new jobs have been created; the population of the unemployed is on the rise; healthcare is beyond the reach of the poor; university education is in the woods, etc. Polytechnic teachers have been on strike since October, last year. In all ramifications, the Jonathan government has not lived up to his words to protect all citizens of this country. It is not a surprise that he has chosen to visit the high and mighty.
If, therefore, the president wishes to test his popularity, he should go to Wuse market in Abuja, Central market in Kaduna, Sabon-Gari market in Kano and other such places and not hire crowds or go on guided visits to people who have no electoral value. The real power resides with the people, and how they use it or how they are manipulated to use it, as Jonathan seems to be doing, depends on their level of literacy, sentiments and emotions. Unfortunately, this method did work for the president in the past; but whether the same feat can be achieved with the way he is going, only time will tell.
Seriously, I do not understand why President Jonathan would ignore the electorate and prefer to go for royal and priestly blessings only. With this, he is in the category of people described as “sanctimonious demagogues parading as patriots”. Patriotism is about putting the nation first before even oneself, religious leaders or traditional rulers. But like most Nigerians, our loyalty and allegiance is first to our ethnic group and religion before the nation. That is why these cleavages are growing while the nation is dying. People can do this in their closets, but the president can’t afford those luxuries. His minders should tell him, his royal father friends should caution him, and his campaigners should be mindful of the people’s anger and wrath.
This open display of bigotry can neither serve the interest of the nation nor the president’s. But the president can take a cue from Emir Ado Bayero’s admonition and go and sin no more. “Treat everybody equally. This is one country and you are the president. Administer the affairs of the country in such a way that everybody will be proud to be a Nigerian”, the emir said. That everybody includes the beggar on the streets, the homeless, the ordinary man on the streets of Damaturu and Maiduguri, the unemployed youth, the abused woman or teenage girl, the hawker, the market woman, the labourer and the residents of high-brow Maitama and Asokoro, and, of course, religious and traditional rulers.