Portrait of a president as a storm rider By Ose Oyamendan

I love President Goodluck Jonathan. Unlike most people who support a president because of his policies and/or personality, I have no such claim. I just feel that when a series of accidents catapults a man to glory, you just gotta love that man and his luck.

It is this love that has often led to a bafflement on how a nation that sang the president’s praise only a couple of years ago have now turned on the man they coined the jingle “good luck to you, good luck to me”. If there was a jingle of the day today, it may well be “what good luck? Sorry Naija”.

In the late May, I was in Lagos when I, as usual, got dragged into a debate about the President. These guys didn’t understand why I would defend a president whose only laudable policy that I can point to is his agricultural policy. But, I’m a romantic. Once in love, it takes an earthquake to shake it off.

Then, the earthquake happened and the scales fell off my eyes. I finally saw the reason why the messiah of a couple of years ago is now seen as the head of an administration a sizeable number of Nigerians are thinking is one accident of history too far.   

It took an illegal act carried out with the impunity of a military junta with no regard for the law, the people and the constitution. It took the renaming of the University of Lagos. You would think a learned man; a former university lecturer and a man who became the president through a constitutional act would respect tradition and the constitution more.

But, not Jonathan. I’ve long thought that the noise about the president’s 2015 agenda is politics as usual. Now, I know. The president seems hell bent on positioning himself for 2015. Don’t be shocked if you wake up tomorrow and your town hall has been renamed after some local chief by presidential fiat. If his name or memory can deliver some votes, your tradition is doomed.

Or, how do you explain renaming the University of Lagos after a man who died for Nigeria’s democracy? In one misuse of presidential power, Jonathan has reduced the martyr of Nigerian democracy into a tribal figure. In Jonathan’s eye, Abiola was a Yoruba man who deserves to be honored with a university in Yoruba land.

Naming UNILAG after Abiola is the height of political gimmickry, an act the president’s advisers were certain was a political masterstroke but one that shows paints the desperation of the president. The only thing probably worse would have been the president renaming Ogun State Abiola state.

The plot seems simple. Jonathan is not that popular in the South West, forget the fact that an opposition leader helped him win there the last time. The calculation in the presidential circle is if UNILAG is renamed after Abiola, the Yoruba leaders may not like it but they would be loath to condemn it because Abiola is both Yoruba and an iconic figure.

But, pray – what does Abiola has to do with UNILAG? He never went to school there, was never a chancellor, is not from Lagos State and really has no affiliation with the school. Is Jonathan now telling the nation that Abiola was a regional figure? All the noise about schools like Harvard being named after people should stop. Most times a school is named after someone, it’s because they founded it or contributed to its early growth.

It’s shocking that the president and his advisers ignore the fact that his act may actually be a breach of the constitution since the university was created by an act of parliament and it should take a proclamation of the National Assembly to rename the institution. And, it seems it doesn’t bother the president that his act is disrupting the lives of thousands of students and bringing the kind of chaos not seen in the institution in a decade.

If the president really wants to honor Abiola, he should do it legally by presenting a bill to the National Assembly and renaming Democracy Day Abiola Day. That would be the ultimate honor because without Abiola there would be no democracy as we know it today. Or, at the very worst, rename the National Stadium in Abuja after the man whose passion was sports. That makes him a national hero, not a local one. 

You have to pity Labaran Maku, the man charged with defending the indefensible. But, even he must have gone home after trying to explain the president’s decision and turned off every radio and television set in the house. His defense punctured holes in his lofty stature and qualifications. It threw logic to the wind. 

When the University of Ife was renamed after Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there was some outcry. But, even the Babangida administration was intelligent enough to honor the man with the school he founded as premier of the western region. And, ask most people from the region what they remember most about Awolowo and chances are they would say education. The man’s free education policy changed the lives of millions.

I have always frowned on people calling this president clueless. I don’t think he is. No man has such a meteoric rise by being clueless. I think the reality is that this administration shoots dart on a policy board and hope something sticks. It’s like a series of accidents and mistakes, with the hope that something good happens after all the administration got here by a stroke of historical accident. So, why change your luck? And, while they fiddle with the nation, the Nigerian ship sinks.



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