The language of power By Garba Shehu


“Ambition obeys no law except its own appetite.”-Thinker.

Nigeria has been witnessing some contradictory traffic signals on the way to 2015, widening as a consequence, the credibility gap of the President on the issue.

At an inaugural lecture three days before swearing-in, in May 2011, the President blew the whistle for the next round of contest in 2015 when he said four years were insufficient for a President to make a mark. He said seven years was more like it. Naturally, this set the alarms ringing in the minds of opposition politicians that the President had begun his second term (or is it first term?) with tenure elongation in mind.

In the midst of the cacophony, the Chief oracle of the Jonathan administration and leader of the Ijaw tribe in Nigeria, Chief Edwin Clark, gave the green light through an “official” announcement that the President was due for another term starting from 2015. Chief Clerk had earlier in 2011 gone on his knees before the Northern political leaders at a meeting at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre to plead that the North waive their turn in 2011 and allow “our son” to do just a single term of four years.

The President flashed the red light at a Peoples Democratic Party’s National Executive Committee meeting middle of last year when he disowned the robust campaign his associates had begun for a new term of office. “I have not asked for anyone to campaign for me,” he said at that meeting. Just in March this year, less than a year into the current term, the spokesman and Adviser to the President, Dr. Reuben Abati, flashed the red light again, asking the 2015 campaigners to desist from their campaigns. He went a step further to ask on behalf of the President, that the party sanction PDP members who were involved in it. Apparently falling for a bait by a Northern pressure group led by Dr. Junaid Mohammed, Reuben dragged the President into the debate of whether he is into the first or second term, a matter that is now for adjudication by the courts. The President, Reuben announced, is in his first term and eligible for a second term of office in 2015.

At a time when the debate appeared closed, the irrepressible presidential sounding board and Chief oracle, Chief Clark flashed the green light again and put paid to all doubts that Jonathan would be a candidate in 2015. Clerk said if President Shagari did two terms; General Obasanjo did two terms, is Jonathan any less Nigerian that he would be denied the same perk by having him restricted to one term in office? As is usual with his interviews, Clerk did not end this one without heaping terrible insults on Northerners whom he said were parasitical and of zero benefit to the federation.

A Delhi man was on a flight to London and he asked the hostess for paracetamol. On being asked if he suffered from flu, the man said oh it is obvious he flew but that he was “suffering from Delhi.” The moral is that people suffer from cities, from countries and from stressful situations but when that happens over and over again, they develop immunity for the stress. There is a point at which you get used to the political language of the South-South.

Parts of this country were at various times ruled by the Portuguese; the Germans and the English but each of these colonizers had respect for our values and institutions. The British’ deference for our institutions was such that they left traditional institutions intact, where they found them and went a step further to create them where non-existed, as they did in the republican Eastern Nigeria. Today, with a well-educated zoologist from the South-South on the saddle, veranda boys have been licensed to make the insult of fellow Nigerians their by-word. Looking at what is going on, there are actually those who advance the view that Nigerians are generally weak and totally unfit to rule themselves. The current state of our political affairs is bereft of any sense of direction. General Buhari said Nigeria is in a reverse gear and I cannot agree more. Opposition is cowardly and divided. Look at our economy under Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a professional who ate and drank economics from the World Bank and the IMF before being thrust upon the country as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the economy. The economy continues to wobble like a bad car tyre.

One year into his new term of office, the President has proved that being highly educated doesn’t translate into being good administrators. It will be a mistake to say we are jealous of their educational attainment. As with other Nigerians, all we want is a leader who can tackle the burning problems of the country. If the President trusts this country to be his mirror, he should hold-up this mirror against his government for a reality test. Inside that mirror, he is going to see a great mass of his supporters who voted for him in 2011 agonizing over the state of their well-being and the helplessness in which they wallow. Inside that mirror, there is also a big crowd of those who opposed him thoroughly enjoying the frustration of the Jonathan die-hards, telling them to “bang their heads against the wall. It can help release some of the feeling of frustration.”

When people queue up to vote, the enthusiasm that ordinarily drives them is the hope that the man they are about to elect can improve the quality of their lives. What happens when such enthusiasm wanes away so soon because of the damning reality of failure? If our government succeeds to deliver, it is for our collective benefit. If, however, available resources didn’t match performance, a democratic government is fair game for legitimate criticism. The consequences of non-performance affect all of us, regardless of which section of Nigeria we come from or our political persuasions. Is it realistic to ask Nigerians to be patient with hunger, poverty and unemployment, after you requested their votes in return for tackling these challenges?

It is really ironic that the hype about “fresh air in Nigeria” is giving way to disillusionment. Poverty and hunger don’t recognize ethnic or regional identities. There is a limit you can expect fellow citizens to remain upbeat in the face of adversity. In fact, in the words of the French Philosopher, Voltaire, “optimism is the tendency of believing that all is well when things are going badly.” Nobody criticizes President Jonathan because he is a minority politician from the Niger –Delta; there is a limit you can expect your citizens to be patient with non-performance. Former President Shehu Shagari was one of the most criticized and pilloried democratic leaders. Yet he took it in his stride as the price you must pay in a democracy. You are constantly in the court of public opinion. President Jonathan must be ready to swallow this price of absorbing legitimate criticisms. He must fasten his pace and demonstrate that he has the mettle to meet the challenges he promised to tackle. But can he succeed with his tainted view  of power as a zero sum game, to be enjoyed by his South-South at the expense of the five other geo-political zones.

 


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