In its fiftieth years of existence as a nation-state, Nigeria is about to embark on a new chapter. In the years since flag-independence, save for the unfortunate events of 1966-1970 and the injustice that’s come to be known as June-12, one could hardly think of any other period that was as grave as recent months. That there was not a military coup, mass revolt and or other types of blood-letting political brouhaha, speaks to either a deep-seated collective indifference, a wary nation suspicious of another round of belligerence, or, it could be that we are maturing as a nation.
I cannot imagine a condition — any condition — under which future generations will examine this particular moment and not cringe, be stupefied or feel ashamed. It was a huge embarrassment. It made our country look foolish. It made the vast majority of our political class look dense, greedy and unschooled. Their individual and collective action and inaction made it look as though they placed their personal ambition high and above the wellbeing of our country. And whether they intended it to be so or not, their actions, inactions and pronouncements greatly diminished our country’s status and stature in and outside of the African continent.
What should have been a routine constitutional act — delegation of power — became the catalyst for high-end rumors and frictions. As a result, old sores were reopened, primordial sentiments flamed, and old and almost forgotten regional disputes brought to the fore. Across the Suez and the Mediterranean, and across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, our elites validated centuries held notion that we are a people incapable of simple task. And really, those incapable of simple tasks may not be capable of complex tasks. How was it that what is routine in several countries around the world became complicated and intrigue-laden in ours? Twice, we have been lucky; it is hoped that Nigeria has more than two lives.
I do not envy Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Not many rational and reasonable people would. It is hard to imagine the kind of nervous tension he must have, and is going though. The weight and expectation of the nation. The pull and push of the international community. The storm and thunder that brews in his heart and stomach. Thinking about him reminds me of a great Nigerian, Yakubu Dan-Yumma Gowon. General Gowon was a young man tasked with keeping Nigeria one. In virtually every respect, he did not disappoint. Different era and different circumstances, still, Jonathan Goodluck’s task cannot be any easier.
The road ahead is dangerous. It is treacherous. There are ethnic and politically induced Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) everywhere. From now on he may never be able to go to bed with both eyes closed. Should he be sworn in as the acting president, he may never be able to go to bed with both eyes closed with the windows opened. And should he become the de facto/de jure president, he may have to develop a sense of paranoia. Goodluck Jonathan may never again feel relaxed until after he vacates the (vice) presidency. After all, this is not a man with traits that comes close to those exhibited by Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha or Olusegun Obasanjo. He is fundamentally a decent man.
From the northern part of the country are hawks ready to kick the stool under him. From the west are the inpatient hawks ready to devour him. From the south east and south-south are fierce enemies disguised as friends. In the south-south, and more so in his own region, his enemies seems more determined to bring him down. In all of these, the Vice President has very few friends. And fewer brothers. From the north to the south and everywhere in between are men and women who are ready to do him in. He’s got what they want. For most, they want it not because they are better and or that they can perform better.
Whatever the Nigerian Parliament orders or legislates, Goodluck Jonathan will come to realize, or be reminded of Daisy Bates’s take: “No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies.” Above all else, he must take to heart William Faulkner’s injunction: “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
Once legal and political huddles and hindrances are overcome, the Vice President must think of legacy. His goal must be to create, not destroy; to do great things and not fall into the pit of mediocrity; to lay the foundations for a better future, and not waylay the future; and to do things that history and posterity will applaud. After all, according to Albert Pine, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world, remains and is immortal.” He must do those things that set Nigeria on the right path. He must not allow himself to be taken or overtaken by fear.
He must defy all expectations and do what is right in the eyes of all Nigerians. He must speak of abiding hope and endless possibilities. He must speak to and act towards a better Nigeria. This is not the time to fear, to be hesitant. Should he do the right things and walk in the path of righteousness, Nigerians will pray for him; they will support him. The country yearns for a genuine, committed and visionary leader. That is what he must give. Nothing less. He really must do those things his critics and doubter thinks he is incapable of: Set Nigeria on the right footing.