Nigeria Matters

Madam Jonathan goes to Lebanon

For those who ever had doubts, Goodluck Jonathan is emerging as just another occupant of the office of president, one with little or no clue that his job is not a ticket to party all night and all day.

Last week, barely two weeks after Jonathan’s swearing in as “president,” his wife took off on a trip to Lebanon via Dubai. That trip showed that Mrs. Jonathan’s priorities stink. It also exposed her husband as politically deaf, just another imposition for whom Nigeria is simply a source of exploitation.

Saharareporters.com, which has become the scourge of Nigeria’s misruling politicians, reported that Mrs. Jonathan’s business in Lebanon was to buy jewelry. In a ridiculous rejoinder, Mrs. Jonathan’s media assistant demanded that, rather than vilifying her, we should be in awe of her humility and huge sacrifice. The report by Saharareporters, according to Ayo Adewuyi, the woman’s spokesman, “smacks of an attempt by the authors to rubbish the goodwill of a modest woman who has chosen to waive her privileges as the First Lady and travel on a commercial flight for a private visit.”

Of course, Mrs. Jonathan and her megaphones would never admit that her image troubles – and her husband’s – are self-inflicted. Intent on finding a straw man, they accused the website’s reporters of harboring “malicious intentions.” The reporters, Mr. Adewuyi stated, “are bent on carrying out the orchestrated plan of their sponsors.”

Adewuyi’s sorry rejoinder characterized the report that Mrs. Jonathan had gone to Lebanon on a gold-buying spree as “ungodly and an unnecessary distraction that is not needed now.” The rejoinder seethed with words, but the spokesman could not answer the simple question: What business took your boss to Lebanon?

The closest he came to providing an answer amounted to an evasion. He stated: “For the avoidance of doubt, Her Excellency, the First Lady is on a private visit which has been scheduled long before her husband was sworn-in as President.”

Yes, the rejoinder dripped with supercilious titles. The spokesman wanted us so badly to know that he was speaking, not for a mere mortal, but for “Her Excellency, the First lady, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan.” In case some of us didn’t realize how extraordinary was the woman’s pedigree, Mr. Adewuyi wrote: “The First Lady has come a long way as the wife of a Deputy Governor, wife of a Governor, wife of the Vice President and wife of the acting President, it therefore defy any logical reason that it is now that she will be scrambling to buy gold. This is uncharitable.”

Let’s forget the terrible grammar that blights the above quote, and infects the entire rejoinder. Let’s hasten to the clincher: “Mrs. Jonathan rather than being vilified should be commended for maintaining low profile, being modest and considerate for choosing to fly a commercial flight for the visit even though she has the privilege of requesting for the use of a Presidential aircraft.”

Let me repeat: the timing of Mrs. Jonathan’s trip, private or official, betrays a stinky sense of priorities. If Mr. Goodluck Jonathan approved his wife’s trip, then his sense of judgment is even worse than I ever suspected. If he didn’t approve, but his wife went all the same, then Nigerians have much to be afraid of. A man who cannot check his wife’s excesses has no business presuming to govern the complex, crisis-ridden organism called Nigeria.

To be clear, there’s nothing remotely excellent about Mrs. Jonathan’s choice to go to Lebanon. Guess what? Lebanon’s reputation is as a center of the jewelry trade. And also – justified or not – as an address for laundering loot.

The Jonathans must know this. If they didn’t, they must have people around them to advise them. If they don’t, well, it’s their self-authored disaster.

The trip raises deeply disturbing questions. Why didn’t it occur to Jonathan that a gallivanting wife sends the message that he has no clue about the depth of Nigeria’s crises? Why do Nigerian officials delight in basking in countries built up by the vision and energy of purposeful leaders and people? Nigeria’s rulers love to revel in the picturesque beauty and modern facilities of Dubai, Cape Town, and Accra. Yet, their policies turn Nigerian cities into slums.

If Mrs. Jonathan were a politically attentive and sensitive spouse – rather than a self-absorbed one – she might have reckoned that, in the absence of an emergency, this was not a time to embark on a “private” junket to Lebanon or elsewhere abroad.

Is Mrs. Jonathan concerned at all about her husband’s legacy? Has she envisioned the kind of imprint she’d like him to leave? Has it ever worried her that her husband, who in the days of his “acting presidency” made some appealing promises, has since slipped into familiar ineptitude?

Mr. Jonathan’s presidency appears headed, one fears, for bankruptcy. From the look of things, his only vital sign that remains alive is a preoccupation with how to retain the office of president in next year’s election. To achieve that goal, he’s been willing to mortgage everything else, including working to improve the lot of Nigerians, however marginally.

Look at the company he keeps. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose design for Nigeria is unquestionably evil, has become a regular guest. Andy Uba, Obasanjo’s former Man Friday – a man who in 2004 stowed away $170,000 in cash on a presidential flight bound for New York City – is now a confidant. Jonathan’s administration is prosecuting Nasir El Rufai, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, for alleged acts of corruption. Even so, in a sign of severe ethical blindness, Mr. Jonathan has seen nothing wrong in welcoming Mr. El Rufai as a guest at the Presidency.

One consequence of hobnobbing with the Obasanjo crowd is that Jonathan has begun to run Nigeria’s shop the same way the hypocritical Obasanjo did. His government has become an administration of speeches, no action. Jonathan has conveniently forgotten that he once pledged to get cracking on Nigeria’s energy crisis. For him, the whole rhetoric about electoral reform seems to have boiled down to a gambit: how to manipulate the process to ensure that, by hook or crook, he stays put in Aso Rock beyond next year.

Jonathan has spent no political capital to persuade the National Assembly to pass the kind of electoral bill that would make Nigeria’s elections credible. He’s reportedly considering Mrs. Dora Akunyili – a woman who described the electoral fraud of 2007 as an act of God – as a possible chairperson for the national electoral commission. Why should a woman who believes that God is an accomplice of riggers be mentioned as a candidate for the job of electoral umpire?

Jonathan is of course a product of his tragic time and ghastly circumstance. Far from spending any time to ponder what to do with presidential power, he is a creature of Obasanjo’s mischievous, nation-deadening 2007 scheme: to saddle Nigeria with two unprepared men as its rulers.

Why is Jonathan obsessed with recapturing the presidency next year when he doesn’t come across as having the foggiest idea how to use that office to begin to solve problems? Why must woe-betide Nigerians remain stuck with a man who hardly appears to realize the nature and scope of Nigeria’s problems, much less how to change the situation?

Do Jonathan and his wife understand, or care about, the rut in the educational sector; the worsening state of infrastructure; the staggering rate of unemployment; the terrible state of health care; the in

security of lives and property? Where’s their blueprint for tackling these profound problems?

True leaders don’t send their wives on expensive junkets abroad when there are myriad crises demanding attention. If Mrs. Jonathan and her handlers believe that her decision to travel by commercial flight entitles her to canonization, then one has news for them. Both Britain and Singapore are many times wealthier than Nigeria. Even so, the leaders of both nations don’t boast a single “executive” jet; they travel, as a rule, on commercial airlines.

It’s an anomaly – a criminal anomaly, in a country with Nigeria’s rate of poverty – that Nigerian officials buy jets for their exclusive use. Jonathan should ground his wife, initiate the process of selling off all the jets in the presidential fleet, and roll up his sleeves to work – for once – for Nigerians. Either do that, or ship out.

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