Nigeria Matters

The Business of Drafting Jonathan

There’s a new business in Nigeria. It’s the business of drafting President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to present himself for reelection. A group called Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) has emerged as the biggest, most enterprising player.

Every few days, some busybodies under the aegis of TAN descend on some city in Nigeria to advance the ostensible business of drafting the president into a race all but the inhabitants of outer space know he’d been ready to run from the early days of his Presidency. The latest political craze in town is to draft a man who, long ago, already drafted himself.

These decoy “drafters” stage spectacles called political rallies. At each location, they announce their collection of millions of signatories demanding one thing and one thing only: that Jonathan should succeed Jonathan. In fact, the signature record appears to fall with each new outing.

Last weekend, the bandwagon arrived in Port Harcourt, the biggest city in the president’s own geopolitical region, which goes by the intriguing and perplexing name of South-South. There, the orchestrators of the draft even saw fit to warn Mr. Jonathan to forget about ever coming home if he failed to run again. Talk about pressure from these wooers of the president!

The Port Harcourt jamboree stood out for another reason. According to a report in the Tribune, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance (aka Coordinating Minister of the Economy), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, used the occasion to remind the president’s heady supporters that Mr. Jonathan “has led Nigeria to become the largest economy in Africa.” She added, the paper reported, that “Mr. Jonathan had created three million jobs” and “managed the country to become the fastest growing economy in Africa.”

For a second, I expected that the honorable minister would remind the president that he was the one who made it possible for every single Nigerian to own a private jet, every single Nigerian to make the Forbes list of global billionaires, every single Nigerian to have access to the extraordinary Nigerian specialist hospitals located in Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, India, the US, and the UK, every single Nigerian to own a mansion in the swanky precincts of Dubai.

But seriously, what does all this theater mean? It means, I suggest, that we’re faring well in our usual business—sycophancy masked as adulation, self-interest dressed up as altruism and high-mindedness. It’s in the best interests of some, especially the small circle of profiteers, that Nigeria’s main business must remain the unceasing, perennial preoccupation with politics. My hunch is that this business of entreating the president to re-seek the job he already holds is lucrative for those engaged in it. If they don’t have returns on their “investment” now, they labor in expectation of getting some rich reward in the near future.

The price we pay, of course, is that we disdain vision and forget the arduous art of real governance. Vision and governance? Those are for wimps who are weak at playing politics. Yet, the cultivation of vision and painstaking application of governance skills were used by the broad elite who built—and continue to build—the countries where Nigeria’s ruling elite love to take vacations, to seek medical care, to send their progeny to school.

For many Nigerian public officials, governance is about self-inflation. It’s about being called His Excellency, the Executive Governor of So-and-So State. It’s about being addressed as Distinguished Senator, even when the person so flattered has never blown air into a microphone at the Senate.

But how about a concern with policies, especially those that are the product of deep thinking, capable of truly transforming the wretched condition of the vast majority of Nigerians? No, such policies must be discountenanced, for there is the pressing game of politics begging to be played.

Don’t count on any letup in this theater of the absurd. We’ve fully entered the rainy season in Nigeria’s tremendously profitable business of politics. It’s a season when self-appointed apostles make it their business to remind the man at the top about his dazzling, transformational touch. As if their idol’s memory is impaired, they itemize for him all the unparalleled achievements of his first term. They assure him that all citizens are 110 percent loyal. As for the few, negligible number of naysayers, why, they are congenitally disgruntled elements.

Let’s be clear: I don’t mind Mr. Jonathan running for reelection. But it behooves him to come out and use his mouth to tell Nigerians what they have already intuited: that he’s running. Let him use his mouth to tell Nigerians the number of jobs he created, and how. For that matter, let’s hear directly from him how he’s fared in meeting the promises he made when he ran for his current term. Where he’s failed, let him look Nigerians in the face and explain why he failed. And let him, in his own voice, define a roadmap for where he wishes to take Nigeria should he win a second term.

This whole orchestration by TAN is tiresome, and should be shelved. It’s redolent of the awful political practices of the past, from the shadowy group that threatened to sue Ibrahim Babangida if he ever stepped down to the posse that urged Sani Abacha to transform from a uniformed dictator to an agbada-adorning ruler. There was the crowd that told Nigerians that their constitution must be changed to accommodate a third term for Olusegun Obasanjo. And, even as Mr. Jonathan’s predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, lay sick in a Saudi hospital, his courtiers were telling us to brace for a second term of the man!

Mr. Jonathan should recall his Finance Minister to Abuja, and ask her to get cracking with the business of seeing that Nigeria’s much-vaunted economic growth lifts up more Nigerians from poverty and translates into employment opportunities for the milling unemployed youngsters. He should ask Anyim Pius Anyim to leave the business of chasing down fairytale signatures to those who have nothing better to do. Mr. Anyim should be by the president’s side helping him grapple with the many crises besetting Nigeria—insecurity, electric power woes, a debilitated educational sector and a dismal healthcare system that is being further strained by the unpredictable, dreadful Ebola virus.

In the end, I doubt that anybody believes that Mr. Jonathan is reluctant to run for reelection, and needs to be coerced. The attempt to leave the impression of a reluctant candidate insults the intelligence of Nigerians. Worse, at a time when the Nigerian army needs to be better equipped to take on Boko Haram, when Nigerian infrastructure demands urgent attention, the so-called campaign to draft Mr. Jonathan constitutes an unconscionable, deplorable investment of public resources on a political farce.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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