By Fatoyinbo Oluwatosin
The humble mien of President Goodluck Jonathan does not in any way resemble that of a military dictator. He looks calm and unpertubed and has often been described as the nations’s most docile leader ever but emerging events have shown otherwise.
Jonathan might not be a dictator in the calibre of the Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Mobutu Sekoseko or Robert Mugabe, but there are marked similarities with Nigeria’s most feared dictator, General Sani Abacha. We take a look at some of these uncanny similarities. Some are positive but unexpectedly, many are negative.
- Destruction of the Middle class: Former President Olusegun Obasanjo made this comparison. He noted that Jonathan’s government reminds him of that of Abacha where the middle class was nonexistent. Jonathan has created a situation where the middle class simply work amd survive from hand to mouth. Middle income earners can no longer enjoy some simple luxuries of life.
- Media Repression: The General Sani Abacha days witnessed an increased in the number of media repression and aggression from government. While the administration sponsored state media to sing its praises, there was censorship on all opposition media. Proscription, closure of newspapers and presses as well as arrests and imprisonment of journalists was the other of the day. He earned the nickname ‘Enemy of the press’ and underground press was the only thing that gave Nigerians information during the major timeline of his government.The story of Bagauda Kalto resonates; he was a journalist at the News/Tempoarrested by the late General’s government and eventually died in detention. The Jonathan administration has similarly had its grouse with the media. He may not have done what General Abacha did, considering that he rules under a democratic dispensation but he definitely hasn’t smiled at media attacks on his government. In an operation reminiscent of the invasion of the Punch newspaper at 3.00am in June 1994, there was a media clampdown on newspaper distribution centres in Abuja in June 2014. The Military later waved it off saying it was mere routine security checks. That wasn’t lost on many though.
- Attempt at laundering International Image: General Abacha had a very bad international Image and he did make concerted efforts to make it better. He understood what it meant for his administration to look back in the International community, so he hired international public relations experts to brush up his image in the International community. Paul Manufort, an adviser to US politician Bob Dole was one of the International experts paid hugely to launder Abacha’s International image. At the height of the Boko Haram incessant attacks and abduction of the chibok girls, President Jonathan made a N195 million ($1.2 million) contract with U.S. Public Relations and lobby firm, Levick, to help change “international and local media narrative” surrounding its efforts to rescue the girls. Levick was also saddled with the responsibility of portraying in good lights Jonathan Administration’s past, present and future priority to foster transparency, democracy and the rule of law throughout Nigeria. This attempt boomeranged with local and international outcry against the contract.
- Activists and Social Critics: General Abacha had no mercy on activists and social critics throughout his administration and remains infamous for the death of Ogoni Activist Ken Saro Wiwa. President Jonathan may not have arrested or killed a social critic but many have been invited to DSS to Abuja for a ‘chat’. These chats often last several hours and can best be described as informal semi-detention.
- Unprecedented number of endorsements for re-election: In 1998, the same year he died, Abacha announced that elections would be held that August, with a view toward handing power to a civilian government on 1 October. It soon became apparent, though, that Abacha had no intention of permitting an election by April he had succeeded by threat, the country’s five parties into endorsing him as the sole presidential candidate. Although the circumstances are different, President Jonathan is the only other leader since Abacha who has received such wide endorsement from different quarters. He achieved what even former President Obasanjo could not do in 2003 when the PDP endorsed him as the party’s sole Presidential candidate earlier in September. Jonathan might have like Abacha, done some underground dirty deals, one of which is the belief that he threatened a potential opponent, Sule Lamido of Jigawa state with EFCC persecution.
- Support for Igbos: General Abacha was believed to have given the Igbo in the military the opportunity to rise in the army because before his coming, Igbo officers were not allowed to get to the rank of Major General due to the fear that they would take over government and break up the nation. Igbos in the military have similarly risen under Jonathan while many have been given juicy portfolios in Jonathan’s cabinet.
- Quiet and unassuming personality:Both leaders are perceived to have quiet and unassuming mien but a ruthless personality when the occasion calls for it.
- Loyalty: You may argue this but officially, Abacha did not overthrow the government of Chief Earnest Shonekan. Shonekan resigned, and Abacha took over as the Government’s most senior official. Of course he did use military threat but officially, it was a coup. And he was loyal to his friend, General Ibrahim Babangida in the coup that brought the latter to power and in the aftermath of the 1993 elections when IBb was hated by large sections of the public and Abacha controlled the army. Also, President Jonathan also didn’t attempt to take over the government of late President Yar’Adua until it was confirmed that Umaru wasmedically unfit to govern.
- Flagrant Abuse of the Law: In Abacha, we had a leader who did not believed in the law or whenever possible, recreated the law to suit his purpose. Jonathan again may not have gone to this extent but he sure has shown that he can flaunt the law when he chooses to. He has made decisions overriding legal restrictions for personal gains and that of his sycophants and supporters.