Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the nation’s number one citizen no doubt has become a significant portion of Nigeria’s democratic story in several fronts. Not just by virtue of the office he occupy but going by the litany of activities which has heralded the entire happenings of the presidency of the Otuoke man. This flurry of activities dates back to his pre emergence days when he was still the vice president of the most populated black nation. Taking a cursory look at various developments, one will be tempted to ask “has Jonathan contributed in advancing or rather scuttling our yearnings to emerge as a true democratic nation?”
Ordinarily, given the level of seeming disenchantment or perceived displeasure with his leadership style and of course his whole administration especially among the nation’s elites, one may be encouraged to hastily answer the above question albeit unfavourably. However, before I attempt the question, I would like to consider several events that took place in the build up to his presidency and the various political developments and happenings thereafter with the view to take a position whether his emergence in the nation’s political firmament has contributed in the advancement of our democracy or otherwise.
Going back to memory lane, since Nigeria got independent in 1960, she has largely been led by the military whose modus operandi worldwide is dictatorial. These military regimes emerged from series of coup’de’tat where the man at the helm of affairs is either shoved aside if he is lucky or in extreme cases killed like Gen. Murtala Muhammed and Aguiyi Ironsi of blessed memories to make way to a new government without recourse to the feelings of the governed. Those governments after emergence, always fabricated reasons to justify their actions with a long list of what the ousted regime got wrong amidst other reasons usually summed up in a political cliche of preserving the national interest. Those who opposed them either did so from exile or would soon pay the maximum price for the vituperations which is often termed as heating up the polity and or treasonable felony irrespective of the content of their ideas. Prof. Wole Soyinka and Ken Saro-wiwa are cases in point. Journalists were put behind bars at will just for discharging the duties for which they were trained. Molestation, brutalisation and intimidation of the citizenry was their stock in trade. One could just be beaten to stupor for daring to dress in clothings with any semblance of camouflage and so many other inhuman treatments were often metted out on the citizenry by the men in khaki. They were indeed the symbols of maximum authority and their fear marked the beginning of wisdom.
And so the Nigerian nation continued to exist in the midst of this unstable leadership which oscillated between intermittent civilian rules and various military juntas untill the divine intervention of June, 1998 when it appears that God got interested in the affairs of the Nigerian nation.
That intervention from above directly or indirectly marked the turning point in Nigeria’s political history and brought us to where we are today in governance. But first of all, there was need for a seamless transition from a junta which do not allow criticism and which is largely authoritative to a democratic dispensation which encourages freedom of expression among other freedoms. And that transition had to come from someone who has an in depth understanding of both sides of the divide or so thought the stakeholders at the time. A military man in agbada or in a civilian costume was considered the best bet for this task. Atleast to blend our mentality which was already affected immensely and largely shaped by dictators in leadership positions.
And so came the enthronement of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired military man as the democratically elected president of our dear country. True to expectation, the military man in civilian costume tried his best to separate his training from the expectations of a democratic leader but then the bible says and I quote” train up a child the way he should go and when he grow up, he will not depart from that”. Obasanjo having joined Nigerian army at a tender age, spent greater part of his life acquiring military training and internalising the military norms and so expecting him to depart from this path is simply being unfair to the old man.
And so his presidency was rift with clear cases of intolerance, authoritarianism and scapegoatism. Impeachment was a viable tool at the hands of the presidency, EFCC was ready to investigate and prosecute the dissenting few among the corrupt many. Any citizen who makes public his opinion of disapproval of the government can be sure to get a reply directly from mr. President( ask the jaga jaga crooner) Almost all government institutions were run covertly by the presidency to ensure that oga’s interest is covered. Senate and house leadership must abide by the instructions of the oga at the top or risk being removed seamlessly. No wonder, we had as many senate presidents and speakers of house of Representatives between 1999-2007. They were simply being changed like pieces of clothes in the wardrobe. Even a sitting governor was at a time kidnapped for daring not to play ball.
With the foregoing scenario, nobody dared to discuss the freedom of information bill seriously. Of course, INEC as a government institution must abide by the whims and caprices of mr. President and thus free, fair and credible elections could only have been a mirage. But all these are not the point for today’s discourse, so permit my digression.
And so after the attempt to blend the citizens military shaped mentality of governance with the emerging ( now supposedly emerged) democracy using an Obasanjo who understands both sides, it was time to start true democracy by trying out a true democrat. Born and bred as a civilian, Umaru Musa Yar’adua of blessed memory was elected the president of Nigeria in a keenly contested presidential election of 2007 through the machinations of the then President Obasanjo who used his training skills to foist the choice of the ABU graduate both on the north, his party the PDP and on the whole nation even when his ill health could not allow the man to address lagosians during one of his presidential campaigns in the build up to the election. Be that as it may, safe for the political hawks that surrounded the presidency of the ailing Yar’adua, most of whom were the wife’s loyalists (kai!, this firstlady syndrome didn’t start today) he almost gave a good account of himself as a true Democrat by showing signs of respect for the rule of law. The first opportunity to demonstrate this was when the election tribunal anulled the election of an Obasanjo’s kitchen cabinet member as the Governor of Anambra state, and Yar’adua upheld the judgement against popular expectations especially given the prevailing norm at the time where the president’s boys were largely seen as untouchables. Notwithstanding, Yar’adua was still accused of lopsided appointment and unduly favouring his kinsmen, I was once told by one of my northern friends that Yar’adua practically moved his cabinet from Katsina government house to Abuja ( a story for another day). Like most Nigerian leaders before and even after him, his government was equally accused of corruption though not linked to him but his cabinet members and of course, our then very powerful firstlady.
And so the journey of our democratic discovery continued against all odds, as Yar’adua later gave up the ghost amidst several controversies(story for another day) and clandestine activities among several actors excluding the number two man who decided at the time or better put was compelled by prevailing circumstances to just look on not withstanding his status.
The long absence without proper handover and eventual death of president Yar’adua soon exposed the first of the several defects with which our constitution is riddled as it became clear that the authors of the most important legal document in our national life either failed to envisage the mortality of a president or waived it off as unimportant. Trouble started after over two months of vacuum in the nations seat of power as president Yar’adua who travelled out of the country on 23rd November, 2009 without transmitting power accordingly and was later smuggled into the country in an unclear circumstances on the 24th February, 2010.
But Nigeria, being blessed with rich natural and human resources never lacked the brains to solve the difficult political puzzle posed by this lacuna in our constitution. Sooner than later, the senate think-thank evolved an initiative to address the issue that was fast becoming a national embarrassment by invoking what the senate referred to as “doctrine of necessity” on the 9th February, 2011 making way for Dr Jonathan to assume the status of a president though in acting capacity.
This new doctrine soon made the siddon look Otuoke man become the main man, alas Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the President of the federal republic of Nigeria in a twist of fate. This development marked a paradigm shift in the nation’s democracy. In his siddon look days, many percieved him as being weak especially as he lacked rich or sophisticated background. This manifested severally in the manner Yar’adua’s powerful allies and cabinet members often disregarded him in several ways. This disrespect snowballed even into his acting presidency days when his oga at the top was farway from Nigeria in search of medical help. Most of the powerful guys still continued to treat the ijaw man with contempt prefering to heed instructions from the then powerful firstlady.
A story was told of a minister who rebuffed his instruction and travelled out of Abuja when his ministry’s attention was most needed. The Otuoke man in his liberal, civil or as many may prefer timid nature kept his cool and allowed nature to take care of the situation.
This liberal disposition of mr president has continued to manifest even when he is leading the nation now as an elected president with enormous powers.He has allowed so many institutions to perform their duties without undue interference. The legislature under this dispensation has become the most stable and no longer a situation where senate and house leadership are being changed at the wave of the presidential hands. INEC has largely become independent and this has manifested in the rate of free, fair and credible elections which the body has recorded in his administration. Even the police has been given free hands to enforce laws in line with judicial pronouncements. Freedom of information bill has long been passed and signed into law by the president. Hence,journalists and public commentators are free once again to express their views without any fear of molestation or intimidation overtly or covertly. Sitting public officials criticise and in some occasion even insult mr president without the fear of being impeached or being hunted by EFCC. The opposition has been strengthened and events are allowed to occur naturally and thus continues to expose the avalanche of defects in our constitution. It is progressively becoming clear that the document which was bequeathed to the nation by the men in uniform cannot be relied upon to run a democratic Republic. To address this, mr president has made move to draft a people oriented constitution which will be more encompassing by yielding to the various calls for national conference where issues affecting our nationhood was discussed, although not implemented yet.
Although many see this qualities of the president as weakness or naivety, I choose to differ. I believe he is liberal and indeed a true democrat.
With the foregoing, I shall submit that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has indeed raised the bar in advancing the course of our democracy through his liberal disposition and respect for the rule of law.
Oliver Uchechukwu Eze wrote from Kaduna.
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