Jonathan for 2019: Perish the thought!

Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
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Azuka Onwuka

 Since last week’s visit of former President Goodluck Jonathan to Sokoto and the tumultuous welcome given to him by the crowd, many people have been toying with the idea of a Jonathan presidential comeback in 2019.

Jonathan had visited Sokoto to commiserate with the people, especially the Dasuki family, on the death of their former Sultan, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, father of Jonathan’s national security adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, who has been in detention since last year over the management of security funds.

The media reported that the crowd that welcomed Jonathan displayed placards which read: “Baba Jonathan Come Back.” Ironically, Sokoto State is controlled by the All Progressives Congress. Shortly before last year’s election, Jonathan’s name was like a taboo in Sokoto and most parts of Northern Nigeria, even though he was still the President. Chants of Sai Baba rented the air in solidarity with the presidential ambition of the APC’s candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, who is the President today.

The surprise is that in less than one year and six months of the Buhari Presidency, there could be any desire to have Jonathan back in office. It is worse that such would come from the North, which is seen as the stronghold of Buhari. Some commentators, including ThisDay columnist, Dele Momodu, who campaigned for Buhari, have written about the possibility of Jonathan contesting the 2019 election. But they seem to miss the point in the reaction of the Sokoto crowd.

It will be foolhardy for Jonathan to even consider the idea of contesting the 2019 election. Jonathan never portrayed himself as power-crazy while in office. That was why last year’s election and transition went without bloodshed and crisis. It is better for him to remain the way he is, with some praising him for achieving some milestones and others condemning him for achieving nothing. If Buhari had not begun ruling Nigeria last year, today, he would be viewed as the Messiah that would have saved Nigeria and made it one of the top 10 countries of the world, if he was given the opportunity. But by coming into office, it is a widespread view that Buhari has been demystified.

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During last year’s election, it was obvious that Jonathan and Buhari were not fantastic choices, even though their political parties as well as the mainstream media and social media engaged in outlandish exaggeration to win the election. Each of the two candidates had some strengths and deficiencies, and each voter preferred one candidate based on perception and conviction.

The reason for the nostalgia for Jonathan is not because he will do miracles if he were to return. It is because the electorate has experienced the performance of Buhari and is disappointed. Hunger or job loss knows no ethnicity, religion or political party. The reaction of the Sokoto crowd should be a wake-up call to Buhari. Inflation Buhari met in May last year at less than 10 percent stood at 18.3 per cent in October. A bag of rice which sold at N8,000 in May last year now sells at over N23,000.  A dollar which exchanged in the parallel market at about N230 in May last year now exchanges for about N470.

Without any rise in the people’s earnings, the prices of all goods and services have risen by between 100 and 200 per cent. Sadly, there is no sign that this destabilising rise is about to stop. With the continuous depreciation in the value of the naira, it is obvious that there could be an increase in the pump price of petrol any moment from now, because the bulk of the petrol we use is imported with dollars. Many of those who were earning salaries have lost their jobs with the mass sack that has been happening in the banks and other organisations. The state of the economy and non-availability of dollars have made many companies to close shop or leave Nigeria. This month, Erisco Foods Limited shut down and relocated to China, citing an unfavourable operating climate which had escalated operational costs in recent months. That caused 1,500 people to lose their jobs.

In addition to all these, Nigerians see inertia in governance. Simple decisions seem to take an eternity to make. At first, it seemed as if the six months it took Buhari to appoint his ministers was just a one-off teething trouble, but events have shown that it is his style. Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, Prof Ade Adefuye, died on August 27, 2015. Over a year after, he has not been replaced.  Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Prof Joy Ogwu, left office many months ago. She has not been replaced. Mr James Ocholi, who was the Minister of State for Labour, died in an accident on March 6, 2016. He has not been replaced. Since last year when Prof Attahiru Jega and many commissioners retired from the Independent National Electoral Commission, many positions have not been filled. Last month, it was reported that as many as 29 states did not have resident electoral commissioners.

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The two areas Buhari projects as his trump cards are security and anti-corruption fight. After a rise in Boko Haram’s attacks from when Buhari took over, there was a lull some months ago. It was a sign that the security agencies were recording successes in the fight against Boko Haram. It was comforting.  The security agencies and the government stated that Boko Haram had been “degraded”. But it seemed hasty. In recent weeks, the extremist group seems to be trying to prove that that it has not been defeated. This has led to many attacks which caused the loss of lives of many civilians and soldiers, including senior officers. It shows the security forces still have much work in their hands.

The activities of Fulani herdsmen and kidnappers are also worrisome, and there is no sign that they are being tamed.

On the issue of the anti-corruption fight, there have been accusations of a selective fight meant to subdue and silence opponents to the government. But the angle that seems glaring is that the anti-corruption fight is not institutionalised and systematic. It looks like something that has no tap roots and will wither once Buhari leaves office. On the roads, in the offices, and at different national points of entry or exit, officials of different government agencies still brazenly demand bribes. They do so because they know that nobody is coming after them.

One sign that shows that a country abhors corruption is the use of agent provocateurs and underground agents. They pose as people who need services or they pose as people who are ready to commit a crime. If anybody demands a bribe from them or wants to join them in the crime, they play along, recording conversations and collecting evidences that will implicate the offenders. Once the bribe is collected, their colleagues come in and make arrest. What it does is that it puts everybody at alert. Hardened offenders will still find ways to collect bribes but others will stop for fear that they do not know who is real and who wants to ensnare them. But because many people have noticed that there is no depth in the anti-corruption fight, corruption still goes on in a blatant manner.

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Buhari came to power last year with so much goodwill. Expectations were high. He was seen as the leader that would change the culture of impunity, corruption, indiscipline, poverty, flamboyance, injustice, tribalism, nepotism, mediocrity, waste, and other vices going on in Nigeria. But his action and inaction show that he seems overwhelmed. Except for those who defend whatever Buhari does because of political, ethnic or religious loyalty, there is discontent in the land because of the continuous slide into hard times as well as a lack of clear-cut plan to turn things around. That was why the Sokoto crowd asked for Jonathan’s return. Buhari should find a way of reversing this descent and give Nigerians something to cheer about.

— Twitter @BrandAzuka


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