by Stanley Azuakola
There is something called the Goodluck Jonathan conundrum. This is how it is defined: Just when you think you finally understand Nigeria’s President, he does something else which breaks the mould; something that just doesn’t fit into your well plotted graph.
That’s why as some pundits go to town touting a new (and improved?) Jonathan in light of some of his recent acts and pronouncements, it’s important that one looks closely at this ‘new’ Jonathan, and compare him with the ‘old.’
The old Jonathan did not overtly interfere with the politics of the states. Nigerians might have even forgotten this, but that restraint was one factor which endeared Jonathan to so many. The Anambra State governorship elections which saw Peter Obi of APGA elected for a second term was held when Jonathan was still acting president in 2010. The PDP’s candidate in that election was Chukwuma Soludo, the former CBN governor.
The race was keenly contested. Even after Peter Obi had been declared winner, many half-expected some sinister machination to overturn the result. That would have been normal in the shady world of Anambra politics. But despite the pressure, Jonathan ‘allowed’ the result to stand. He even wrote to congratulate the governor. By that singular action, his cool ratings in the eyes of the Nigerian public increased by a thousand points.
Fast forward to 2012. The Bayelsa gubernatorial primaries, which saw then incumbent Timipreye Sylva lose to Gov. Seriake Dickson, had the president’s fingerprints all over it. Not forgetting the recent case in the Bayelsa State Assembly where following Jonathan’s pressure, the assembly reversed its earlier impeachment of the speaker, Konbowei Benson, and had him reinstated.
So it’s safe to say that the new Jonathan is a meddling partisan. In that area, at least, there is a marked difference.
The storm of last week was the presidential media chat, in which Jonathan responded to a question about his reluctance to publicly declare his assets just like Yaradua did, with the rather un-presidential remark: I don’t give a damn about it. He has been roundly criticised for that. But ignoring the inappropriateness, does that position really mark a departure from the Jonathan we used to know?
Cast your minds back to the service held in 2011 to mark Nigeria’s 51st anniversary. At that occasion, the president made the headlines when he said this: “Someone will want the President to operate like an army general… Incidentally, I am not a lion; I am not also a general.
“Somebody will want the President to operate like the kings of Syria, Babylon, Egypt, the Pharaoh, all – powerful people that you read about in the Bible. Unfortunately, I am not one of those. I don’t need to be any of those.”
Translation: Nigerians want me to be something (lion, king, general) I’m not. I don’t need to be that other person/thing and I don’t give a damn.
Only two differences exist between the two cases. Firstly, the damn remark was offensive, while the anniversary remark was hilarious. Secondly, in the media chat, he wasn’t implying that Nigerians wanted a general or lion, but another Yaradua (who declared his assets publicly.)
The new Jonathan lobby have also cited the firing of former Minister Bello Mohammed, NSA Owoye Azazi and NNPC DG, Austen Oniwon as evidence of a new no-nonsense president. That could be so. But remember that it was this same no-nonsense president who when he first took over, would make an example of ministers who came in late for FEC meetings by shutting the council chambers against them (a practise I hear he has discontinued.) The two cases are not exactly the same, but sufficiently similar to warrant questions.
Let’s return to the presidential media chat for a final case. The reason given by Jonathan for declining to publicly declare assets was that doing so would be akin to “playing to the gallery.” Ironically however, the old President Jonathan used to mention how much he listens to the gallery as the distinguishing factor between him and previous presidents. Remember when he rescinded his decision to ban the national soccer teams? He said then that he had to listen to his gallery of Facebook friends.
But before you conclude that he is now fully anti-gallery, consider another response during that same media chat. When asked a question on anti-corruption, Jonathan said the only reason why he removed Farida Waziri as EFCC chair, was because Nigerians (the gallery?) had lost confidence in her. Phew! The moral of the story: Goodluck Jonathan loves and loathes the gallery, it depends.
Now that you know, please tell: Is the old President Jonathan better than the new one? Or vice versa? Do we even have a new President Jonathan, or is it just wash?