by Sabella Abidde
In early January 2010, I attempted to craft a profile of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in an essay entitled Goodluck Jonathan: The Emerging Profile. I did so because many Nigerians had wondered what type of a man he was, and what type of a President he was going to be. Yes, he had been a deputy governor and, later, the governor of Bayelsa State from where he was handpicked to be Umaru Yar’Adua’s running mate under the Peoples Democratic Party platform. Still, he was, for the most part, an unknown political commodity. Even after he became the Vice-President, many still wondered who he was.
Unlike his predecessors, Jonathan’s anonymity level was very high — so high that even within his state, not much was known about him. Speculations and perception were one thing; but reality was another. In reality, who was Jonathan? That was the main question. After the untimely death of Yar’Adua (and it became apparent that Jonathan would become the next President), the race to get a deeper and wider knowledge and understanding of the man intensified. The generalised question was whether a man of such mien and disposition had what it took to govern and move the country to the Promised Land. I believed he could.
Yes, I believed he could. And it was during this period that several personalities came to mind, including Harry S. Truman and Gen. Yakubu Gowon. President Truman, as I told my readers then was “the unseen, the voiceless and lowly-regarded vice-president under the highly-regarded Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” However, after the death of Roosevelt, and upon becoming the substantive President, “Truman became his own man — steering the ship of state like an old hand, defying pessimistic expectations” and going on to become a major player in domestic and global politics. He is today considered a statesman.
And then there was Gowon. Though a soldier, he was, in reality a young chap who was still trying to navigate life’s raging seas. He was a man still trying to find himself. Yet, he was man enough and strong enough to carry the weight of a nation at war. You see, “unlike some of his contemporaries, he was not a braggart, a brute, or bloodguilt. He spoke and acted like a gentleman. In another time or place, he would have been a monk or a priest ensconced in a monastery…Say what you may about his three failings, no other President or Head of State has been half as good.”
With these and other personalities in mind, I thought Jonathan had a very good chance of pulling it off. I saw a Truman and a Gowon in him. Really, I did. At the very least, I thought he was going to be better than Olusegun Obasanjo; and certainly better than Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Shehu Shagari. But alas, I was wrong. Dead wrong! What we have, and what we have seen is a man who is very uncomfortable with his shoes and his many hats. What we have is a President that is not loved, not feared, and definitely not respected by the masses; or by anyone who is of any significance at home or perhaps abroad. It was not this way in the beginning. It was not!
For instance, when Jonathan was the Acting President, he visited the United States for the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Diasporan Nigerians fell in love with him. What’s more, the global community went gaga and agog over his disposition, anticipated-presidency and possibilities. From China to Australia, and from South Africa to Brazil and all spots in between – there was collective happiness and excitement. Jonathan became the man of the hour. Altogether, it seems like a new dawn for Nigeria. A new beginning.
In Goodluck Jonathan: The Domestic and Global Implications of His US Visit, I summarised his visit this way: “Not quite a Mandela, an Obama, or a Dalai Lama, still; they watched and wondered. It’s been a while since the world wondered about an African head of government. And especially in Washington DC, he became the talk of the town: the doyen of such power houses such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Corporate Council for Africa, and the World Bank. Anybody who was anybody in and around the DC area wanted to meet with him or hear him speak.” It was surreal and electrifying all at once.
In concluding that essay, I cautioned that “…there must be some great accomplishments on his part to continue in the good grace of the people. At this point in time, Nigerians do not expect the world of him. They just want him to be better than himself, to be better than the ordinary, and to be better than mediocre. That’s all.” Sadly and annoyingly, this President has disappointed everybody! As the Acting President, he took some bold and courageous steps. In that short period, he acted boldly, walked boldly and spoke boldly. His totality pointed to a man of courage who was on a great mission. I never doubted that he would change the face, the spirit and the ambience of the nation.
Sadly and embarrassingly, since becoming the President, everything — everything he has done or not done — reeks of doubt, second-guessing, controversy, mediocrity, and self-immolating tendencies. For instance, the economy is in a shambles with unemployment in the high thirties. Politically, our public institutions are getting weaker and weaker every passing week. Socially, corruption and corrupt practices have attained new heights and no one seems afraid of judicial penalties and punishments. At the local, state and federal levels, Nigerians seem to have given up on good governance.
And while it is true that this President did not cause many of the problems we now face, they have worsened under his watch. And because he seems highly tolerant of ethical, political, social and economic deficits and violations, the country is falling apart; and its institutions decaying. The general perception of the President is of a man incapable of little things. If he is incapable of the little things, then, the big and great accomplishments become a fantasy. With the passing of every week, this President diminishes his person and his Presidency. Can he turn things around?
*This piece was first published in The Punch