Sam Omatseye: Jonathan and the men who thought they knew tomorrow

by Sam Omatseye

Goodluck and Timipre SylvaJonathan had acted as god over Sylva, ousted him from office like a gangster and unleashed EFCC after him. Now, Sylva is presiding over the dismantling of the Jonathan era. It is an object lesson on power. Ebenezer Obey sang, “Ile aiye o to nkan.” (This life is vanity).

In 2012, I wrote a column titled “military coup in Bayelsa,” and it referred to how President Goodluck Jonathan deployed all the branches of the Nigerian military to oust Timipre Sylva as governor of Bayelsa State. It was an election as military operation. The police were also involved.

This column was a lone voice in the wilderness. I warned that the travesty was not only about Bayelsa or Sylva, but the loss of grace in our democracy. Newspapers merely reported, commentators looked elsewhere and even the opposition kept mute, except a comment by the often-prescient Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who wondered why Jonathan invoked the military like a sledge hammer on a fly.

By impunity a new governor was “installed” in Bayelsa in the name of Seriake Dickson. The nation went on as though nothing happened. Last month when the people ousted Jonathan with their thumbs, the electorate’s great complaint was the reign of impunity. It began with the ouster of Sylva and the silence of a charmed nation.

Last week, history had its revenge. Sylva was announced to lead Buhari’s team that meets with secretary to government Anyim Pius Anyim to dismantle the edifice of the Jonathan administration. Jonathan had acted as god over Sylva, ousted him from office like a gangster and unleashed EFCC after him. Now, Sylva is presiding over the dismantling of the Jonathan era. It is an object lesson on power. Ebenezer Obey sang, “Ile aiye o to nkan.” (This life is vanity). While GEJ unseated Sylva with force, Sylva is doing his in the gentle glow of the law and Jonathan’s capitulation.

In those heady days, many missions were sent to Jonathan. They included elders from the party, the Governors’ Forum, Southsouth governors, elder statesmen in the country. Emissaries begged Jonathan to allow Sylva pursue a second term. He gave audience to all and pretended he accepted the pleas. In many instances, he said he knew nothing about the plots and it was party democracy in action. But he would intervene to save his kinsman.

Sylva swallowed many instances of personal pride that reminded one of Tolstoy’s lines in War and Peace, “It is better to bow too low than not low enough.” Jonathan acted as though all was well. In spite of that, Jonathan allowed the armed forces to back a kangaroo election and Seriake Dickson gloatingly became governor by impunity. Governor Dickson must have quietly embraced Buhari’s win as it has saved him the possibility of the Sylva treatment. In its solitude, this column followed the days of infamy, including the silence of Nigerians.

Once Seriake “won” the election, Jonathan “the Snake” slithered out in true venom and said he backed Sylva’s ouster and endorsed an earlier incident when hoodlums hurled stones and “pure water” sachets at Sylva in the stadium. The serpentine triumphalism at that time did not forewarn many Nigerians about the kind of man they had at the helm. This paper wrote an editorial titled, “Stoner-in-chief.”

We were later to see Jonathan show impunity, instance after instance, in his six years in the saddle. Rivers, Ekiti, and the series of militant outbursts are a few examples. This is also a lesson for Buhari and all who are mounting the saddle anew in May. Power is transient. As Shakespeare wrote, “Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority…”

We saw another instance last week. Oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke spoke to reporters. I found that remarkable. And she actually answered questions propounded by “press boys.” She could humble herself in a hijab to see a retired general. She spoke about such topics that were taboo in her eyes in her days of vanity. She spoke about the alleged N10 billion spent on jetting around the world, the missing $20 billion, etc. This is the duchess who would not even give the National Assembly the benefit of her regal presence. And her president supported her. The same duchess who appeared at public events as though she was bored and did the audience a favour? Last week, she spoke to reporters in a mood of accountability. The scales of royalty have fallen. The wedding is over and all the frills are now giving way for the true picture of the bride.

We also see the same script in Delta State. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan was denied a chance to have a say not only in his possible successor but also in becoming a senator. Jonathan’s plot with his men was to entrench Senator James Manager, a fellow kinsman, to return to the Senate. That would give Manager an automatic berth as majority leader. It would then go into history, as they calculated, that the nation would have an Ijaw president and majority leader. As part of the scheme, a ranking PDP senator, Victor Ndoma-Egba, would be denied the opportunity to return to the senate so as to give Manager a thoroughfare to the prime position of majority leader. Neither Uduaghan nor Ndoma-Egba will be in the Senate. But Manager will be an inconsequential man in the chamber compared with what he sought.

More importantly, the President, Clark and other so-called party wheel horses who hatched this low design will be missing in action in Abuja as from May 29. They thought they knew tomorrow and could play god over the destinies of fellow humans. God, however, had something to say about that. It reminds one of the words of the Psalmist, “I have seen the wicked in great power, spreading himself like a green bay tree…lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” In the same vein, Jonathan, Clark, et al, will be missing in action in Abuja.

This is the nature of power. If we see power as a mandate, we shall not vacate our duties to the people and human conscience. The poet Dryden wrote, “As streams are, power is.”

It has been said that power should only go to people who are mature; who understand that it is not about puffing and huffing. It is about responsibility. Perhaps that informed Aristotle’s admonition that only full-grown adults who have succeeded in other fields should go into politics. But it does not guarantee anything, and Lincoln knew about this. Many people who plotted his ouster were close associates. Hence he said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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