Sonala Olumhense writes | Why the Northern Elders were right on Jonathan

by Sonala Olumhense

Disclaimer: I do not write this article in favour of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), which last week gave President Goodluck Jonathan an October deadline to rescue the abducted Chibok girls or consider his presidential ambitions void.

Sonala Olumhense Syndicated logo I would however like to reflect on the response of the presidency as it relates to the concept of citizenship in a democracy.


What he must not do is attempt to muzzle his critics, of which NEF is just one.  That is a dangerous gamble when you face an election war, and you have limited divisions and rations for combat duty. 

NEF said: “The lack of a strong will at the level of the presidency to fight [the insurgency], as well as deep-seated corruption and incompetence in governments and in the management of our security challenges has allowed a band of terrorists to take and hold vast parts of our land and populations hostage, while every citizen lives in fear that they will be its next victim,” it said.

First, the NEF was well within its right to say what they said, and to hold the Nigeria ruler responsible. Free speech is essential to the democracy we claim to practice, and no Nigerian needs presidential permission to exercise that right. To the president falls the begging challenge because he it is who needs the permission of the citizen, through the ballot.

In other words, NEF’s statement was really a reminder of that relationship.  In principle, it is a reminder that all who seek office, especially those who seek re-election, should heed.  President Jonathan owes to the people who elected him the debt of performance, or else.

Presidential aides Doyin Okupe and Reuben Abati were so busy falling over each other they failed to see the trap.

“President Jonathan does not require any threat or ultimatum from any group of persons to be alive to his responsibilities to the Nigerian people,” Okupe said.

Mr. Jonathan has had five years to prove this point, but has sadly failed to. The Chibok mess just happens to be the most poignant demonstration of the many limitations of his government in a way many other issues could not.

But Abati leaned even harder on the panic button, imperiously declaring the group to be unpatriotic, swearing they could cause disaffection and division.

“They are not in a position to accuse this government of incompetence and it is not true that there is deep-seated corruption,” he said.  “President Jonathan has been combating corruption, has strengthened the institutions to make corruption difficult and to, over a long time, eradicate corruption…”

Never have more pretentious claims been made.  I gain no joy from rebutting this awful propaganda but it must be done because it is part of the arrogance by which Nigeria continues to be pushed into poverty, irrelevance and shame.

Exactly where has Mr. Jonathan, since he assumed control in 2010, ‘combated’ corruption?  On the contrary, his government has steadily acquired the reputation not only of being corrupt, but of nurturing it.

The first thing an anti-corruption combatant does is invest in personal integrity.  It is the only currency that has value in that battle.  You cannot have credibility without integrity; you cannot have credibility without accountability; you cannot have democracy without accountability.

Mr. Jonathan refused to adopt the integrity currency the moment he declared his opposition to public declaration of assets.  He did did not just fail that test, he threw speculation open as to what he is hiding.

The reason appears to be 2006 when he was indicted by a federal body for false declaration of assets as Governor of Bayelsa State, including accepting expensive gifts of cars.  Google it: this is public record.

This is why Mr. Jonathan cannot confront corruption, and only officials who are comfortable with the pretence that there is no distinction between rhetoric and action, or between propaganda and progress, would argue differently.

His refusal as president to declare his assets and to require of top servants of his administration the same demonstration of commitment confirmed not only that he cannot fight corruption, but that he is scared of the implications.

There is no other interpretation of his position, and Mr. Jonathan has extended the debacle in the past two years by declaring corruption in Nigeria to be “over-exaggerated” and by saying that stealing by public officers is not corruption.  It is impossible to licence license more flagrantly.

But remember that it was the same man who, in July 2010 warned in Minna that unless Nigeria retraced its steps from the menace of corruption and illegal acquisition of wealth, among others, “very soon the system will collapse.”

Remember also that in July 2011 he again publicly denounced corruption as “the monster that we need to confront and defeat.” That was the occasion when he asked two anti-corruption agencies to “probe all federal ministries, departments and agencies,” with effect from 2007.”

If the president’s spokesmen really want to demonstrate that their principal is an achiever, they should tell Nigerians what—beyond the rhetoric—has been the result and impact of that probe, three and a half years on.

The president’s spokesmen can go further: they should tell Nigerians exactly where Mr. Jonathan has implemented the various good governance and corruption reports in his hands, some of which he personally commissioned.  They include Halliburton, Okiro, Siemens, Wilbros, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, NNPC, Ribadu, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, electoral reform, Okigbo; Theophilus Danjuma, and the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee.

And yes, we know all of the propaganda about the so-called anti-corruption agencies being “strengthened,” but what does this hoax mean?  I mean, the British put James Ibori and his associates in jail; have any of the “strengthened” agencies gone beyond the excuse factory?

Yes, President Jonathan was right when he said that the system might soon collapse.  That day has come because under his watch, all the boundaries have disappeared.  Not only does he routinely refuse to investigate key officials of his administration that are alleged to be corrupt, he has granted state pardon to a number of people who have been indicted for corruption.  In the Jonathan schema, even when an official is exposed, the worst thing that happens in our collapse is that they ride off with their loot.  Under his watch, the termites are now eating the foundation of the house.

When the spokesman says the president is combating corruption, I cite the celebrated Freedom of Information law, one of Jonathan’s early achievements.  The same law died within one year: killed by Mr. Jonathan’s government which routinely refuses to honour it.

But all is not lost.  If Mr. Jonathan is willing to provide the vision, the inspiration and the character, Nigeria can still thrive under him.  The problem is that time is running out, just as the well of hope has run dry for many Nigerians during his tenure.

Is he prepared to live by example, and show Nigerians they can trust him and his officials? He must defend the right of Nigerians to speak their minds about his performance. He must initiate the path of independent good governance bodies such as they have in the Chapter Nine institutions in the constitution of South Africa, thereby demonstrating he serves Nigeria rather than narrower or selfish interests.

What he must not do is attempt to muzzle his critics, of which NEF is just one.  That is a dangerous gamble when you face an election war, and you have limited divisions and rations for combat duty.


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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