As the weeks have rolled into months, it has become clear that one needs a lot more than an inspiring personal story to make a presidential difference.
Questions are mounting by the day – where are you taking Nigeria to? Do you have an idea? Do you have a personal vision of the kind of Nigeria you’d like to pass on to your successor? Is there a big picture somewhere in your mind?
You have now been President for one year. Or two years, depending on who’s counting – your “friends” or “enemies”. Hearty congratulations to you, the canoe-carver’s son who, eight years ago, was but a lowly “spare-tyre” (aka deputy governor) tucked away in the murky creeks of Southern Nigeria.
You did start out with a lot of goodwill and support – from multitudes bowled over by your stories of childhood deprivation and divinely -orchestrated promotion; and your disarming mien. You came to that office without the desperation or sense of entitlement that has generally marked many contenders for Aso Rock, and Nigerians seemed to realise and appreciate that.
That, however, was then. One thing is now very clear – the honeymoon is over.
As the weeks have rolled into months, it has become clear that one needs a lot more than an inspiring personal story to make a presidential difference. 500,000-plus Facebook friends will also do nothing to positively influence one’s chances of being a successful president.
Your “enemies” accuse you of being dour and colourless; in your defence your spokesperson highlights the “magnetism of [your] personality” and praises you for being a “fashion icon”. Even worse, your enemies accuse you of being “clueless” (they have actually almost succeeded in permanently hitching ‘clueless’ to your name, as Google would attest). Your friends insist you’re anything but clueless. On your part you tell us you “don’t need to be a lion. I don’t need to be Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t need to operate like the Pharaoh of Egypt. I don’t need to be an army general but I can change this country without those traits.”
On the whole, the country expends a lot of energy trying to answer the question: “Who is Goodluck Jonathan?”
One of the most astringent pieces of criticism I have ever come across regarding any national leader, was written in reference to you – Lionel Barber, the Financial Times’ Editor, recently described you as a “Chauncey Gardiner figure with no obvious vision for his presidency beyond holding office.”
Tragically, it is a description that many are happy to agree with. Questions are mounting by the day – where are you taking Nigeria to? Do you have an idea? Do you have a personal vision of the kind of Nigeria you’d like to pass on to your successor, in 2015, or 2019 (or whenever fate, in all its randomness, decrees it, as it did for your predecessor)? Is there a big picture somewhere in your mind?
One year (or two?) on, Nigeria’s “accidental president” is fast establishing a reputation as an “accident-prone” leader. From the tenure elongation debate, to the fuel subsidy mishap (both the corruption scandal and the subsequent cruel attempt to make ordinary Nigerians pay for the evils of a privileged minority), to the questionable handling of Boko Haram, to the ridiculous predilection for multiplying meaningless presidential committees – the shoeless kid has since grown up to become an expert mis-stepper, it seems.
Yet, I refuse to give up hope. A year ago I read an article in the Economist that compared you to a former American president (1881 – 1885), Chester Arthur:
“Both men fell in with mean political machines – Arthur in New York, Mr Jonathan in the Niger Delta – and were elevated from total obscurity to the vice presidency by scheming regional bosses. Then the president suddenly died (Garfield in 1881, Yar’Adua in 2010), and the top job was theirs. Arthur deserted the machine that made him and put it out of business. He created the modern American civil service and throttled patronage politics. He was not re-elected.”
The Economist then asks: “Might Mr. Jonathan follow the same path?”
The choice, dear President, is yours. This is about making a difference (the kind of top-driven change that continues to elude this country), not merely holding office or getting a second term. Put the sermons and Zoology lessons aside, and face the arduous task before you. You wield the same power your predecessors wielded; you will face more or less the same choices they faced – to champion transformational change, or to merely speechify, maintain the status quo, punish your “enemies”, and enrich yourself and the armies of sycophants that accumulate around every Nigerian president.
And Time / History / Posterity will no doubt judge you the same way it has judged every single one of them. It’ll be too late to defend yourself then. Ask Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, the pre-eminent living metaphor for Wasted Presidential Opportunity.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.