Not the Jonathan we used to know

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

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Olumide-IyandaBy his own account, President Goodluck Jonathan is a product of a village that did not have access to bottled water. He trekked to school without shoes and carried his books on his head. His name has however brought him good luck. By the time he contested the 2011 presidential election, he was not just a man from the blues.

Hear him: “I was deputy governor for six and half years, I was a governor for one and half years, I was vice president, and before the election, I was the president up to April when the elections were conducted. People knew me.” The question is does Jonathan (still) know the people.

Chances are that the President’s aides, hangers on and cronies tell him that he is the best number one citizen Nigeria has ever had. He probably believes them and is convinced that a greater percentage of the population is on his side.

Words from Aso Rock suggest that Jonathan goes to bed believing he enjoys overwhelming goodwill across the country. There is no point caring about a handful of “cynics, pestle-wielding critics, unrelenting, self-appointed activists, idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, and BBM-pinging soap opera gossips” who are in a competition to pull him down. The ones Jonathan says “challenge and abuse me.”

But Nigerians have not always challenged and abused the President. In fact, he did not become one of the most criticised leaders in the world overnight. The circumstances of his emergence showed that he enjoyed massive goodwill from the people.

Although it was obvious to anybody with an IQ higher than the animals Jonathan dealt with as a zoologist that his anointment as late Umaru Yar’Adua’s deputy by former President Olusegun Obasanjo was an unkind parting gift from the Egba high chief, Nigerians initially warmed up to the PhD holder shortly before and after he became commander-in-chief following his boss’ death in May 2010.

Like the boy who cried wolf, Jonathan raised an alarm about a cabal who shut him out of reckoning as vice president while Yar’Adua was critically ill in Saudi Arabia. Many put their differences aside and demanded that he be made acting president. Eminent Nigerians and other people of goodwill protested and threatened to make the government uncomfortable if the country remained in a state of suspended animation.

The people eventually had their way and the National Assembly invoked the doctrine of necessity to make Jonathan acting president. He completed Yar’Adua’s first term. Having won the April 2011 election in his own right, he began his own term on May 29 of the same year.

Irrespective of whatever shortcomings were recorded during the elections, even the President’s harshest critics know he was a popular candidate in many parts of the federation. His promise of a breath of fresh air appealed to electorates as did “good luck to you, good luck to me” pay-off line.

Whatever joy Jonathan had after his election victory later proved to have a slender body which broke soon thereafter. Most of the people who sang hosanna to herald his triumphal entry into Aso Rock now genuinely want his administration crucified because the change he promised has turned into despair. Instead of fresh air what they perceive is the foulest stench ever released from government at the centre.

Some of today’s born again activists were once on the President’s side. The growing dissatisfaction in the land has pushed some of them to the street in demonstration as witnessed during the fuel subsidy protest in 2012 and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. But instead of addressing the underlying cause of the people’s anger the Presidency argues that the people were instigated by unpatriotic elements.

Speaking at the 52nd Independence anniversary lecture in Abuja in 2012, Jonathan said: “During the demonstration in Lagos, people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to. People were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So, even going to eat free food attracts people. They go and hire the best comedian to come and entertain. Is that demonstration?”  After saying something that could be interpreted as meaning he does not give a damn “if I see somebody manipulating anything”, he confessed that “I believe that that protest in Lagos was manipulated by a class in Lagos and was not from the ordinary people.”

His attack dogs in Aso Rock and Wadata Plaza have also put the tragic atrocities committed by Boko Haram down to the activities of opposition politicians. Jonathanians now describe anybody who does not worship at the shrine they have built for Mr President as Boko Haramites. Like everything else, security has become politicised while Nigerians are slaughtered by insurgents and brigands in uniforms.

This is definitely not what the people thought they were voting for in 2011. All they wanted was a government alive to its primary responsibility of ensuring security and welfare. A government which, in Jonathan’s own words, “creates environment for development and transformation.”

The President may no longer be the man Nigerians used to know. He has since become a shadow of what was sold to them. The people however remain the same. So do their expectations. And they cannot be fooled all the time.