Though outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan was statesmanlike enough to concede defeat to the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, a gesture that may have saved our country from spiralling into violence, the road to the unprecedented first defeat of an incumbent in Nigeria’s political history was self-inflicted and was set in motion by the President himself as soon as he was sworn into office four years ago. Though Jonathan’s historic concession has ensured that he will leave power in a blaze of glory, his tenure in office was far from being glorious.
The tragic lesson of a President who once enjoyed the goodwill of Nigerians but whose public rating took a plunge and never recovered until his defeat should be a humbling lesson for the incoming administration. Beyond Jonathan’s concession, we must not forget the tragic timeline that brought his tenure to an inglorious end. I strongly believe that by interrogating what went wrong, the coming administration may avoid the mistakes of the past.
In 2014, I had predicted on this column that Jonathan would not be re-elected. My calculation was not borne out of any personal dislike for the President. The dismal indices of his Presidency just made him vulnerable to defeat. But I must say I was impressed by the magnanimity of the concession which is now almost making Nigerians to forgive the shortcomings of the President. But we must never forget because to do so will be to tolerate the same mistakes in the coming administration.
With his loss in the election, President Jonathan has become the protagonist whose presidential defeat was long foretold but chose to ignore while carrying on with the false bravado of a classic Greek tragic-hero. I am terribly pained that President Jonathan wasted the goodwill that swept him into power six years ago. However, Nigerians must thank the President for deepening our democracy. By conceding defeat in a campaign characterised by threat of violence and war, he has saved our country from possible disintegration long foretold.
But if we must candidly assess the Jonathan era and learn some lessons of his defeat, we may need to look beyond the kind gesture of concession which now seems to becloud his administration’s shortcomings. For example, it still puzzles me that on many occasions in his Presidency, Jonathan failed to rise to the challenges of leadership. He failed many times to seize the moment to worm himself into the hearts of Nigerians.
A lot of questions have been asked about the first-time loss to an opposition candidate. But the answers lie with the President himself. When President Jonathan reflects on his defeat, he will come to the painful conclusion that he had no one to blame but himself. In my own view, the greatest undoing of the President is that he seemed to have failed to understand the significance of his Presidency and the hope invested in him by Nigerians. Even though he often alluded to the role of fate in plucking him from obscurity to be the President of the most populous black nation on earth, he chose instead to ignore the symbolism. It is ironical that the first minority president has become the first incumbent to lose an election.
In the intervening years of his presidency, instead of taking control of the personal narrative, the President allowed others to define him. It was a costly mistake that brought his presidency crashing in its first term. During the campaigns, we saw a disconnected President who rather than plead his re-election case with the masses, chose to seek endorsement of religious, ethnic, business and sundry groups. As he frantically sought for re-election, the President, desperate, allegedly spent massively on these groups. But it is now clear that the President was looking in the wrong places. Had he been so discerning, he would have felt the widespread pulse of discontent that had swept through the country. He would have known that no amount of propaganda and last minute measures by his aides could have stopped the tsunami that was about to sweep his presidency away.
Now, the botched re-election bid; the huge resources wasted on campaign and the people trusted to make it happen have turned out to be the greatest scam of his presidency. All the President’s men who contributed to this fiasco must apologise to him. But in the end, the President should have no one to blame but himself. As he reflects on what might have been, the President must ask himself, why for example did he ignore the masses and instead pitch his tent with the privileged few?
Why did he abandon the “breath of fresh air” that swept him into power and choose to do business as usual? Why did he not “give a damn” when asked to set personal example in transparency by declaring his assets? Why did he not correct the perception of being an insensitive and uncaring leader when he removed fuel subsidy on the eve of a New Year and later blamed “enemies” for the nationwide protest? Why did the President fail to prosecute oil subsidy thieves and was even seen frolicking with them without minding how it offended the sensibility of Nigerians?
Did Mr. President think for once that Nigerians are so gullible not to differentiate between corruption and stealing? Why did he ignore the many scandals that cemented the perception of his administration as corrupt? Why was Abba Moro, the minister under whose watch an employment scam led to the death of 15 Nigerians not sacked? Why did he insist on keeping Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala when it was clear her economic policies were not working? The perception of Jonathan’s Presidency as pandering to ethnic and religious sentiments may have also contributed to his defeat. Throughout his reign, the President cut a picture of a leader not in charge. His penchant for constituting committees for issues that required instant presidential decision cemented the perception of him as indecisive.
Besides, his lacklustre response to the Boko Haram terror war in the North-East may have also contributed to his loss. For years, Boko Haram abducted, kidnapped, raped and terrorised innocent Nigerians in the North East under Jonathan’s watch. Between 2011 and 2015, the sect is reported to have killed more about 15,000 Nigerians. But the administration’s response to terror acts was to blame the opposition.
This was at a time when the President himself had confessed that elements of Boko Haram were in his government. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped close to 300 girls in Chibok, Borno State. He shocked the nation when a day after the kidnap he went dancing at a campaign rally in Kano even as the nation mourned the Abuja motor park bombing that killed hundreds of citizens. His response to Chibok girls who have not been found yet damaged his Presidency.
Meanwhile, the poverty rate and unemployment worsened. Then, the cookies came crumbling. There were serious scandalous allegations of corruption too numerous to mention for lack of space. The President in his characteristic “I don’t give a damn” manner just waved them off. The last straw that broke Jonathan’s electoral back was the parlous state of the economy. The naira was on a free fall; his campaign managers rather than dwelling on issues kept hurling abuse at the opposition.
Personally, it was not a surprise that Jonathan lost. The lessons must not be lost on Nigerians: Never again must any government take us for granted. Nigerians will use their votes to effect the needed change. Let the APC government be put on notice.
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