Chidi Oguamanam



Can Jonathan reverse legacy of impunity?

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on September 24, 2014 at 10:05 AM

In the past few weeks, Nigeria’s litany of scandals require a loud and unceasing responsorial ora pro nobis. First, many people of good conscience are still wondering who among President Goodluck Jonathan’s courtiers decided that #BringBackJonathan2015 should be the reward for the failure of his government to #BringBackOurGirls. Second, the controversial Australian “negotiator”, Mr. Stephen Davies, dropped a bombshell in his Boko Haram “revelations”. While many were still wondering what to make of his exposés and how seriously they should be taken, respected lawyer, Femi Falana, and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, in separate and insightful interventions cast the Australian in a serious light.


Soyinka queried the President’s brazen high profile appearance with one of the alleged Boko Haram associates on the President’s recent trip to Chad. The Presidency acknowledged that the individual in question was under investigation. But in an embarrassing affirmation of the impunity that is fast becoming the legacy of the administration, no one in the Presidency saw nothing unethical with the President’s public appearance with a political associate under investigation.


Third is the $9.3m botched illegal arms deal in South Africa in which the President’s associates have been indirectly connected and regarding which the Federal Government has since owned up. But the government’s response and management of the enfolding scandal appear to be more embarrassing than the incident itself. In one breath, the Federal Government argues that there is nothing illegal with the incident. In another, it blames the United States for tipping off South Africa and for frustrating its desire to buy arms through legitimate channels. Yet, in some quarters, South Africa is also blamed for stoking the media backlash the arms incident has caused. Fourth is the recent embarrassing collapse of the guest house complex of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos with significant South African fatalities. That situation now pressures already frayed diplomatic nerves.


In saner places, all of these would propel the government in a crisis management mode. But here, what we have witnessed is an all-time high in the political tempo of the ruling party. Despite the Ebola crisis for which experts counselled against large-scale public gatherings, the President’s Peoples Democratic Party has continued to stage mega rallies in various disguises across the country. The highpoint of it is the recent adoption of the President by organs of his party as its sole candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. By so doing, the powerful governors’ caucus of the PDP conclusively foreclosed the need for presidential primaries in the ruling party. All the hitherto pretend presidential candidates in the PDP have now capitulated. But the President after being “humbled” by the adoption, has “yet to declare interest” in a second term mandate. Oh yes.


The significance of the decision by the PDP is important for the evolution of our political culture. Before now, many in the PDP, especially the erstwhile “rebel governors”, had continued to pretend that they could stop a sitting President from seeking a constitutionally sanctioned mandate renewal. Theoretically, it is necessary for a President not to take his privilege to carry his party’s electoral banner for granted. Practically, however, it is mostly in the interest of the ruling party to support the incumbent for a general election unless there is a compelling reason not to. More often than not, where a presidential incumbent is exposed to intra-party challenge, it leads to acrimony, bad blood and factionalism.


Rarely does a party fully recover from such self-induced stress that ultimately weakens its ability to face the opposition in a general election. In America, where we pretend to model our presidential system, it is almost a convention that the ruling party would allow its presidential candidate a pass for a second term. That convention is even more important in a fledgling democracy and in a political culture such as ours where politics is a do-or-die affair.


The PDP certainly is not in a hurry to forget that the root of the in-fighting between former President Obasanjo and his then Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, is the latter’s aborted bid to humiliate his boss in the primaries. Under the illusion or delusion of his superior political clout and sagacity, Abubakar had intended to truncate Obasanjo’s second term interest. Some even claim that he came very close to accomplishing that before Obasanjo’s tortoise strategy paid off. An unforgiving Obasanjo was to get his pound of flesh by ensuring that Abubakar’s presidential ambition never came through under the PDP. The party has yet to recover from the crisis.


Despite the pressure by some Northern elements in the PDP to stampede Goodluck Jonathan out of the Presidency, it is quite clear that in a culture of patronage politics, the incumbent wields enormous power. At some point, it looked like there was an internal revolution in the PDP, and some Northern governors and members of the National Assembly in the party were determined to wrest power from the President. But now even those associated with some presidential ambition and those on the forefront of opposing the President yesterday have come back to the “PDP family” for various reasons. Those who dared to defect are now standing on shaky political islands. One of them has since been impeached and removed from office.


It is not to say that there is no need for internal democracy within the political parties. However, for a ruling party, the expediency at the presidential level is not the same at the state levels in a federal order. That is why the backhand strategy and alleged nauseating deals under which the President secured his so-called sole candidacy are worrisome. Speculations are rife that the President and his party had made concessions that compromise internal democracy in the ruling party as well as feed his administration’s continuing culture of impunity as the price at which he bought his sole candidacy. The details can only unfold in the coming months across the country. It may not yet be Uhuru for the PDP.


But as Jonathan gets ready to run for the next presidential election, he should look at the ominous shadows his government continues to cast upon the country. He should sincerely consider the level of his resolve to shift the tide for the better. Where elections are fought and won on issues, as opposed to sentiments, where the opposition presents a better alternative than the incumbent, our President could not have been more vulnerable in his bid to renew his mandate. But it does seem, all things considered, that Jonathan still has a chance. It is my intrepid optimism that he could grab such a chance with an audacious resolve to turn the tide against his trademark legacy of impunity if there be a next time around.

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Wednesday September 24 under the title: Can Jonathan reverse legacy of impunity?

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