Goodluck: Only a matter of time

TH GUARDIAN Newspaper-Armsfree Ajanaku Onomo

IT was Chinua Achebe, in his classical novel-Things Fall Apart who admonished that a man who has had his palm kernel cracked for him by benevolent spirits, should learn how to be humble. That native wisdom, or something similar to it could be said to be the philosophy of Goodluck Jonathan. In more ways than one, the Vice President has been a beneficiary of an amazing wind of good fortune that seems bent on propelling him to a destination he never dreamt of: the Nigerian Presidency.

As a young lad, Jonathan's paternal grandmother used to fondly call him 'Azikiwe.' That sobriquet must have been a reference to the leadership qualities of the foremost nationalist and one of Nigeria's founding fathers, Dr. Namidi Azikiwe. Goodluck Jonathan, the story has it, possessed a natural ability to lead, right from his days as a youth. Azikiwe only managed to be a ceremonial President, having no executive power to push any agenda through. If the wind of good fortune continues with its benevolence, Jonathan could well clinch what Zik and other heavyweights like him craved, but could not get.

Ironically, whatever propels him to the utmost destination would have to be tied to the quest of the people of Nigeria for the rule of law and good governance. For about 67 days now, the nation's chief driver has been away to get himself treated in Saudi Arabia. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua decided to leave with the keys to the rickety vehicle called Nigeria. Everything has since come to an embarrassing halt, and a confused nation is asking deep seated questions about the way out of the crisis. Some aggrieved citizens, fazed by the vacuum in the nation's leadership approached the courts for intervention. What they got was a compromise; first Dan Abutu of the Federal High Court decided that the VP could exercise the presidential powers, in a delegated capacity. Perhaps, the court's assumption was that the President had been using his much talked about early morning and midnight telephone calls to delegate functions to his deputy. In the end, the judicial intervention was akin to telling someone to drive an abandoned car without the car keys. The decision has left Jonathan very little room for maneuvering, so the VP has continued to loyally stick to taking very little steps even when the issues facing Nigeria require giant and massive strides. Many have argued that the great issues facing Nigeria demand much more than a ceremonial helmsman who merely receives visitors, and smile into the cameras for photo ops.

Thus at a time when the embers of raw ambition could be fanned by those interested in milking the situation for their own benefits, the man from Otuoke has come across as cool headed. In the absence of his boss, he has tried to hold the forte within the limitations of the constitutional impediments. Lucky as he has been, the Vice President has refused to push his luck too far; he has merely waited for his fortune to run its full course.

Jonathan is however on a very familiar terrain. He was in a similar situation as an obscure and scrupulously loyal deputy to Governor Deprieye Solomon Peter Alameiseigha from 1999 to 2005. Alameseigha soon ran into the troubled waters of high-wire politics via the Nuhu Ribadu's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The anti graft body was said to be prodded to go after Alameisegha by the Presidency under Olusegun Obasanjo. The drama, which began with his arrest in the United Kingdom for money laundering charges in 2005, soon degenerated into a celebrated escape back to Nigeria. One of the scenes from that theatre of the absurd that played out in Bayelsa featured Alameseigha receiving a rousing welcome from ordinary Bayelsans. A few hours later, another section of the populace staged a protest to denounce the returnee governor. As the whole drama unfolded Jonathan remained in the background, staking no claim to what had effectively become his office as governor. The final hammer blows from Obasanjo fell mercilessly on Alammeseigha; on December 8, 2005, he was impeached and subsequently arrested. The way was thus cleared for Jonathan to become governor; he meekly accepted the role, raising his profile from that of an obscure deputy to that of a man who now held court in oil rich Bayelsa.

From December 9, 2005 to 28 May 2007, Jonathan carried on without rocking the boat, and in the build up to the 2011 general elections, Jonathan was to take a shot at the governorship for a first term. After a robust challenge from others who had for long wished the PDP governorship ticket be given to them, Jonathan was made the flag bearer of the ruling party, preparing for the coming contest.

That contest was never to come because in December that year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and other enforcers within the ruling party decided that Goodluck was the man to be on the ticket with Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. The reasoning: a fresh and vigorous face was needed as running mate to the self-effacing and taciturn Yar'Adua. Loyalty in a running mate must have mattered very much to Obasanjo, given his not too palatable experiences in the hands of his own deputy, Atiku Abubukar who was said to have almost pulled the rug off Obasanjo's feet. The militancy in the Niger-Delta was also a factor in the calculations of the power brokers. It was believed that nominating Yar'Adua's running mate from oil rich region would serve as an appeasement to the lords of the creeks who had begun a very effective insurgency that disrupted the nation's oil production capacity. It was felt in top political circles that someone from the region that was providing the nation with its lifeblood would be of immense benefit to the Yar'Adua Presidency. With the controversial elections that brought Yar'Adua to office, Jonathan assumed the position of Vice President, and has since carried on with the kind of level headedness only a few among the political elite possess.

In climes where things happen according to laid down procedures, the Vice President would have long carried on in an acting capacity. But in Nigeria, even provisions in the nation's supreme law could be twisted and stretched to accommodate the whims of those who call the shots. As things stand, the heavyweights who pull the strings seem to prefer a triumph of the zoning formula, which is a clear internal arrangement of the ruling party. This time however, there is a groundswell of opposition against any hanky panky on the part of the powers that be. The Save Nigeria Group and other like-minded organisations have been vigorously campaigning for strict adherence to the Constitution. Although, the "enough is enough" campaigners are also making other far-reaching demands for electoral reforms and constitutional reforms, the immediate push is for power to be handed over to the VP in accordance with the provisions of Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution. It is not only the campaigners on the streets that are calling for the ailing President to do the "right thing." Only last week, an Eminent Elders Group, made up of the nation's former leaders, including two former Chief Justices called on the President to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to enable his deputy to begin acting. Even so, the Senate had earlier called on the President to carry out the necessary communication to give his deputy the leeway to act. All of these are pointing towards a possible Jonathan presidency, but there is the other side.

Those against the alteration of the existing order are working round the clock because the slightest change in the power equation in Aso Rock could drastically turn the tables in 2011. In a year preceding a crucial elections, there are lots of politicians who are not prepared to stomach the slightest change of guards. It has thus been no coincidence to hear supporters of the status quo arguing that the President could exercise his powers from any part of planet earth. It is the same school that rejoiced when the courts said the VP could exercise the President powers. In their eyes, that judicial intervention had effectively clipped the wings of any group of ambitious men. The second court decision ordering the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to determine the President's fitness to rule has merely played into the hands of the defenders of the status quo; the FEC unanimously agreed that the President was fit as fiddle. Again, the VP in another clear demonstration of his loyalty chaired the meeting that gave his principal yet another clean bill of health, even when Nigerians can see evidence to the contrary. It is survival instincts at play, perhaps, a dress rehearsal for the many more survival battles to come. Ironically, the 'fit' man's chair has been empty for over two months, and the nation continues to drift


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