Few months ago, President Goodluck Jonathan had a fairly good reason to believe he will have a blowout. The opposition lacked one person capable of mustering a viable Presidential campaign. There was no threat on the horizon. He was sure the polls would mimic a birthday bash: Everybody will wish him more years.
But that was then. The climate has since changed. And so has the prospects of the Umbrella. Today, Jonathan is an endangered candidate. The hysteria in his camp reflects awareness of his vulnerable condition. It accounts for the rich marvel of this season. Trenchantly surreal, it looks like a drama around a swap of traits: The lifelong civilian pleads election allergy while his main rival, the stigmatized former military dictator, strains at the leash to go to the polls..
The All Progressive Congress, hitherto less a political party than a nascent conspiracy, has managed to tap into the frustration of the alienated majority. With the one word offer of CHANGE, the party has provoked a Pavlovian hunger for a new reality in the populace.
The dread of a shellacking has driven President Jonathan to experimentation in costly antics. He decrees a six week postponement through the instrumentality of the military. He moves house to house, under the cover of darkness, pitching the abominable idea of an interim national government to select personages. He inspires the agitation against the deployment of smart card reader for voter accreditation. He sponsors the demonization of Attahiru Jega, Chairman of Independent National Election Commission, as a prelude to supplanting the umpire with a puppet. He embarks on a bribing blitz; dumping dollars everywhere he needs affection. Quite simply, Jonathan has been signaling that he is desperate enough to explore any possibility that might help him retain his grip on power!
President Jonathan’s last-ditch efforts have proven insufficient to save his doomed campaign. His establishment and resourcing of the Hate Buhari Cottage Industry has not won him more lovers. His tokens of appeasement – especially that masterstroke of a 50 percent reduction in darkness tariff – have not assuaged voter discontent. But the optimist in Jonathan is not ready the imminent defeat. He still hopes against hope that he will clinch a second term on March 28.
Unlike General Muhammadu Buhari, a veteran of three failed presidential quests, President Goodluck Jonathan is a virgin at losing. Jonathan has won every election he has participated in as a contestant since 1999. His sixteen year long winning streak and a name that is widely promoted as the talisman behind his many quantum leaps, from a shoeless pupil to the pinnacle of power, have consolidated the myth of his own invincibility in his mind. News of a defeat will shake the foundation of Jonathan’s sense of personal identity. It will devastate him mentally and emotionally. And the wounded loser and his reflexes, at that level, will generate chaos.
President Jonathan has a docile demeanor; but he is not known to be a man of depth or erudition. His discretion, as a rule, selects consequential options from the extreme end of impropriety. There is a likelihood that, in the potentially volatile hours after the announcement of a Buhari victory, a shell-shocked Jonathan would let an impolitic utterance slip out of him. He may make a panicky move that telegraphs dismissal of the outcome. And any of these is guaranteed to turn one man’s job loss into a national tragedy.
Doyin Okupe, the Senior Special Assistant to the President for Public Affairs, the man who would rather be addressed either as an Attack Lion or a Bastard, recently swore, in the presence of media correspondents, that his principal would never hand over to Buhari. Reason: The President suspects that Buhari is an illiterate. Jonathan would feel duty-bound to overrule the electorate, in the event that they commit the error of trivializing a zoology PhD and committing the charge of their lives and country to the illiterate. And it would be an act of kindness if he moves in to deprive the adults from their preference.
Jonathan likes to highlight his calm disposition to elections. He would not water his political ambition with human blood. He references, as one of his key feats, the fact that he permitted opposition parties in win some state mandates. He compliments himself for refraining from interfering with the recent governorship elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra. Of course, this is self flattery. President Jonathan is no sovereign. He couldn’t have picked a winner in spite of the local people. In those contexts, his party had no fighting chance. Yet, he buttresses his democratic credentials with the mention of these instances.
But President Jonathan has a record of going for broke whenever he senses that the outcome of a democratic process would disadvantage his own political interest. Jonathan split the Nigerian Governor’s Forum when his proxy lost a free and fair chairmanship contest to his gadfly, Rotimi Amaechi. Jonathan had feared that Amaechi would incommode Jonathan’s re-election bid.
President Jonathan recently overran Ekiti State because he needed a crucial foothold in the Southwest. A soldier released a tape that implicated Jonathan in the comprehensive rigging that secured the PDP a bizarre landslide. Jonathan dismissed the plausible evidence as a ‘’fabrication’’, unworthy of investigation. And then he rewarded the hero of the story with a ministerial reincarnation.
As he read the handwriting on the wall, President Jonathan invited heads of some ethnic militias and gave them a $ 9 billion contract transfusion. They became hyperactive, like pet dogs spoilt. A MASSOB mob surged in one Southeast capital. OPC thugs, dressed in Jonathan-branded T-shirts, ravaged major Lagos streets, brandishing toys of destruction. A supposed protest against the person of Jega saw them tearing down APC outdoor signs.
Earlier, the most prominent ex-militants held a conclave in the Government House of Jonathan’s home state. Now big government contractors, they threatened to reverse their own Transformation. If their benefactor and kinsman redeemer ever suffers defeat, they would return to their old home in the creeks, like demons reinforced with seven fold wickedness: And from there, levy an apocalyptic war on Nigeria. Kingsley Kuku, the President’s Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs presided over that session of the brotherhood of warmongers.
What did President Jonathan do? Query Kuku? Sack him? No, Jonathan was gratified that his Amnesty Program Point Man was playing the role defined in his job description. Did Jonathan disown the felons and have them arrested? No, he approved their threat with his silence. He was thankful that his siblings reckoned him a good excuse to start bloodshed.
To be sure, the leaders of these lethal groups have a strong reason to fight for the perpetuation of their favorite. And it is certainly not because they are persuaded that Nigeria will lose a talented leader if Goodluck Jonathan was banished to Otueke, to vegetate as an ex-President. They are the President’s dependents. They will be casualties if ‘’another king who knows not Joseph’’ takes power.
President Jonathan has to take a responsible posture. He has to urgently transmit an instruction forbidding any of his allies from making any post-result reaction that doesn’t follow his lead. His followers will be inclined to resist his defeat. They will interpret his defeat as the end of their access to waivers and free meals. Jonathan needs to communicate to them, ahead of time, in the clearest terms, that he will concede.
In this regard, his biggest task is in containing his wife. She told a rally last week, ‘’We Must Complete Our Two Terms’’. Her shameful outbursts on the campaign trail, some too crude to repeat, bespeaks the temperament of one Mrs. Gbagbo, a First Lady turned War Crimes Convict.
President Jonathan has to have a concession speech ready before election eve. He must confirm that the wording is essentially conciliatory. That it appeals to Nigeria’s need for peace and prosperity. That the wording diffuses the hate-saturated atmosphere and leads us towards national healing. That the wording touches our sense of common destiny.
Jonathan will not find it easy to call President-elect Muhamadu Buhari to congratulate him. Some hawks in his circle will counsel him to create an artificial crisis and use that as a pretext for perpetuating himself in office. Losing an election here imposes the burden of humiliation and inadequacy, like losing an erection. It is not the loss of a match that must be answered with sportsmanship.
But Goodluck Jonathan needs to recognize in his loss an opportunity for personal redemption. Nigerians, genetically lenient humans, will consider him to have made some atonement for his failed leadership, if he bows to the sovereignty of the Nigerian people, if he dedicates himself to managing a seamless transition, if he goes quietly – possibly to resume cultivation of his 90 hectares acquisition.
This footnote which Jonathan can tag on to his narrative may temper his legacy of a bungled presidency. It is the only way he can win in defeat.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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