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Jonathan Fits the Bill in 2011: Could He Be Nigeria’s Obama?

By: Franklin Otorofani, Esq.
 Published April 18th, 2010

In the unprecedented global public euphoria that greeted the historic election of former United States junior senator from the state of Illinois, Barack Obama, as first black president of the United States in November, 2008, some overzealous, ever so rapturous Nigerians momentarily allowed themselves to be swept away sky high into cloud nine in a flight of fancy from the unedifying conditions at home. And in their entranced state of hallucination were quick to dub Adams Oshiomohle, the labor leader-turned-politician, who had just won his electoral petition appeal at the Appeal Court, and consequently declared Governor of Edo state, “Nigeria’s Obama!”

Oshiomhole: Nigeria’s Obama? “Where the heck is that notion coming from?” I asked incredulously. I was dumbfounded as the words cruelly hit my eardrums. It sounded like blasphemy to my trained and ever sensitive ears. That was one of the most improbable attributions I ever heard in a long while. And I couldn’t help but scratch my head in utter disbelief knowing as I do the difference between night and day. Night and day? You heard it right, that’s the difference between the two personalities—Obama and Oshiomhole. And I didn’t keep my objection to myself.

“Hell no, I protested, “he’s no Obama. He’s Comrade Adams Oshiomohle, the petty dictator who’s still learning the ropes of governance in Edo state, and in particular, the difference between labor unionism and the administration of a state!”  And it’s looking like it will take the petrel his entire four-year term to fully comprehend the difference between labor unionism and governance of a state.

Thank goodness, it wasn’t long afterwards before Oshiomhole himself began to destroy the Obama mythology his naïve supporters had built around him. And that made my job of deconstructing him a little easier and made me breathe a little easier as well. At this time that myth is all but shattered. These Nigerians could, however, be forgiven because they had no idea who Obama was at the time other than the fleeting campaign images strewn across the globe during the campaigns.  

However, not a few Nigerians were taken aback by that uncharitable comparison. Given the notoriously erratic, rancorous, dictatorial and prickly disposition of the Edo state governor, Obama would bristle with indignation at such comparison if he knew who was being compared to him. The cerebral, thoughtful, listening, accommodating, respectful, patient, civil and yet action-packed Obama couldn’t be more different from the loquacious, pugnacious, grumpy, temperamental, theatrical, yet slow and underperforming Oshiomohle, who seems to have perfected the art of mining every excuse in the book to explain his failures and lackluster performance and blame them on Chief Anthony Anenih, his ex-political godfather turned latter day opponent and chieftain of a different political party altogether.

Failure is the father of excuses but success has none. President Obama looks for no excuses because unlike Nigerian politicians he knows excuses is not an option in the United States. He simply delivers even in the teeth of opposition. For instance, he delivered on his $787bn bold economic stimulus plan tagged American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which is credited with creating nearly a million jobs since its enactment in January, 2009. Under that plan America’s auto industry was rescued from the brink of total collapse with General Motors now back from bankruptcy and into profit making territory. And Chrysler Motors is now in the good hands of the Italian FIAT.

He has delivered on his bold, historic almost $1tn health plan for Americans who presently have no access to healthcare or otherwise unable to foot prohibitive health bills to bring the United States healthcare delivery system at par with the rest of the developed nations. As of now, though highly advanced, the American healthcare system is below the rest of the industrialized world according to the ratings in terms of costs and access. Obama’s healthcare law has changed all that for the better. Never mind that the US government is living on borrowed money from China and others with a huge trillion dollar budget deficits overhang on its neck. When a nation spends more than it earns, it ends up in debts and that’s the fate that has befallen the United States since President Clinton left and GW Bush came in to not only squander the huge budget surplus left by Clinton but leave a huge deficit for Obama to carry. Yet the Republicans who failed to rein in the deficits under Bush are the loudest in crying about budget deficits under Obama. Hypocrites! Not to worry, $1tn is a huge amount no doubt, but it’s only roughly one tenth of the US economy. Deficit or not Obama is pressing ahead aggressively with his huge domestic and international agenda for the American people and has not used the deficit as an excuse to delay or defeat it.

He has delivered on withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq in a gradual fashion with several batches of US troops already home from Iraq, which is itself a budget reduction measure especially when it is realized that the US was spending on average $4bn monthly on the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan much of which can now be redirected to fund domestic programs. And he has just delivered on his nuclear non-proliferation plan and efforts to safeguard loose nukes around the world with the renewal of START II in Russia and his gathering of world leaders in Washington, D.C., for the just ended Nuclear Security Summit, including Nigeria.

All of these and many more initiatives on clean energy and financial reforms have received serious attention under the Obama administration. Given his numerous achievements in so short a time in office under the very perilous conditions he came in, it is fair to state that Obama has achieved more in one year than GW Bush achieved in eight years of war mongering only to leave behind a complete mess for Obama to clean up. That’s right. Obama is cleaning after Bush’s mess and Americans know it.

But the point is that he is doing it in his debonair style even in the teeth of virulent opposition, personal attacks and name calling by Republican loonies, without whining or buck-passing as witnessed in the historic passage of the health care bill in Congress that he has already signed into law. If Obama were a Nigerian President, his popularity would have hit the stratosphere and Nigerians would have nicknamed him “Action President!” the same way they nicknamed their own president “Yara-slow” and “Mr. Go-slow” negatively in reverse order. Ironically however, Obama’s popularity in the US is in the gutters at the moment because Americans are just as depressed as the US economy and until they see jobs flowing again and unemployment queues shortening, Obama will not get any credit for anything now, and his job approval ratings now in the lower 40s in the polls will continue to go down south before they come back up again in future. 

He’s doing his level best to fix the economy and, has in fact, worked harder than any other world leader to get the economy moving ahead with a great deal of success as the recession gives way to growth. As a result of his aggressive and massive interventions, the US economy is recovering much faster than the EU economies. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to the economy it is impossible simply to decree results into existence. It’s a gradual process that will take quite a while to fully materialize. What took nearly a decade to destroy cannot be fixed overnight. But his personal qualities will aid him in that process.

He picks quarrel with nobody but reaches out to the opposition to find “common grounds.” He is patient and intensely respectful of other people’s views and suggestions and never dictatorial. And that’s why he incorporated several Republican ideas into the healthcare bill even as the Republicans anarchists were bent on torpedoing his signature healthcare agenda for the nation.

He is smooth and civil, not uncouth or condescending. He is painstaking and methodical, not erratic and given to temper. He is about big dreams, not about municipal preoccupation of flower planting on roadsides or filing potholes on our roads or building earth roads in rural America. He’s none of those pedestrian undertakings, but goes for historical, landmark achievements that will define his administration for generations to come. He’s about big legacies in the mold of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, his idol, FDR, and Eisenhower, just to name but a few.

He’s neither a wheeler/dealer nor given to frivolities and mundane sensual gratifications. And that’s how he was able to nimbly navigate the mine-field of scandal plagued American public life. He was called the “Teflon Candidate” because nothing thrown at him could stick due to his disciplined lifestyle that Oshiomhole could only dream of in another life. Though he was a former university don and graduate of two elite American universities (Columbia and Harvard), Obama exudes humility and never exhibits a know-it-all attitude and would readily admit mistakes where appropriate.  In short, he is the very opposite of Oshiomohle who is the very antithesis of the Obama persona. How Oshiomohle came to be likened to Obama by supporters of the Edo state governor beats the imagination and attributable to the warped imaginations of some of our people.

Enters Jonathan:

This, however, is not about Oshiomhole but about an emerging political star in the Nigerian political firmament only just recently discovered by Nigeria’s political astronomers that’s still in the process of building its own planetary constellation. If Nigerians were looking for an Obama clone in Nigeria in the field of leadership, they shouldn’t have to look too far and too long to find him because they already have one in Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Ag President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Yes Jonathan is it: a political lightweight that has floored the heavyweights in a spectacular fashion without raising a finger. Talk about David and Goliath. As at the time of writing this piece he was having an official one-on-one discussion with President Obama in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C. during his visit for the nuclear summit of world leaders to which he was personally invited by the US President; not necessarily because Nigeria is a nuclear power but as an regional observer perhaps in recognition of Nigeria’s peaceful nuclear ambitions. As Jonathan sat with Obama in the Oval Office, what crossed my mind was, “two of a kind!” What an accident of history, or if you like, historical coincidence!

For starters, both were university lecturers who quit the ivory towers for politics. And both of them came into national limelight in exceptionally short order as unlikely candidates for the presidency at a time of grave economic and political perils for their respective nations. Obama ascended the US presidency at the height of the worst financial crisis in US and world history, which reverberations and aftershocks are still with us today with the world still struggling to dig itself out of the economic pit it had fallen.

And in Nigeria, Jonathan equally arrived at the scene at a time of political turmoil and uncertainties about the very survival of the nation. It is fair to say that both have managed to turn the tide in a positive direction in their respective countries, with the US economy emerging from its depression and growing again for the first time in two years, and hope rising again in Nigeria’s political and economic future.

It would appear, therefore, that both leaders are moving in lockstep in an unscripted manner and their personalities have a lot to do with their policies. It’s needless repeating them. But suffice it to state that all the attributes assigned to Obama above equally belong to Jonathan in full measure. These attributes which had all along been hidden in the bowels of Aso Rock while President Yar’Adua held sway, were forcefully brought to the fore during the power transfer battles. It’s quite remarkable that throughout the protracted battles that lasted nearly four months, Jonathan maintained his cool and betrayed no emotions listening to both friends and foes alike as he carried on with uncommon dignity. Just imagine the trauma he must have passed through when he could not swear in the incoming Chief Justice of Nigeria and had to rely on AGF Aondoakaa who was actively plotting against him for advice. Just imagine the stress, humiliation and embarrassment he went through. He crossed the several hurdles hauled on his path with dignified carriage and composure befitting his office.

Folks, that’s the Obama character that he shares with our very own Ag President, Goodluck Jonathan.

A combustible character like Oshimohole in that position would have set the nation on fire with irrational actions and unbridled theatrics, but not Jonathan. Remember Oshiomhole’s gaffe that all political godfathers in Edo state should relocate to Anambra state that drew condemnation from across the Niger? Remember his threat to revoke the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of the NTA, Benin, for granting a call-in interview to PDP chieftain in the state where his government was pilloried? And do you remember all the tantrums, name calling and the bellyaching? It has been reported that his cabinet members literarily bow before him and he chides them like kindergartens during cabinet meetings.

Looking for a kitchen despot? Look no further, you’ve got one in Oshiomhole. But that is not Obama and that is not Jonathan either who could take it all in their strides and still maintain their cool. Such a cool-headed leader is the right man for the times to help tamp down the overheated political temperature in the nation and hold the nation together in these volatile, trying times.

Jonathan has displayed the same forthrightness and candor as we have come to associate with the US President. When he addressed the nation in December, even before he was invested with full presidential powers, he literarily apologized to the nation for the Federal Government’s inability to meet its promise of generating 6000mw of electricity by the end of the year and recommitted the government to that goal under his leadership. His assumption of the Power Ministry portfolio in the cabinet testifies to the seriousness he personally attaches to that commitment.  

History has a way of throwing up leaders at critical juncture of their nations’ histories. A recent example in the developed world is Tony Blair thrown up in Britain at a time Clinton was already up on the leadership saddle in the United States. And today we find Jonathan suddenly thrust into national leadership in Nigeria at a time Obama is already up on the leadership saddle in the United States. And just as Blair and Clinton had perfect personal chemistry, Jonathan and Obama have found similar chemistry. And what is more, the messianic and reformative agenda struck by Obama that carried him all the way to the White House is the same tone that Jonathan has struck in relation to Nigeria. In his address to the Foreign Relations Council in the US Jonathan left no one in doubt as to the direction he wants to take the country within the short time left for this administration. In his words:

“In this responsibility of consolidating and deepening our democracy, we are committed to ensuring that the remaining period of the administration is not a transitional period but one which, we hope, will one day be viewed as a watershed, a transformational time in our young democracy. For us in Nigeria, this is our time. Either we continue with more of the same or we change the game.

“There is, no doubt, that we have been faced by some challenges in our country, but we have stabilised the polity and we are determined to consolidate on the gains so recorded. And for now, our domestic focus must be on electoral reform, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and standing strong in our resolve against corruption.

“Internationally, we are determined to restore Nigeria’s image and traditional role as a key member of the international community. In an increasingly uncertain world, Nigeria is a key partner in our collective efforts to maintain peace and security in Africa and beyond. Nigeria will reiterate its commitments to fight terrorism and rededicate our efforts to promote development, democracy and a shared value for human progress.”

 

“For us in Nigeria, this is our time.” If the words in the second phrase sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. Those were, in fact, Obama’s words, lifted effortlessly by Jonathan, perhaps to underline the transformational leadership he intends to offer just like his host is currently doing in the United States.

God works in miraculous ways. Four months ago no one could ever have imagined that an Obama clone would be holding forte in Aso Rock given the cold relationship that had existed between Washington and Abuja in Yar’Adua’s time. Yar’Adua didn’t even deem it fit to go for Obama’s inauguration and refused to attend any UN function in the US so as to avoid meeting with Obama. Nothing happens by chance in life but through divine plan and everything works for good. That’s why I couldn’t help but be amused by the childish antics of those who fought tooth and nail to deny Jonathan the Ag Presidency by all means available to them, fair or foul. All their clandestine machinations hatched in the dark corners of Aso Rock and in five star hotels abroad came to nil because they were fighting God and the result is a foregone conclusion.

However the good-news is that the nation has not regretted the investiture of Jonathan as acting President at this very historical moment. And just like Obama, he has moved swiftly to get the ship of state moving again. He is not 100 days yet in office, but he has achieved in less than three months what Yar’Adua couldn’t achieve in three years! And this isn’t an idle claim. Here is a brief run-down of Jonathan achievements so far:

  • A cabinet selection that took President Yar’Adua six odd months to constitute took Jonathan less than two weeks to set up from the date of dissolution of the Yar’Adua appointed former cabinet.
  • The multi-billion dollar Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Plant that Yar’Adua had grounded was activated to safeguard Nigeria’s investment and create jobs. Ajaokuta Steel Complex could employ hundreds of thousands of workers.
  • He has forwarded the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Report that Yar’Adua had consigned to the shelves to gather dust for years to the Senate for action and is already receiving attention. In fact, parts of the recommendations have been passed in the Senate Bill and the House of Representatives curiously always lagging behind, is on course as well.
  • Under him INEC has successfully conducted three elections in Edo, Anambra, and Abuja that have passed the credibility threshold of free and fair elections.
  • At the international scene, he has worked to remove Nigeria from the US terror list. The Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission agreement concluded and signed by Nigeria and the United States has been described as a historic feat in the in the Nigeria-US relations. And all of a sudden, Nigeria is once again the toast of the world and the cold war between the US and Nigeria under President Yar’Adua has suddenly given way to warm relations between both continental giants. The reception accorded Jonathan everywhere he went in Washington bears eloquent testimony to this assertion including his meeting with the Black Congressional Caucus, his address at the prestigious Foreign Relations Council and, of course, his audience with the US President himself, Barack Obama in the Oval Office. All of that have raised the international profile of the country within a month of Jonathan’s acting presidency. How much more so would it have been if he was invested with the full title of president? Your guess is as good as mine.  
  • He is moving aggressively on delivering on the promise of stable power supply for the nation; a promise that Yar’Adua had repeatedly failed to keep; perhaps he never meant to keep, just like his electoral reform that he had sat on.
  • On the war on corruption, we are seeing the first stirrings of the Jonathan agenda on the war that was all but lost under the Yar’Adua administration. Suddenly EFCC has woken up from its slumber and has pounced on ex Governor James Ibori of Delta state who was being protected by Yar’Adua and Aondoakaa from prosecution. Ibori whose trial had been deliberately bungled by the Yar’Adua administration and set free by the High Court in Asaba, has suddenly been declared wanted by the EFCC. And we can expect to see a revamped and rejuvenated EFCC in the coming months that is alive to its statutory responsibility of ridding the polity of the cankerworm of corruption and bringing official kleptomaniacs to justice the way it was under the previous Ribadu tenure. The reported meeting between Ribadu and Jonathan in Washington, D.C. must therefore be seen in the light of this new direction.

But perhaps more importantly is his move on Niger Delta. Ag President Jonathan has kept the Niger Delta train which was on the verge of cataclysmic derailment, moving again. The ND project contracts that had suffered undue delays in the hands of Yar’Adua’s Kitchen cabinet have been activated and the equipments are rolling in. On the international scene the nation has witnessed a 180% turn for the better. It is amazing what the aura of a different personality could bring to bear on our international image and status. Were Yar’Adua still in charge, Nigeria would have completely disappeared from the radar screen altogether because he was either unwilling or too timid to play on the international stage. He preferred to hole up in Aso Rock instead even when he was hale and hearty; a situation that radically reduced Nigeria’s status and African leadership role on the world stage. Jonathan has changed all of that literarily overnight.

Now, that is a record I can live with and I don’t know any patriotic Nigerian who can’t live with such a profound positive turnaround.

Contrary to expectation fears of a lame-duck Ag presidency due largely to his perceived self-effacement and general perception of his lack of political ambitions, Jonathan has confounded his critics and admirers alike by his careful plotting and methodical execution of his agenda which has thrown his political enemies into total disarray.

In an earlier article titled, 2011 General Elections: PDP on the Chopping Block, I warned the ruling party to quickly reconcile itself with the emerging Jonathan phenomenon otherwise it would have itself to blame, because rather than being a mere bird of passage as the PDP leadership would have us believe, Jonathan is here to stay. Though somewhat reluctantly, PDP’s leadership is gradually coming to terms with that reality and there’s noticeable change of tone in its public utterances in relation to Jonathan as reality dawns on it. The hitherto blind loyalty to President Yar’Adua is giving way to pragmatism, which recommends coming to terms with the reality on the ground.  And it was in early recognition of that inexorable creeping reality that this author clearly predicted in the article alluded to above that Ag President Jonathan would gun for the presidency when no one else ever imagined that scenario with the PDP hierarchy rushing to rule him out of contention in 2011. The prediction is about to come to pass and if anyone is in doubt about the probability, not possibility, of a post Yar’Adua, full term Jonathan presidency, his deliberately evasive, ambivalent, and non-committal answer to Christiane Amampour’s question in an interview in Washington, D.C., as to whether he would put himself forward for the 2011 presidential election should serve as an eye opener to all those who have ruled Jonathan out of the presidential calculus. In his own words:

“For now, I don’t want to think about it, because the circumstances of the day are quite worrisome.
“I came in as the vice president to run with President Yar’Adua, of course, getting close to period of election, he took ill. And I have to take over under somewhat controversial circumstances. Only last week, I reconsidered the cabinet. So let us see how Nigeria will move forward first. I had a similar experience when I was governor of my state.
“I said, nobody should ask me whether I will contest election or not. I must first of all see whether the state is moving. If the country is not moving, what will I tell Nigerians I want to contest?”

That is vintage Jonathan and as diplomatic and evasive as it gets. But the message is clear by what is left unsaid than what is said. A silent signal has been sent out and the political antenna of the political class will surely pick up the signal and recalibrate their respective positions in relation to Jonathan. It’s a potential game changer for the political class. Watch out for further developments as Jonathan plots his political graph and keep his date with destiny.

Where does Yar’Adua fit into in this projection? The answer is: Nowhere. For all practical purposes, the Jonathan presidency has, in fact, begun in earnest and 2011 will only serve to formalize and legitimize the presidency through a popular mandate. President Yar’Adua has fizzled out of the scene though still dignified with the titular symbolism of absentee president. Although it is true that the Ag President has not seen nor spoken to Yar’Adua “in five months” as confessed by Jonathan himself, this writer is convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that he is fully abreast of the health status of the president and convinced that he would not make it back to office. And he is not alone. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo knew that all along and that was why he publicly came out swinging when he called on the president to resign; a call which reverberated in the halls of power and set the stage for the historic “Doctrine of Necessity” Resolution of the National Assembly. Former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, knows that too and so are Atiku and Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly. And that explains why IBB who had been AWOL all along would stick out his neck to declare his opportunistic and already foreclosed presidential ambition.

 IBB’s political baggage is just too much and enough to sink him political ship even before he sets sail and it’s already happening. He would be gravely mistaken if he equated the outpouring of grief over the death of his beloved wife, Myriam, as evidence of his popularity. Myriam was popular but IBB himself is a huge political liability. How could a man, who ruled for nearly 9 years and callously annulled the freest and best election in Nigeria ever with no apologies whatsoever ever dream of coming to power again in that same country? How could a man, who is yet to clear himself of his indictment of the missing $12bn by the Pius Okigbo panel set up by Sani Abacha ever raise his head to want to rule again? And how could a man who banned so-called old breed politicians with dictatorial fiat ever shows up his head to contest at age 63 when he an old breed himself?  This man is a complete non-starter and that’s why I would not waste my time discussing his candidature. It is true that anything goes in Nigeria, but not this one, and not this time. It will simply not fly.

I would rather set my gaze on viable candidates and Ag President Jonathan is the man to beat. But it’s on the condition that he’s able to deliver on his promises. If he does Nigerians could care less where the president comes from and that would spell doom for the PDP’s unconstitutional and undemocratic so-called zoning formula. If power must shift from one zone to another, it should be by mutual understanding and not through an imposition or a formal arrangement that would become ossified and used to deny some sections or persons from some sections of the country their right to vie for the presidency of their own country.

Our budding democracy must not be founded on divide and rule arrangements. That is the surest way to perpetuate the North/South political divide and it’s therefore a disservice to our nation. Nation building recommends integrative rather than divisive policies of divide and rule. All parts of the nation are entitled to field candidates for the presidency in a democracy and this is the time to establish that principle once and for all. That will make for a robust and vibrant democracy and let the chips fall where they may. On no account therefore should the Nigerian presidency be zoned to particular sections of the nation because the nation will end up producing ethnic presidents rather than statesmen and women. All that is required is to institute a credible electoral process where votes count and are counted. Other than that, it is an open field and anyone can throw his/her hat into the ring, including Jonathan. And he who the cap fits should wear it. At this point in time, Ag President Jonathan fits the bill and he shouldn’t hesitate to step forward and seize this historical moment.

The man has a way with power and I can see him striking the iron when it is red hot! As an experienced politician, he knows too well that opportunity knocks but once in life at this level, and it is incumbent on him to seize it with both hands before it slips away never to be had again. His current position of “acting” president without a deputy is anomalous enough and alien to our constitutional order and therefore needs to be regularized at the polls in order for him to be properly inducted into the hall of Nigeria’s substantive leaders. But only his performance records will see him through in the new Nigeria that we’re striving to build, and that’s why the reform of our electoral system to make it more credible and effective as he has promised, deserves all the support it can get.

How about Nigeria’s own Obama for a change? Jonathan fits the bill. Or does he not? This is too important an issue for anyone to sit on the fence. Your opinion counts. It is time to speak out and let your voice be heard. Speak out now or forever hold your peace.  As you weigh in on this issue, I would sincerely urge you in the interest of our dear nation to ignore the discredited, old praetorian guards, namely: IBB, Atiku, Buhari, Ciroma, et al, unless of course, you want to continue listening to the same old stories of unfulfilled dreams. If that is music to your ears, then count Jonathan out and go for Atiku, IBB, Buhari, or any of the old guards instead, and you will curse the day you did. The choice couldn’t be clearer. Spare yourself that retrogressive, regrettable decision and be a force for the good of our nation and let Jonathan be the Chosen One to continue all the good works he has already started. Would you? Think about it. The gods seem to have made their choice. As for me and my house, I’ll pitch my tent with the gods, because we’re absolutely convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Fits the Bill in 2011.

Watch out! Next article is on Iwu and INEC---out soon!      

God bless Nigeria.

 

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. writes from the United States

 contact: mudiagaone@yahoo.com



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