by Simon Kolawole
Does President Goodluck Jonathan sleep at night? Does he not have nightmares? Does he not wake up midnight, sweating and screaming? I have had to wonder at times – given the groundswell of opposition against him. On a daily basis, opposition keeps landing body blows on him. Opposition from within and without. If I were Jonathan, I would feel intimidated. He once described himself as the most criticised president in history. I don’t know about that. We are in the age of the social media where citizens’ messages are neither censored nor limited by time and space; the loudness and speed of travel of their voice is electronically accelerated and amplified, unlike in the past when citizens simply gathered around vendors’ stands to analyse and criticise their leaders.
With or without the social media, however, leaders are generally criticised. President Olusegun Obasanjo faced mammoth opposition during his reign from 1999-2007, particularly following the frequent increases in fuel prices. He often came under heavy political bombardment and personal insults. The House of Representatives launched an impeachment move against him, and the Senate soon joined. After initially describing it as “a joke taken too far”, Obasanjo began to lose weight as the sack threat became formidable. From 2007-2009, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was a subject of ridicule over his medical issues and policy reversals. He had started his government on a controversial note, forcefully removing Malam Nuhu Ribadu as EFCC chairman. He never recovered from the PR disaster.
But, to be fair, I have no way of comparing the enormity of what Jonathan is facing today with what obtained in the past. Everyman thinks his burden is the heaviest, in the words of Robert Nesta Marley. One thing I know, though, is that the opponents of Jonathan are strong, well-organised and resolute. They are political heavyweights. This is no joke. They are coming at him from different directions. Obasanjo’s leaked “letter bomb” to Jonathan seems to be the biggest missile so far, coming days after another leaked letter written by the CBN governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, accusing the NNPC (indirectly, Jonathan) of some monumental fraud totalling N8 trillion, an allegation Sanusi himself has toned down later when asked to present his facts.
There is also the little matter of infighting in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has seen to the exit of five governors to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Last week’s resignation of the PDP chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, is just an indication of some fence-mending manoeuvres. The depletion of the PDP is further worsened by the fact that Jonathan’s own “brother”, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, is giving him “home” embarrassment, while a state like Imo, which should ordinarily be safe for Jonathan, is now in the APC under the instruction of Governor Rochas Okorocha. Meanwhile, Jama’atu Nasir Islam, a powerful Islamic organisation in Northern Nigeria, recently issued a statement accusing Jonathan of waging a war against Muslims. Jonathan is definitely under pressure from every corner.
But how did the opposition become so formidable? I think it is a combination of a good game plan and a convergence of interests. That is, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. From my observations, there are at least three broad interests that have come together against Jonathan, with former governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki, former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, and former President Obasanjo as arrowheads. I think Saraki set the ball rolling when he helped Amaechi become his successor as chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) in May 2011. Tinubu followed suit by rallying the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to elect Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in June 2011. And Obasanjo is now fronting a move to sack Jonathan from Aso Rock in 2015, perhaps to atone for the Yar’Adua misadventure.
Saraki worked for Jonathan in the 2011 elections. What went wrong between them? I don’t know. But clearly, Saraki is more influential than many people are ready to give him credit for. By far his biggest weapon, in my opinion, is the NGF – which he elevated to a powerful bloc during his tenure as chairman. Working behind-the-scene through the NGF in the last two years, Saraki has created a political crisis of mammoth proportions for Jonathan. Also, when seven PDP governors walked out of their party’s convention in October last year, it was Saraki’s political associate, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, that led the “New PDP”. Those who think Saraki relied solely on his father’s machinery must have realised by now that he has come of age. He is very quiet but lethal.
Tinubu also worked for Jonathan in 2011. Some will argue that he supported Jonathan because that was the political current in the South-west. But I would rather think he also did his calculations properly and believed he was better served by a Jonathan presidency. Tinubu’s support for Jonathan was, however, as brief as it could be. As soon as the House of Representatives was inaugurated, he worked in tandem with “rebel” PDP members to install Tambuwal as Speaker against the decision of the PDP to pick Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola from the South-west. It also served Tinubu’s interest – a Speaker from the South-west would have been a rallying point for the PDP and a challenge to Tinubu’s pre-eminence in Yoruba politics.
And then, there is Obasanjo. Once revered in the North as “the leader we can trust”, he ended up disappointing many Northerners. He was perceived to have systematically redrawn the power equation in the country, especially with his “reform” of the military. To make matters worse, he installed Yar’Adua as president in 2007. Despite Obasanjo’s denials, many Northerners still believe he deliberately installed a terminally ill Yar’Adua as President in order to return power to the South through the backdoor. Apparently to appease the North, he is now working with some Northern governors to see to the ouster of Jonathan. In his widely publicised letter, Obasanjo said it would be “fatally morally wrong” for Jonathan to seek a second term in 2015.
In a very unlikely scenario, Saraki, Tinubu, Tambuwal and Obasanjo (and the General Muhammadu Buhari movement) are now, technically, in the same corner. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Jonathan’s opponents are very methodical, and they have the media on their side – which is a very critical factor in our politics. You have to give the opposition credit for that. I honestly would like to know what is going on in Jonathan’s mind right now in this super heavyweight political boxing. Will he raise his hands and surrender rather than wait to be knocked out in 2015? Roberto Duran famously walked away in Round 8 of his welterweight fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, saying “No mas” (“No more”) as Leonard pummelled him mercilessly.
Or is Jonathan adopting Muhammed Ali’s rope-a-dope style, leaning on the rope, pretending to be on the verge of surrender, only to bounce back with ferocious punches – using the same rope as a spring? The Jonathan I see on television and newspapers doesn’t look like someone who is punch-drunk and about to throw in the towel. If anything, he seems to be keeping his cards close to his chest. That is why despite the massing of anti-Jonathan figures in APC’s corner, I think it is too early to count him out. I will certainly not proclaim his political demise yet. To start with, his opponents have given him a whole year to get ready for them. And 24 hours, they say, is a long time in politics.
However, I can say categorically that his opponents are currently leading on points. And I don’t envy him at all…
And Four Other Things…
While the exit of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as the PDP chairman is not exactly a political earthquake (many believed he was a paper tiger), it is disturbing that we may not have seen the last of him yet. President Goodluck Jonathan curiously promised that he was going to give Tukur a “bigger assignment” soon – and many are left wondering what that could be. Some have suggested that he could be Nigeria’s ambassador to China. Tukur is a very successful businessman, no doubt, and he could well be on his way to China. But, for goodness sake, that should not be in an official capacity. It is time for him to rest!
I was very impressed with the response of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to the 50 questions given to her as “homework” by the House of Representatives last month. Some follow-up questions are still needed, especially on the waivers, but I think she dealt with the issues professionally and I hope the lawmakers are better informed now. Meanwhile, I have only one question for the legislators. Am I allowed to ask? This is it: how much exactly do you guys take home every month and every quarter? Why is no one ready to answer this question?
Enthusiasm about a strong opposition party has been tempered lately as the All Progressives Congress (APC) continues to battle internal divisions. Last week, the suicide attack in Borno State and the shooting of eight persons in Ogun State were both attributed to rivalries within APC, while trouble has bedevilled many state chapters over control of structures. I am not surprised. I have been saying for ages that Nigerian politicians are all the same and there is no difference between one party and the other. Whatever the case may be, however, I believe we still need a strong opposition party.
I can see that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians are very excited by the anti-homosexuality law just signed by President Jonathan. The consensus is that homosexuality is against our “religious beliefs” and should be criminalised. As a Christian, I reject homosexuality because the Bible is clearly against it. But I do not consider myself to be better than any gay person simply because of my sexuality. Meanwhile, the Bible prescribes the same punishment for homosexuality, fornication, adultery, lying, lust, looting, wickedness in high places, etc. When are we going to enact a law against adultery?
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole/Thisday