ONE of the first major challenges that confronted President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, when he assumed power, was how to deal with the mass protests of January 1, 2012, following government’s sudden hike of petrol pump prices from N65 to N141 a litre. The explanation for the increase was that scrapping the fuel subsidy would save $8 billion a year, the bulk of which was falling into the hands of corrupt middlemen.
Not persuaded by government’s reasons for the price hike, Nigerians stormed the streets of our major cities in protest. The demonstrations posed a severe threat to national security, compounded by the Boko Haram insurgency which was already ravaging some parts of the North. It was an occasion to test Jonathan’s ability for conflict resolution. In unmistaken terms, he told Nigerians that he would always listen to them, but without abandoning policies and actions that he thought were good for the nation. So, he decided on a compromise by reducing the cost of a litre of petrol from the proposed N141 to N97. And the protests stopped.
For some political analysts, the President’s decision was nothing but capitulation, a weak leader’s failure to carry through a policy of deregulation that would have resolved a major economic challenge in the country. Many others interpreted the compromise as a sign of strength and the mark of a listening President. Of course, that singular event was not sufficient to declare Jonathan as either a democrat or a weakling.
Since the fuel protests, Jonathan’s leadership style has remained a puzzle to political analysts. When in 2013, violence by the Boko Haram insurgents reached its peak in the Northern parts of the country, Jonathan was forced to declare a state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. By law, the President had the powers to remove the governors and state assemblies of the affected states and take over their administration. He did not exercise these constitutional powers. Instead, he left the state governors in control and allowed the houses of assembly to function. Some Nigerians interpreted the President’s decision not to go the whole hog as evidently lacking in courage, while, for others, it was yet another instance of his democratic liberalism.
For almost a year now, the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has been displaying all kinds of impunity. He has, on countless occasions, challenged Jonathan whom he accused of failing in his constitutional duty of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians. The most brazen of them all was when the Governor accused the President of posting Police Commissioner, Joseph Mbu, to Rivers State for the ignoble intention of oppressing and repressing the people of the State. Ironically, at the last time of making this point, the Governor was under the heavy protection of armed policemen deployed by Mbu.
In what has become a routine, Amaechi has now got used to speaking, contemptuously and in disparaging manner, about the President and his immediate family, especially the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan. But the Rivers State Governor is just one of many others who do not show any regard for the person of Jonathan. Imagine the impudence of Assistant General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Alhaji Denja Yaqub who, in 2011, described President Jonathan as “too dull to understand the complexity of Nigerian problems.” If not out of utter disrespect, what possible reason could a politician of Chief Bisi Akande’s calibre have for describing the Government of President Jonathan as “a kindergarten administration” or for someone like Sam Nda-Isaiah saying that “Jonathan is not capable of being a local government chairman”? Read any material written by people such as Lai Mohammed, Nasir el-Rufai or Femi Fani-Kayode and you would almost get the impression that President Jonathan was some nonentity.
Somehow, Jonathan’s critics appear to misinterpret his character and social mien. By upbringing, he is a humble person who is considerate and respectful. Rather than see strength in these moral attributes, many perceive them as weaknesses. These, as it has turned out, are the sources of Jonathan’s strength. His opponents underrate him, thereby easily playing into his hands. Ask James Onanefe Ibori, former Governor of Delta State!
Is it not curious that soon after receiving Obasanjo’s letter of December 2, 2013, in which the former President violently criticised his (Jonathan’s) administration, the President immediately warned all his aides against any criticism of Obasanjo; he even travelled to Otta to greet the man? Recall also that the former National Security Adviser, NSA, the late General Owoye Azazi, once told reporters that President Jonathan had stopped him from inviting General Muhammadu Buhari for interrogation on some security issues (NigeriaWorld, August 12, 2012). That much is Jonathan’s respect for his elders and predecessors in office.
Overall, Jonathan’s success in office may turn out to be a consequence of his being misread by his political opponents. Those who have described him as “dull”, “juvenile” or “naive” have found themselves outwitted all round – in political wisdom and in practical living – by a man they think does not possess any of these qualities.
It was William Shakespeare who wrote in his Macbeth: “There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” What this eternal truth means is that we cannot tell, merely by looking at a man’s face, what he has in mind, his character, strengths or weaknesses. This should be a note of caution to Nigerians who underrate President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.
*Mr. West-Green, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State