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Jonathan’s Cross: A President’s Tale Through My Own Eyes

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By Daniel Essien
I remember when Former Kano Governor Kwankwaso physically snubbed (and very nearly shoved aside) President Jonathan on live TV. I was stunned. I never knew until that point that public officials paid with taxpayers’ money (read oil money in Nigeria) could humiliate the president in the full view of the public. No other president in Nigeria’s history has been given that kind of treatment.

Then my mind went back to the day of President Yar’ Adua’s passing. I know exactly what I was doing on that day. I had seen an update about his demise on social media and rushed to the BBC website to verify the news. I still remember the exact wordings of the mini-documentary that confirmed the news on May 6th, just a day to my birthday in 2010. I had a group discussion on Financial Analysis at the Business School shortly after hearing the news and my teammates could tell that I was in low spirits. I was devastated by our President’s death. I stayed depressed throughout that week.

We were groomed to love our Heads of Government – many Nigerians till this day name their new born after the President (or Head of State) of the era when those babies are born. And President Yar’ Adua was easy to like. He was a true democrat. The first to admit publicly that the election that saw his ascendency was indeed flawed and that he sought to work with everyone to grow a broad base politics. He kept his word. He worked with as much sincerity as the circumstances allowed and recorded modest achievements during his short stay in office. It was under his Presidency that the amnesty programme for repentant Niger Delta militants was instituted. And when we mention the Ministry of Niger Delta today, we’re also paying tribute to President Yar’ Adua. But he made his errors as nature allows every man to make.

To my mind, his greatest flaws were his socialist leanings which led to his reversal of the power and refinery privatization programmes and subsidy removal policy that had been started by his predecessor, President Obasanjo. I think that by undoing those reforms, President Yar’Adua held us back on our journey to development by some ten years at least. Had those policies, no matter how imperfect, been allowed to stay on, we could have had a $900Bn economy by now. And the pains of the reforms would have waned by now, with more jobs and prosperity to boot.

Then there was the issue of the botched handling of the Boko Haram crisis when it was still in its formative days. It was my Greek classmate that drew my attention to a YouTube video that showed men of the Nigeria Police executing scores of people. I was momentarily ashamed of my country after seeing that video.

‘Don’t waste bullet’, a police man captured on the video told his colleagues as they shot, one after another, men invited to lie in line on the ground. ‘Shoot am for chest … here … (the policeman urged, pointing to his own heart region) … here… don’t waste bullet.’

At least a dozen people were killed in one spot in that recording, including an amputee with clutches who could barely pull himself along. The barbarity shown in the video left me numb. But I was touched more by how the victims calmly submitted to their fates – they just laid down side to side in single file, no questions asked. It seemed like they didn’t know what it meant to be shot ‘for chest’, like the other people that got that treatment right before them had simply gone to sleep. Maybe police executions had become so commonplace that they had said their final prayers and rehearsed their response long before hand.

I was disgusted by the Yar’Adua government’s handling of the Boko Haram problem. Innocent, vulnerable human beings were simply lined up and executed in scenes reminiscent of the Jewish holocaust. I felt that such tactics used by government agencies would allow Boko Haram to win the sympathy of the local population, and grow into a monster. That is exactly what happened. Why did the government want to create fear and hatred among the civilian population at a time when even the US was working hard to win the hearts of the Afghan locals in their war with the Taliban? I sensed that the government was failing in its approach. But I never insulted the President or felt like it. Not even once. Most people didn’t insult him either. Who Born Us?

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So it shocked people like me when Jonathan as President was insulted by all manner of people – from Kwankwaso to Lai Muhammed, to Nasir El Rufai, to Rotimi Amaechi, to the people on the streets in certain parts of the country who called him a goat, a pig, a dead dog, etc… . If one wanted to ‘feel among’ during Jonathan’s presidency, one simply had to make a post insulting Jonathan on social media. When his convoy was attacked repeatedly on the campaign trail, he asked his security detail to hold fire. Many DSS officers were wounded by the haul of stones targeted at Jonathan. So we had a sitting President faced with possible mob execution by stones! In Nigeria? Like we ask when shocked by the audacity of the insult, Who Born You? Who Born You to attack a sitting President? But for Jonathan, things were even worse. Nobody was allowed to place a Jonathan campaign poster (not to mention billboards) anywhere on the streets of Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi, Katsina and the like (not to mention Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe where people who were openly pro-Jonathan risked mob execution).

The story of the female Jonathan supporter who was attacked in Adamawa was very popular on social media). So while Buhari travelled freely, campaigning unharmed even in Jonathan’s Bayelsa State, the sitting President and his supporters faced death threats up North. It was observed that on the Election Day proper, no one had the courage to identify as a PDP agent in Kano in polling units outside Sabon Gari. There was no doubt the kind of treatment that awaited anyone who would support the infidel Jonathan to win elections in Kano. So the APC had a free hand, writing the results to their fill. The Kano elections results raised eyebrows, even among the staunchest APC supporters, if they were sincere. The State Resident Electoral Commissioner was conveniently executed by fire along with his entire family in very curious circumstances.

Jonathan called to concede defeat even before the final election results were announced. Up North, people could finally breathe. Most non-indigenes had run southwards, expecting mayhem to be unleashed in the North in the event that the PDP won the elections – in Nigeria, the incumbent always won (by hook or crook), until Jonathan came on board. There was news of Buhari supporters openly telling people, after Jonathan’s phone call, to ‘thank their God that their brother Jonathan did not try to contest the results of the elections…. otherwise …’. We know how it ended in 2011 when Buhari’s supporters thought he had won the elections but was rigged out (Buhari’s CPC wasn’t even the second in line to win the elections at the time. The ACN had a better showing in that election). By very conservative official records, over 800 people were butchered by Buhari’s ‘unpleased’ supporters in Bauchi State alone. Many of the victims were NYSC members working as election agents who had been forced by CPC mobs to register underage voters. When asked on TV how he felt about the killings, President Buhari coldly replied that the dead met their deserved end so he didn’t feel pity for them. ‘They tried to rig’, he muttered – absentmindedly.

After Buhari became President, the insults didn’t stop! In Abuja, children were dressed in Niger Delta attires and made to carry boxes in procession as other children in Northern attires swept after them on the day of the handover ceremony on May 29th. ‘Back to Otueke’, the sweepers chanted as the adults that had organized the show laughed heartily. I am from the Niger Delta. We have kept the country afloat for some fifty years at the cost of our lives and livelihood, perhaps much to the detriment of every region as easy oil money has stifled somewhat our collective imaginations as a country. But the oil money surely had its use. We just didn’t apply it the best way. And our sacrifices for the country must not be taken lightly.

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Only last week, I bumped into a widely publicised post on Facebook by one Ayo Turton calling for an end to the injustice being perpetuated on Lagosians. With falling oil prices, Lagos became (possibly) the largest contributor to the federal purse through taxes in the last six months. For simplicity, let’s ignore that what passes as ‘tax’ in Lagos includes the remittances from the Lagos headquarters of oil and gas companies, oil sector related companies that exist only because of the oil firms and their staff based in Lagos. Let’s also neglect that other sources of FG revenues such as the ports which Mr Turton specifically mentioned are actually investments that don’t harm in any way the environment or the livelihoods of Lagosians nor are the lands and water fronts used for such projects wasting assets. Let’s assume for simplicity that the revenues raised by the FG in Lagos and the Niger Delta come at the same environmental and human costs. When these realities are ignored for simplicity, one can see that the Niger Delta has been contributing over 80% of our national purse for 50 years. Lagos has just taken a marginal leadership position for only six months. Yet, a narrative of discontent is already gaining traction from there. That says a lot to the discerning mind.

I have met people from the Niger Delta and elsewhere who think Jonathan shouldn’t have contested the elections. They think that by contesting the elections, he has set the region up for some sort of ‘blacklisting’ of the kind seemingly slammed on the South Easterners following the civil war. I think differently. I think that the country needed a President with a vision and an eye for the big picture, no matter his origin. One who could venture with his imagination and gaze beyond the limits of the horizons. Jonathan was such a president. The current government is proving so by trying to take the glory for the works that Jonathan did, and by agreeing with his policy directions that they had criticized when in opposition. The current government has now admitted that the Jonathan government built landmark projects and fashioned innovative policies. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. What Jonathan could see (and worked to achieve) since 2011, the current government is just realizing in 2016. There is evidently a vision lag of four years in Jonathan’s favour.

I chose Jonathan because I could see his weakness in a broader context than most people could. When I compared those weaknesses to the shallowness of the ambitions and impracticality of the ideas of the then (APC) opposition, Jonathan was a better choice. Many people are only just waking to that bitter realization now. So I chose Jonathan because he was a better candidate. But when the debate was dressed up in ethnic garb, I felt insulted by the suggestion that Jonathan as a minority should have backed down and not contested the 2015 presidential elections in the interest of the Niger Delta. My view, like I told a Local Government Chairman of a Niger Delta state, is that the region’s politicians should differentiate their personal interests from the region’s interest. Politicians should ‘cry their own private cry’ of the loss that they have incurred by being shut out from the centre as a result of Jonathan and hence the PDP losing the presidency. Pretending that it is a regional loss is deceit taken another notch higher. I am proud that Jonathan sought re-election and contested for the presidency.

Otherwise the alternate propaganda would have been used against the Niger Delta region in the future: ‘your brother abdicated the seat; it appears your people are not made for leadership; the North was ordained by God to produce leaders while the South South was to bring the oil money as the Jonathan story showed.’ We already have similar versions of narratives forged and iron cast for different regions that have refused to end.
God Bless Nigeria.