Akinola: Jonathan and his Orwellian transformation
IN a country of the perverse, where pigs rule the animal kingdom and dogs savage the lion, it is not surprising that reprobate rabble-rousers trump the philosopher-king labouring for the imperishable, or that people go after the weakest of their species for leadership. Even then, it is ever so tragic when, in exigent situations that call for the people to be inspired for corporate action, or to be mobilized for reform and change, the failure of those invested with the power to lead is celebrated as achievement in self-deceiving, theatrical orgies. Sane societies seek out their best material in intellect and character for leadership. Here, we go for mediocre lacking moral and mental capacity as if to ensure their predisposition to corruption. Unfortunately, such characters soon perfect their potentials for villainy until, encouraged and sustained by the impunity and criminalising powers concentrated in their office, they become veritable threats to public safety.
The Jonathan presidency belongs in the tragic Nigerian tradition of incompetent, unscrupulous, and usually vicious rulers – Balewa, Shagari, Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo. It was Babangida, during his military administration, who developed an unwritten blueprint for systematic corruption, abuse of power, and impunity in public office that has since become a legacy for future buccaneering rulers. This debilitating legacy is at the root of much of the political instability that has engendered the stasis in the country ever since. And Jonathan, given his weaknesses, especially his nihilism in terms of values, has become an appreciative exponent of the Babangida primer in governance perversion. Of course, Jonathan’s bland simplicity, despite his famous PhD, might deceive one to believe his verbal repudiation of legendary tyrants early in his reign. He has, nevertheless, subsequently embraced the Nigeria tradition of political manipulation. He has even become adept at how to exploit religious, ethnic and allied cleavages for political ends the way no previous Nigerian ruler has done. His minions and contractor-friends masquerading as politicians have also invented a propaganda blitz of Goebbelsian proportions that portray the lackluster Jonathan presidency and governance failure as “transformation” in unwitting, mock-heroic terms. Above all, Jonathan has contributed in his sly, faltering manner to the promotion of a clandestine neo-fascist political culture, perhaps as an ad hoc measure against the Opposition. As for the propaganda about transformation, this is no more than a sort of “Newspeak” for the suffocating Jonathan decadence. The only transformation in ordinary language we can see consists in the essays in political lawlessness and abuse of state institutions for the possible entrenchment of tyranny.
Statesmen and intellectuals capable of a vision extending beyond this appetite-indulging generation’s confined horizon will concede that Nigeria, nay, the entire African continent, is awaiting a gargantuan programme of political, cultural and economic transformations. Consider, for example, Constantine the Great’s revolutionary policy, which, from 312 AD, changed the Roman Empire’s relationship towards its persecuted early Christian communities. Roman emperors henceforth embraced toleration and accommodation of the emergent Christian faith, culminating in its adoption first as the “official”, and finally as the universal religion of a transformed empire. Today, more than 50 years after “independence”, African peoples worship gods decreed by Roman emperors presiding over Christian councils in the early 4th and 5th centuries A.D. Some proportion of African spirituality is also tethered to the Arab version of the same Judaic faith from which Christianity was fabricated. Our political and intellectual leaders cannot just see how stultifying this wholesale adoption of alien cultural, religious, and spiritual ideologies are to African socio-economic development and vital moral, cultural and spiritual values.
How, then, dares Jonathan talk of transformation where even the exigent question of Nigeria’s continued existence hangs on the imperative of political re-engineering of our ramshackle “federation” which he, and his mentors, have chosen to perpetuate in a half-paralysed state for their vested interests?
When praise is too incongruous and exaggerated, it becomes mockery. The irony of celebrating a languorous, supine government such as Jonathan’s, as transformative is that it makes the reality more obvious that Jonathan has failed to cope with even the basic, routine duties of the most primitive and rudimentary of administrations. Subjects (rather than citizens) of Jonathan’s Nigerian state no longer expect much by way of services or good governance. But what are they supposed to do about security which even predatory states and outlaw chieftains provide for those over whom they impose their might? The question of a creeping transformation of state law enforcement agencies into institutions of state terrorism under Jonathan will be discussed anon. Now, I must call attention to what looks like a neutralisation of Nigeria’s famed armed and police forces’ efficiency in both overseas peace-keeping and the suppression of domestic insurrections. Suddenly, a ragtag, fanatical sect has been transformed, under Jonathan’s watch, into a military force capable of establishing political control over a considerable area of the country’s territory. Hundreds of Nigerian peoples are butchered and maimed periodically; thousands are displaced, while the abducted Chibok female students are as good as enslaved for ever. Insecurity is such that one wonders what those who live by farming now do for a livelihood. But the really intriguing question revolves around the performance of Nigeria’s armed forces in relation to the strategy and plans of the government for bringing an end to the insurgency. In this regard, one wonders how much the Jonathan government knows about the nature and objectives of Boko Haram. For one thing, the Commander-in-Chief appears helpless and totally bemused – indeed completely unsuited for the position in which he has found himself. Thus he talks of the sect infiltrating his administration and the forces, yet he appears incapable of doing anything about this save make unsubstantiated allegations against the Opposition. Any wonder, then, that there are equally rumours that the uprising is being prolonged for political reasons, such as the impending elections which, obviously, may be impossible to conduct in areas under Boko Haram occupation!
It is instructive (judging by the recent Senate impeachment charges against Jonathan) that the president can be so negligent about routine official business as to delay the signing of scores of legislative bills into law indefinitely; or that he can set up advisory administrative panels or committees to probe corruption allegations only to consign their reports into oblivion. Ordinarily, one would think that for problems like this, all that the president needs is a transformation in attitude to work. But then consider the recommendations of the Uwais Panel on electoral reform produced for the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration. Since Jonathan is always parroting his determination to ensure transparent elections (even as he deploys instruments of state power to terrorise the electorate and prevent the Opposition from monitoring electoral processes) why won’t he implement the recommendations of an impartial body set up by his own administration to deliver the dream elections he keeps equivocating about?
The answer seems to lie in the kind of transformation that Jonathan wants for Nigeria, given his ideological orientation, sense of values, and class interests. Jonathan’s vision of Nigeria, as defined by what can be constructed from the nature and character of the PDP as a ruling party, is a one-party dictatorship, perhaps with a few satellites parading themselves as autonomous parties. To this extent, democratic norms and institutions are no more than a smokescreen for the entrenchment of a ruthless, reactionary and decadent oligarchic system. It is clear that Jonathan, like his former mentor, Obasanjo, does not care for the means towards this end. Hence his fraternisation with the likes of the son of a former military dictator, who was implicated in treasury looting by his father.
The PDP subversion-of-democracy agenda has been rather ad hoc, particularly in response to the rise in the profile and prospects of the opposition APC. However, all PDP leaders have been consistent and pragmatic in deploying both covert and unabashedly neo-fascist moves to subvert democratic institutions and processes. This practice has been intensified in recent times: Some months back, for example, the police and military disrupted the distribution of newspapers nation-wide, seizing and detaining vans, their drivers, and news vendors, and impounding consignments of newspapers. There was, and there has been, no satisfactory explanation. During the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, the country witnessed unprecedented harassment and repression of citizens. In particular, opposition politicians living outside Ekiti, including incumbent governors, were prevented by soldiers from entering the state. Some Department of State Security agents were hooded, armed, and deployed to kidnap and detain local opposition politicians. Another major incident was the police invasion of the NASS complex, and the physical attack by teargas of legislators. The latest act of criminal state violence was the invasion and vandalisation, in Hitlerte-SS fashion, of the APC party office in Lagos.
The above are the Jonathan administration contributions toward a perversion, with impunity, of Nigeria’s avowed democratic political culture. It is not impossible that we see more of this during the February elections. Herein lies the anxiety about the outlook for Nigeria, especially as it appears that the country has never seen a more desperate megalomaniac than President Jonathan, except for Abacha. Like the latter, he probably will risk anything, being incapable (if he gives a damn at all) of plumbing the possible cataclysmic consequences of presumptuous power-crazy gambles under the country’s prevailing circumstances.
Most fair-minded Nigerians would agree that the Delta, like other regions of the country, should exercise control over their resources, while paying tax to the Federal Government, as is the case under true federal systems, and was indeed the practice before military rule. However, everything, including his recent diversionary national conference, points to the suspicion that Jonathan, like the PDP oligarchy, who regard Nigeria as their personal estate, will never support this. His agenda is the PDP ideal of a transformation to one-party oligarchic dictatorship. But this is a futile, forlorn aspiration both for the PDP and Jonathan, being out of date and unsustainable in the contemporary world. Yet, for a man of Jonathan’s permissive view of values, it may be worthwhile risking whatever the largest African nation stands for, plus its survival, for his power-crazy obsession of ruling Nigeria for a record 10 years. But will he impel the country towards the ultimate transformation? Only time will tell.
• Akinola wrote from New Bodija, Ibadan.