Jonathan’s house as metaphor
So former President Goodluck Jonathan house was plundered? While this is a personal misfortune to the former president, it serves as a fortuitous reminder to both the leaders and the citizens of the demands of nation building amid the despoliation of the national patrimony by those paid to watch over it.
At the outset, we need to state in unequivocal terms that our humanity is by no means vitalised by the troubles of others or what the Germans would identify as Schadenfreude. At the same time, we owe no fidelity to the philosophy of not speaking ill of the dead which deprives us of the reflection that could yield useful lessons for our own lives. Thankfully, in this case, we do not speak ill of a dead Jonathan but a man who has not yet passed the bloom of life and still has so much ahead of him. You need not doubt this – think of Presidents Muhammadu Buhari and Donald Trump who offered to serve their nations in their seventies and the point becomes clear.
Jonathan’s four-bedroom duplex in Abuja was stripped bare of all valuables. These included six television sets, three refrigerators, one gas cooker, furniture, electronics, toilet and electrical fittings and internal doors and frames. The suspected masterminds of this larceny are those charged with the responsibility of guarding the house.
Jonathan has publicly confirmed reports that the house was burgled. But this public confirmation might have been spurred by the need to dispel wild speculations about the caches of luxuries in the house that threw into stark relief his implacable acquisitive character. This public acknowledgement only came after he had reported the case to the inspector-general of police who did not waste time in arresting the policemen who are suspected to have committed the crime.
In these climes, shoeless children of impecunious parents leave public office as wealthy citizens. Indebted ex-convicts leave public office and become owners of secondary schools, universities, posh hotels and vast land. Even those with dubious certificates end up becoming richer than their states after leaving public office. Against the backdrop of the massive corruption that is said to have bogged down his administration, Jonathan may not be considered different from other political leaders. He may not have only this house lying idle somewhere in Abuja. The policemen had the freedom to burgle the house simply because Jonathan has not been living there. This house may not even be as important to Jonathan as other property he has. Yet the sense of outrage that has compelled him to report the case to the police cannot escape our attention.
The former president did not say that because the house was not important to him, he would not protect it by making those responsible for the despoliation to go unpunished. Now, let’s strip this of its innocuous character and we are confronted with the national tragedy that has robbed us as a people of development. If the former president could be so concerned about his house, which apparently is serving no purpose, why do our leaders find it unthinkable that the citizens protest when their nation is pillaged by those put in place to ensure its prosperity? In this case, those citizens who say that others should not complain about the plundering of the commonwealth are complicit in the wrecking of the nation by their supposed protectors.
The nation suffers ruination at the hands of its leaders when due to the mismanagement of its abundant natural and human resources, millions of the citizens are rendered jobless. Daily, these are confronted with an increasingly bleak prospect of starvation and lack of educational opportunities. Again, there is plundering by the leaders when the oil resources of a section of the country is used to develop other parts of the nation and enrich only some people who have access to power through the allocation of oil blocks but those whose environment is degraded by the exploration and exploitation of the oil resources are neglected. Amid this, like the plundering policemen, the leaders continue to steal the nation’s funds and take them to foreign nations where they buy choice property with part of the funds and stash others away in coded bank accounts.
Our leaders are outraged at the complaint of the citizens that their nation is being plundered leaving them to be consigned to socio-economic fringes of the society. When Ken Saro-Wiwa complained about the marginalisation of his community while oil companies and the leaders were colluding to feed fat on its oil resources, he was swiftly executed. The south-south agitators who took off from where Saro-Wiwa stopped are being branded as economic sabotuers with the threats of eventual liquidation by the government hanging over their heads.
Yes, let’s shed off the infantile exuberance of the Igbo youths. What is left are a people who are not oblivious to their marginalisation in a country where they should be equal partners. Yet they are told not to complain about this injustice. And not even restructuring which is the middle course that their elders, the south-south and the south-west have embraced holds any appeal to the oppressive leaders.
Even in our educational institutions, students are taught not to complain when it is obvious that the leaders have plundered the system by their refusal to fund it. They are not to complain that they are learning under trees and standing to receive lectures. They are not to complain that they are in schools rendered squalid by dysfunctional water and electricity systems. If they violate this sacred injunction – do not complain- they are quickly sanctioned through suspension or eternal expulsion.
Like our current leaders, Jonathan as president would have dismissed the complaints of the citizens about inequality in the polity as the ranting of those who crave to be admitted into the inner sanctum of political power. He would never have brooked the impudence of a citizen that would make him or her to complain about the plundering of the nation. Forget the fact that he initiated a process that led to the report of the 2014 national conference. What should haunt him is that he failed to seize the momentum and start translating the laudable recommendations of the conference into reality. We need not rule out the possibility that if he had implemented them, there would have been a better security system that would have rendered his property invulnerable to the machinations of sentinels-turned-burglars.
Jonathan like other former leaders would be haunted by wasting opportunities to fix our medical facilities and roads. Yes, they might have appropriated to themselves a hefty proportion of the national patrimony to save them the perils of road travels and medical treatment at home. Still, before they go overseas to avail themselves of the medical facilities of other countries they have developed with the stolen funds they have hidden in those nations, there lurk the perils of a wobbly aviation sector that they have neglected.
Even if they all escape these, have they made all those close to them to be billionaires that they would not need to travel on the road but hop on a plane wherever they are going? Did Jonathan make all his community people so rich that instead of using the ill-starred east-west road while travelling they can effortlessly fly above it on their private jets? Or Buhari may be so rich that even after leaving Aso Rock he can still have enough funds to sustain his medical treatment in London. But has he also made everybody in his community so rich that they can equally go to London or other overseas country for medical treatment? Let our leaders keep on stealing what belongs to all instead of developing the nation. Let them keep buying houses. In the long run, what would be clear is the folly of acquiring property like the house of Jonathan that he neither needs nor lives in.