Understanding Clark and Jonathan
THIS generation of Nigerian public affairs commentators must be given to careless thinking. It is a generation, which constantly displays sentiment and superficial thinking. It is illustrative of the controversial assertion by the foremost negritude philosopher and poet, Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was Senegal’s founding president that emotion is black but reason Greek.
Take the wide response to the recent public remark by Edwin Clark, popularly reputed in the mass media as the Ijaw leader that Nigeria’s immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan, was, while in office, too much of a gentleman to fight official graft, thus squandering an excellent opportunity to earn a place in the pantheon of Nigeria’s heroes.
The overwhelming public reaction has been hysterical and cynical: Clark should not criticize Jonathan because he was the president’s political godfather, regularly playing Don Quixote, when Jonathan was at the helm. It is understandable when my old friend, Reuben Abati, spins this popular sentiment. For four years, Reuben managed Jonathan’s image; even with Jonathan out of office he still plays the role of his reputation manager.
It is, therefore, part of his duty to demonise through all kinds of strategies and tactics, subtle and brazen, his principal’s fiends. But what is fundamentally objectionable is the propensity of ostensibly independent columnists and writers to react like leaders of a lynch mob. None of the critics has attempted to establish the falsity of Clark’s assessment of the Jonathan administration; all they say is that Clark has no moral right to criticize Jonathan because he was a member of the erstwhile president’s inner circle, defending him every inch of the way.
The critics are awfully mistaken. The fact that a person publicly defends a particular government, whether he or she is in it officially or otherwise, does not necessarily presuppose that the person agrees utterly with every policy or action of the administration. In every government, there are so many disagreements and fights within, but all who are associated with the regime are bound to defend it in public with every drop of blood once a decision has been taken. The Ibrahim Babangida regime is reputed to always ask the person most vociferous in opposing a policy or idea at the Armed Forces Ruling Council meetings to explain the matter to Nigerians. Students and researchers of parliamentary democracy are familiar with the principle of collective responsibility.
Chuba Okadigbo was a staunch defender of the Shehu Shagari administration when he was the special presidential adviser on political affairs from 1979 to 1983. Still, he criticized the administration’s deportation of millions of West African nationals, mostly Ghanaians, in 1983 because, as Okadigbo believed, it was a violation of pan Africanism that the administration proclaimed to be the cenrepiece of its foreign policy. He was also critical, in his book on Nigerian politics, which he wrote as a visiting scholar in government at the London School of Economics, of the administration’s handling of foreign exchange allocations for importation handled by the Ministry of Commerce under Yusuf Bello’s leadership. Did the criticism make the former presidential adviser a turncoat or an opportunist? Certainly not.
Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush’s trusted and powerful national security adviser who was to become the secretary of state in the president’s second term, has published a book entitled No Higher Honour: My years in Washington, which confirms, among other things, severe disagreements with especially defence secretary Donald Rumsfield on policy. But throughout the eight years she was in government Rice stoutly defended Rumsfield. Even Colin Powell took pains to defend Rumsfield in public, even though their policy disagreements were so sharp that they may have affected their personal relationship.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfield and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was to become the World Bank president, were the leaders of what is called the neoconservative tradition in the American foreign policy establishment. This group, perhaps more than any other, goaded Bush into the ill-advised war against Iraq which started in 2003.
Bush’s press secretary, Scot McClellan, published a book in 2008 showing that his ex-principal misled the United States into going into the Iraq war. The book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, was released six months to the presidential vote when the administration had become, for all practical purposes, lame duck. In its report on the book on May 28, 2008, Washington Post described the author as a “tight lip defender of the administration” for three years who moved with Bush from Texas to Washington.
The brilliant Barak Obama Campaign capitalised on the book’s contents, as expected, to drive a nail into the administration’s coffin as well as that of Obama’s rival in the presidential election, Senator John McCain, who had earlier claimed rather unfortunately that he had supported the administration wholeheartedly.
Contrary to the claims of some commentators, Clark has over the years demonstrated courage and principle. He accused fellow Ijaws like Godsday Orubebe, Jonathan’s Minister of Niger Delta, of massive corruption and advised the president to take action against him. He also criticized former Delta State Governor James Ibori, now in jail in London, of massive graft. He has also been critical of the immediate past Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan. My impression of Clark is that he is a committed jaw nationalist who desperately wanted the once in a lifetime opportunity of an Ijaw presidency to be a shining example in history.
It is bad enough that Jonathan chose to make a mess of a boiled egg. Clark is still in a class of his own. He did utilise enormous resources to build a university in Ijawland, and by so doing history will be kind to him as someone who did his best to develop his primary constituency and empower the people. Did other Ijaw people like Asari Dokubo and Government Tompolo whom Jonathan empowered stupendously bother to invest in Ijawland or anywhere in the Niger Delta?
Far from excoriation, Clark should be encouraged to let the public benefit from his insider’s knowledge of the goings on in the Jonathan administration. The current attacks against him are cheap, puerile, hypocritical, misdirected and lazy. The old man did his best to salvage the Jonathan presidency from ignominy. He failed. Clark should rather be commended for his frankness and honesty.
• Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.