By Emma Okah
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, 08033211999
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is not a new face to the people of Rivers and Bayelsa States. Apart from his University of Port Harcourt experience as student, he worked and lived in Port Harcourt. The Jonathan we knew way back is not a bad person. If he were, former Governor Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State would not have chosen him as his deputy.
The reason is simply that unfortunately, in this part of the world, vice presidents or deputy governors are generally chosen on account of their political loyalty, humble mien, want of overt ambition or what some people may call political “follow-follow” . As Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, he demonstrated amazing degree of loyalty to his boss even in the worst of situations. I moderated his first courtesy call to then Governor of Rivers State Dr Peter Odili when Jonathan became governor. I did same for his wife Dame Patience Jonathan. Jonathan is an embodiment of humility.
When the Odili Presidential Campaign train paid him a visit in Yenagoa, we were at home. His words were touching. He was brotherly and passionate about the Odili project. Jonathan that I had come to know all those years is not a bad person and I will urge Nigerians to believe us. However, his elevation to President after the death of late President Yar’Adua on 5th May, 2010 has exposed him to the intrigues and complications of the Nigerian nation. He started doing, hearing, seeing and perceiving what he never did, heard, saw or perceived before. The interplay of these new things and multiple principles is reshaping the lucky man we used to know in Rivers and Bayelsa States. Jonathan is one of the most powerful presidents in the world in terms of possessing near power of life and death in a country where corrupted rule of law and enthronement of impunity line the path of governance in Nigeria.
It is therefore to our eternal joy that he has no disturbing trait of dictatorial tendencies. Having said this, it is important to state that four years in the saddle is more enough learning period for anybody. More so, the choice to be the President of Nigeria is Jonathan’s. To the extent he elects to remain the President of Nigeria, he must submit himself to the constitution and respect the wishes of Nigerian people. He must tolerate protests, “abuses”, criticisms, gossips etc. While he is President, the people must have their voice and this is not negotiable. This is the irrepressible and irreducible minimum that the time and democratic temperament requires. There is no other way out of this.
Of late, Jonathan appears to have reached a recurring conclusion that the media and some Nigerians are enemies of his administration. In late August 2012, the President and his Information Minister said that the media had become Nigeria’s problem and that they represented the views of their rich and powerful owners. Apparently not satisfied with that, Mr President again, on September 19, 2012 at the 52nd Independence Anniversary Lecture delivered by Ghana’s former President John Kufour, had unkind words for the media. Listening to the lecturer, I had no difficulty in my mind that the problem with Nigerian Leaders is that they hear the right words but dare the people and do the opposite with devastating impunity. There is nothing new that was said by Kufour that had not been said several times by Nigerians and foreigners alike.
I feel rather humiliated that an African is the one telling Nigerians, the African giant, the way to go even after 52 years of independence. Apparently disappointed with the media, Jonathan said “I said I did not just come out from the blues to contest the election, I was deputy governor for six and half years, I was a governor for one and half years, I was a vice president, and before election, I was the president up till April . When the elections were conducted, people knew me. So within this period including when I even acted, if I was that bad would people have voted for me? So for Nigerians to have voted for me overwhelmingly that means there must have been something they were expecting and definitely six months would have been too short to pass any valid judgement. But the media condemned me” Not done, he continued “…Take the media environment for instance, we signed the Freedom of Information bill into law, it became the Freedom of Information Act, but are we using it in the way we are supposed to use it?
Are some of us not abusing the privileges? The media environment that should have helped our transformation agenda are being used negatively, these are some of the issues we need to address.” “The way Nigerians challenge and abuse me, yes the president has enormous power but if you use that enormous power to some extent you will look like a dictator. In a democratic setting, you want to create an environment where people can create their opinion and that is why people are allowed to talk freely and demonstrate. But are we doing so properly”. On the January 2012 fuel subsidy protest, the President said “….Look at the demonstrations back home, look at these areas these demonstrations are coming from, you begin to ask, are these ordinary citizens that are demonstrating? Or are people pushing them to demonstrate. … Take the case of Lagos, Lagos is the critical state in the nation’s economy, it controls about 53 per cent of the economy and all tribes are there.
During the demonstration in Lagos, people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to, people were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So even going to eat free food alone attracts people. They go and hire the best musician to play and the best comedian to entertain. Is that demonstration? Are you telling me that is a demonstration from ordinary masses in Nigeria who want to communicate something to government?” “For me, if I see somebody is manipulating anything I don’t listen to you but when I see people genuinely talking about issues I listen. I am hardly intimidated by anybody who wants to push any issue he has. I believe that protest in Lagos was manipulated by a class in Lagos and was not from the ordinary people.” I share the worries of Mr President but this is a needless lamentation.
Any Nigerian whether or not he is from Damaturu or Abeokuta or Yenagoa or Onitsha has the right to air his opinion on public issues affecting him. He has a right to “abuse” Mr President and “call him names”. If the President feels otherwise; if he cannot tolerate the dissenting views of Nigerians; if he cannot respect the constitution which he swore to uphold, then he should either have recourse to the law courts or honorably resign. If Mr President does not want lizards to enter his house, he must keep termites infested wood away. Nigerians, whether through the media or otherwise can ill-afford compromising this democracy. Legislating for themselves and on behalf of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the General Abdulsalami Abubakar military government of Nigeria in the preamble to the 1999 constitution stated that “We The People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” firmly and solemnly resolved to give to ourselves this constitution.
In Section 22 of the said constitution, the sacred role of the media is preserved. It states “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people” The fundamental objectives in chapter two of the constitution relate to political, economic, social, educational, foreign policy, environmental, cultural matters etc as captured in the said constitution. This being the case, it follows therefore that the whole idea about any democratic government is the promotion of the good and welfare of the people of Nigeria. The military government may have perceived that the successive civilian governments could transform into wolves and so the mass media was empowered to act as the watch dog over the government. This is the same media that chased the cabal out of power and paved the way for the Jonathan Presidency. Nigerians voted for him in 2011. Consequently, much as Jonathan cannot wish the dissenting people away in Nigeria, he cannot as well, dispense with the media, hostile or friendly. This is the law and there is moral justification for it.
Much as I believe that the opposition in Nigeria is not serious and can hardly offer a better option, Jonathan and his team cannot say that the monumental challenges facing the country could not have been handled differently if they have the interest of the people at heart. Mr President should search the soul of his administration and retrace his steps so that posterity and history will be kind to him.
There is fear everywhere, infrastructure is debased, social services are collapsing and corruption at all levels looms larger than life. The economy is wobbling, education is in tatters and Nigerians are living below poverty line in the midst of plenty. The media and the people must stand up to save Nigeria. The time to criticize Mr President is now.