The setting was a Starbucks café in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. The occasion was a small meeting of Africans. During a conversation with an Ethiopian lady, the talk changed to Africa and its leaders. She told us she’d met former president Olusegun Obasanjo; she thought he was very prayerful. My Nigerian friend and I smiled wryly; she obviously didn’t know there was a distinction between being prayerful and God-fearing in Nigeria.
Talking about the political situation in our country, she lamented what she saw as Nigeria’s wasted opportunities, then dropped what was a very tactful insult. She said she’d also met Goodluck Jonathan, then added straight-faced, “It takes a very long time for him to appreciate jokes. He laughs, but only when other people have stopped laughing at the joke”.
I tried feebly to defend my president by reverting the discussion to the length of time former Ethiopian Prime Minister, late Meles Zenawi, spent in office, but no one was fooled. We all knew what she was trying to say: Nigeria had become encumbered with a leader that was not only dull and uninspiring, but had little social grace and was completely out of his depths in diplomatic circles and the international scene.
In the annals of power and politics in Nigeria, we have had some inspiring leaders who had genuine understanding of power and knew how to use it. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and Obafemi Awolowo all stood out. Even the less educated military produced Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, and for what it may be worth, Abdulsalam Abubakar.
More recently, the garrulous Obasanjo understood the dynamics of power and even the taciturn Umaru Musa Yar’adua had a presence, even if debilitated by his ultimately fatal illness.
Back to Goodluck Jonathan: We were told he had a doctorate degree, the first holder of such a qualification to lead the country. When Jonathan decided to step out of the shadows and pursue the presidency, he was tentative, even self-effacing. That faltering start should have alarmed Nigerians, but many were willing to interpret his total lack of aura as a sign of modesty.
But with the benefit of hindsight, was it modesty or sheer incompetence? Why should a man who has three degrees (and actually taught at university level), in addition to having served as deputy governor, governor, vice president and now, president of Nigeria for four year, still have difficulty reading from prepared texts?
Jonathan’s lack of preparation was exposed during interviews conducted by CNN’s Christine Amanpour, and later Isha Sessay. President Jonathan was clearly out of his depths, and the barely concealed contempt on the faces of the interviewers was evident.
Unfortunately, Jonathan has not enhanced his public carriage, personality or even leadership traits. When he talks, he displays neither passion nor conviction, and whenever he talks without a prepared text, makes very pedestrian statements and is always on the defensive.
Reports indicate that Jonathan had been trying to get President Paul Biya of Cameroun to agree to see him to discuss Boko Haram’s cross-border operations, but had been unable to make headway. I assumed Biya was near death until he appeared at the Security Summit in Paris, looking as robust as Robert Mugabe. Obviously, he couldn’t be bothered to see Jonathan.
Jonathan’s voice, body language and the total lack of confidence he displays is a disservice to Nigeria and Nigerians who are known to be most confident and boisterous Africans. The sad part is that after four years as president, it is clear that the man is either unwilling, or more plausibly, incapable to developing himself into becoming a leader than can inspire confidence.
Twice last year – in Addis Ababa and London – Jonathan was unable to make important public appearances because, he had ‘stomach ache’. Word in the intelligence community was that he was actually inebriated.
It is an indication of how much Nigeria’s prestige has suffered under Jonathan that Nigeria was not given a chance to speak at the funeral of Nelson Mandela despite the pivotal role we played to end Apartheid in South Africa.
With such little respect even in Africa, it was not surprising that US senator, John McCain summarily dismissed the leader of Africa’s largest country as “some guy named Goodluck Jonathan”, in reference to Nigerian government’s carefree attitude to the search for the schoolgirls abducted from Chibok.
According to McCain, “If they (US Special Forces) knew where they (the Chibok girls) were, “I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan”.
As much as one would want to defend President Jonathan from disparagement, is there a defence against the truth? Displaying such lack of capacity to tackle poverty and fight terrorism, the president, in the minds of most Nigerians, is no more than ‘some guy named Goodluck Jonathan’.