There must be something about the Nigerian presidency that turns whoever occupies the position to a prisoner, a tyrant, or both. Former president Shehu Shagari was a prisoner to the many interests that put him in office; to clean up the excesses of the Shagari administration, Muhammadu Buhari’s government was by necessity, heavy-handed; Ibrahim Babangida, always Janus-faced, was both. Next came Earnest Shonekan who was a prisoner of June 12; Sani Abacha, though a tyrant, was a prisoner at the villa until his death; Abdulasalam Abubakar left jail early, to pave way for Olusegun Obasanjo who ruled like a tyrant, then became a prisoner to his ambitions. Umaru Musa Yar’adua in good health might have exhibited a streak of tyranny, but ended up the prisoner of a tiny cabal. Now, it seems President Goodluck Jonathan too, has completed the journey from poverty, to the presidency, and not unexpectedly, to prisoner. I have had contact with all of Nigeria’s leaders in the past 30 years, except General Ibrahim Babangida, which isn’t exactly saying I missed much. All of them had their strengths and weaknesses, but you could tell you were in the presence of leaders who understood the dynamics power and its uses – except President Goodluck Jonathan. For some reason, Jonathan neither has neither the charisma associated with leadership, nor manages to emulate one. As a leader, Jonathan is as dry as they come; bland in manners, ordinary in carriage. His aides and other ‘Jonathan or Death’ campaigners would hurry to explain the president’s insipidity as humility, but the truth is, even after spending a decade and half in office as deputy governor, governor, vice and president and president of a country of over 170 million people, Jonathan has failed to develop a persona of his own. Not surprisingly, most people who meet him come away with very little to remember. For a man who ostensibly has a doctorate degree and actually taught in a university, Jonathan’s lack of self confidence is as shocking as his inability to assume intuitive command. If anything, whenever he talks freely outside the carefully prepared scripts of his handlers, the picture that emerges is that of a man permanently on the defensive. Obviously, he still sees himself as a victim. Of what, one might ask? Only last week, his comment that Nigeria could not have produced a Mandela speaks volumes about his sense of history. Jonathan forgot that Nelson Mandela was not born great, but achieved greatness by his willingness to lay down his life for a cause he believed in, and with opportunity for retribution at his fingertips, chose reconciliation. Jonathan could at least emulate Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation, instead of deliberately pitting Nigerians against each other to promote his ambition. However, that is a matter for another day. For now, the issue is about Jonathan’s metamorphoses from poverty, to president, to prisoner. Perhaps, the president should speak for himself, beginning with what he said after he was sworn in as president on May, 29th, 2011. At that occasion, he said, “I will continue to fight for your future, because I am one of you; I will continue to fight for improved medical care for all our citizens; I will continue to fight for all citizens to have access to first class education . . . and affordable public transport system for all our people; I will continue to fight for jobs to be created through productive partnerships. . . I will never, ever let you down. I know your pain, because I have been there”. That was the voice of a man who could still relate with poverty. About six months later, during the fuel subsidy crises and subsequent shortages, he said, “Since the announcement, there have been mixed reactions to the policy. Let me seize this opportunity to assure all Nigerians that I feel the pain that you all feel. I personally feel pained to see the sharp increase in transport fares and the prices of goods and services….” Nevertheless, Jonathan insisted there was no going back, though later succumbed to public pressure and a compromise. That was Jonathan acting like a president. However, another six months later, when asked about assets declaration, he replied, “The issue of public asset declaration is a matter of personal principle. That is the way I see it, and I don’t give a damn about it, even if you criticize me from heaven”. Clearly, a prisoner to the trappings of power was emerging. And to remain in power, he has chosen the path of tyranny. Since then, his behaviour and utterances show that Jonathan has become captive to his ambition to remain in office at all costs, and is so ensconced in crude politicking that he has forgotten that Nigeria is still grappling with numerous deadly religious and communal conflicts, lawlessness, ever growing inequality, endemic corruption, poverty, unemployment and ethno-religious fragmentation. There must be something about the Villa. . . .
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