The Jonathan era ends in a few days, and he departs without the sort of farewell party that heroes get. It was a mock epic when he ascended the throne. We thought we had made a giant of a small man. When the curtain closes, it will be a humpty-dumpty disaster, an epic collapse.
But it will be less a Jonathan collapse than the fruit of our collective naiveté. On voting day, we cursed ourselves with our thumbs. It was an example of how democracy can fall on its own sword. Every democracy, though, is entitled to its own tears.
Yet, when his story began, many expected he would serve as a revolutionary tonic. That was what gave him a rousing mandate, if it was all based on sentiment. The sentiment was real across the country. As Oscar Wilde noted, humans are not rational beings. We are sentimental beings.
The only region immune to that infection was the core north. That region, however, has had to sulk or yelp or resort to self-help in the past six years.
But not they alone. Everybody. We all saw a man with a deceptively meek face and mellow voice and pious appeal con a nation with the apparent simplicity or even naivety of both mien and gesture. He was supposed to be the meek man upon the throne.
When his predecessor Yar’Adua was sick, a cabal with a parochial world view and ruthless will to power shielded the frail, gaunt, disappearing soul and wove yarns about a miracle rebound. He was already on his way back to office and to duty, and all his detractors wished him dead. They were half right. His detractors thought the death of Yar’Adua would give the country a sort of divine verdict: a victory over the north’s proprietary hubris that “entitled” them to rule over the rest of us.
It was though not a case of whole-hearted malice. They did not wish Yar’Adua dead because they hated them. After all, Yar-Adua was, when healthy, a modest performer. But the detractors could live with his demise because it offered a bright new vista. It enabled the nation to robe their humble candidate with a royal apparel. Bring the casket for the solemn dead. But bring the diadem and let us crown the little man made giant by fate.
So, Jonathan was a project of necessity. A son of a humble village tucked in the backwaters of oil who had no shoes and no pedigree and no royal boast. A son who had nothing but his instinctive connection to the common folk. A man Baba Iyabo loved and adopted as a son. Why not him this time instead of the hauteur of the past? Why not give him the grace of our collective claps and vault the pauper over the princes who failed?
The rhetoric and intrigue of the cabal were barefaced, and they turned the national stage into a drama of the dead who must live in spite of the verdict of God. It was like the Poem In Memoriam by Leopold Senghor in which he lamented about the “dead who have always refused to die.”
No one heard Yar’Adua speak in his last days, yet the cabal said his voice roared like the waves. No one heard his muscles crackle or his feet stomp, but they said he was up and about. No one saw him, yet they made us seem blind while they alone saw. They witnessed the miracle that was meant for us. They made us seem absent at our own theatre. We all became Thomas Didymus. But they did not let us believe until he was in a state beyond our sight. The only commoner who could see him was a mortician.
It was also not about keeping Yar’Adua afloat but a contempt for a man because of where he came from, about a royal occlusion of a subaltern from power. This column fulminated, and defended Jonathan’s right to succeed Yar’Adua. I even titled one column, “Let Jonathan be.” It was injustice and it defiled the holy order of the republican spirit to deny him.
But Jonathan eventually prevailed. Democracy and good sense had their way over the cabal, a word that suffused the national conversation. Peace defeated peacock. With the fears of the soldier’s return to power, the nation’s breakup and constitutional stasis over, Jonathan’s victory took another narrative. It was no longer about the right of a vice president to become president.
It was the tale of a commoner who had a right to the regal palate. An Otuoke man had the right to be president. Even though his party signed a pact of zoning, he was immune. A caveman can clutch at his rights without honour. But a man of honour will not live with himself though he has a right to the prize. His honour forbids it.
That was the beginning of this column’s falling-out with Jonathan. It was clear he was not going to run a country based on values, but crass opportunism. It was the birth seed of impunity and corruption. When most Nigerians lined up behind him, this column warned about the danger ahead. First, I believed that he ought to have stepped aside, and organised an election as a statesman and not staked himself for the throne. His zoning pact demanded that. The moral future of Nigeria deserved it. Ambition came before country, Jonathan rode on small sentiment and he became president.
The other objection was that as acting president, his regime had begun wholesale awards of contracts of jobs not done. We were too dazed by the biography of the shoeless applicant for us to see the leaking roof.
Today, we have seen him take trillions of Naira into a prodigal’s market. He bought a lot, but he brought home nothing. We owe $60 billion. That is why, as he leaves power, power is worse than the first few days of his office when Barth Nnaji crafted the roadmap of power. The eastern brothers and sisters who loved him in spite and even because of his sins, cannot point to a second Niger Bridge. Maina, NNPC, Oduah, Alison-Madueke and subsidy parasites are poster faces of impunity and corruption. Even arithmetic was corrupted, and it took his defeat for 19 to regain its integrity, bona fides and superiority over 16.
The commoner is poor, and the country too. As he leaves office, fuel queues have returned. It was so at the beginning of his reign. It is so today as he walks into the sunset. Sad. Anticlimactic. Paralytic.
His story is the contrast to a man of history known as Mahatma Ghandi. He also came from a humble past. But he rose to become a lawyer, and during the nationalist maelstrom against British colonialism, he was both architect and point man of the fight.
But he, unike Jonathan, began as a dolled-up aficionado of western suits with jacket, white shirt and tie. His feet were not of the Otuoke variety. He had shoes. But as the struggle wore on, he chose the path of true simplicity. Ghandi learned from Thoreau to actualise the principle of civil disobedience.
He decided to do away with the finesse of social polish and sartorial nicety. He wore a spare cloth called khadi and he gave terror to Britain. So frustrated was Churchill that he barbed him with a racist slur, calling him a “half-naked kafir.” His simple ways were marked also by fasting for the cause of Indian liberation and peace. He ranks with few men of austere dignity in history like Jesus and Budha.
Jonathan moved from the niggardly background of a shoeless man to a regime of profligacy and insensitivity. It is a bad way to draw the curtain on a man on whom a people were well pleased and invested their future.