If you have yet to read the New York Times story of Nigeria’s remarkable basketball team to the London Olympics, it is available online.
Before I comment on it, here is a question: to whom, exactly, is President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria accountable?
His answer last week, as he vigorously tried to dismiss the demand of Boko Haram for him to resign, was predictable: the Nigerian people, he said.
“The President will never resign,” spokesman Reuben Abati said, conferring loud credibility to the demand. “He has the mandate of Nigerians to serve his father land and nobody should imagine that he will succumb to blackmail.”
With due respect to the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that was not really an answer to the question.
Actually, Mr. Jonathan did not need to answer the question: in reality, Boko Haram is no more than a ghost barking in the dark. But Mr. Jonathan’s spokesman went on and on about the source of his power.
The truth is that Mr. Jonathan’s response was not meant for Boko Haram at all: it was aimed at the various interests across the country, some of which voted for him last year, and including the suddenly restive House of Representatives, who have reached the conclusion either that Mr. Jonathan has betrayed them, or that he is incapable of the job of president, or both.
It was to them all that Mr. Jonathan felt he should provide a “strong” statement that he is not going anywhere because he is legitimate.
Perhaps he is not going anywhere, but neither incompetence nor betrayal is justifiable or legitimate.
Legitimacy, in a democracy, does not simply emanate from the electorate; it also means that the elected person is accountable to those who elected him. The conundrum before us is that even if Mr. Jonathan’s election last April cannot be questioned, his performance, and therefore accountability, is.
To whom is Mr. Jonathan accountable?
There seem to be only two authorities: his wife, who goes by the incongruous title of Dame; and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
As a writer, I have been threatened in the past by Mrs. Jonathan for my articles on her corruption troubles with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But as I have said, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu—who chaired the commission at the time, twice accused Mrs. Jonathan of money-laundering; who filed court cases against Mrs. Jonathan before he was removed from office—has not provided the official report of the investigation the EFCC undertook which would permit the intelligent conclusion that justice was done when he unilaterally exonerated her upon his return to Nigeria.
In a civilized society, that is how things are done, and that is what provides the credibility to processes and persons that Mr. Ribadu, through Mrs. Jonathan, has now denied himself.
In any event, nobody has told the people who provided Mr. Jonathan with the votes with which he now beats his chest exactly what happened to the funds Mrs. Jonathan was separated from exactly six years ago: Thirteen thousand, five hundred US dollars; and one hundred and four thousand Naira.
Standing on Ribadu’s chest, however, Mrs. Jonathan is now rewriting Nigerian law and practice. Not only has she has taken up a Permanent Secretaryship in Bayelsa State that she has no intention of serving in practice, she is arguing that the Nigerian constitution must provide officially for a First Lady as it does the chief executive to whom she is married.
Mr. Jonathan has not contradicted her. He cannot, because he has already made it clear his loyalty is neither to the constitution to which he swore nor to the practical dictates of his office. It is to his self-interest.
That was why, weeks ago, he said something no truly-elected president would ever say about his office: that he does not “give a damn” about publicly declaring his assets.
It is only that self-interest that could have made the president of a country agree to the embarrassment of having his wife become a civil servant in a State, especially in a job that would require her routine daily attention and supervision of policy implementation and workers.
Mr. Jonathan does not give a damn.
The other authority to which Mr. Jonathan accounts is his party, the PDP.
To be fair to Mr. Jonathan, the PDP had accounted for Nigeria’s collapse before he was put in charge of the government. In his hands, however, that collapse has been confirmed. Insecurity is so bad that not only is Mr. Jonathan refusing to visit large chunks of the country, the United States last week sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to assure him of its support as long as he is willing to embark on true reform.
In Jonathanville, that is a contradiction in terms. His years in office as Acting President, replacement President and President have been marked, sadly, by the retrogression best summarized by don’t-give-a-damn.
Jonathan abandoned his electoral promises even before he took office on May 29, 2011: He has never referred to them let alone demonstrated any interest in pursuing them; has never implemented any of the reports submitted by panels he set up; has never done anything to show he wants to fight corruption; has never shown consistency to any identifiable public principle.
If anything, the contradictions are mounting: in January, following the anti-subsidy protests, he said he would reduce the size and cost of government. Regrettably, not only has he failed to keep that pledge, his government has grown larger in size and expense since then, while shrinking in commitment to the public good.
Last month, after his wife went weeping to him about the unwillingness or failure of the presidency’s media machinery to defend her against allegations of illegal and excessive spending, Mr. Jonathan dug up. Doyin Okupe, who last served in a similar capacity for President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, to return to Aso Rock, presumably to protect Mrs. Jonathan.
Mr. Okupe’s appointment came only a couple of weeks after the PDP was crushed in a gubernatorial election in Edo State, an election in which the party’s biggest guns, including Mr. Jonathan, campaigned feverishly in the State. The party’s candidate won one vote for every five gained by the winner the opposing party’s incumbent, who, voters said, had demonstrated commitment and action.
Mr. Okupe’s return to Aso Rock also came weeks before Nigeria went to the Olympics and returned with its worst performance since 1960.
Which brings me back to the New York Times article on Nigeria’s remarkable basketball team, D’Tigers. At the London Olympics, the squad lost to the American team by 83 points, a Games record.
They form part of Team Nigeria, which had a dismal performance at the Games, and about which there has been a lot of snickering.
Not from me. I am a strong supporter of Team Nigeria and D’Tigers. The problem always has been with our administration, in politics as in sports.
Bolaji Abdullahi, Nigeria’s Minister of Sports and Chairman of the National Sports Commission, has responded to our embarrassment the way every Nigerian government does: pledging early preparation for the next competition. While some countries are talking about how they did it, we are talking about how it will be done. It is our story every four years.
In 2015, some countries will be celebrating how they achieved significant Millennium Development Goals, a process Nigeria endorsed in 2000, but has failed to implement. Nigeria, if it is not in fragments, will be talking about how it can be done.
That is what happens when emotion, not reason, leads national issues, and every four years, at the Olympics and at our elections—to choose but two examples, we stand before the mirror and look at ourselves.
This is the question Nigerians must ask about themselves. Nigeria’s atrocious leadership is now perfected in the Jonathans, and her followership cannot blame them.