President Jonathan’s flight of Pharaoh-like vindictiveness

November 24, 2011
6 mins read

You hold the keys of heaven and hell. Power to bind and loose: bind, Thomas, bind, King and bishop under your heel. King, emperor, bishop, baron, king – T. S. Eliot in MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL

THE people of Bayelsa State witnessed the full expression of presidential wrath last weekend, when battle-ready security men were deployed in Yenagoa, for the small matter of ensuring that Goodluck Jonathan’s presidentially-anointed candidate, Henry Seriake Dickson “won” the PDP’s primary election to select candidate for next year’s gubernatorial election.

Nigerian newspapers unanimously described the process as “flawed” and consequent upon a restraining order by Justice G.O. Kolawole of the Federal High Court, even INEC stayed away from the elaborate charade.

In the same manner, none of the statutory delegates turned up. All members of the State House and National Assembly, elected council chairmen and councillors, boycotted the primary election. But for the umpteenth time, Nigeria’s ruling party revealed itself as, arguably, the greatest threat to the nation’s democratic process.

Vindictive use of power

It ignored the court order and chose to align with the President’s flight of vindictive use of power! Transformation politics is in full flow, and meek as a lamb, President Jonathan is revealing the bloody claws of a lion, in a self-centred use of the levers of power. It was the much-lamented Chief Sunday Awoniyi, who once described the party he helped form with patriotic idealism, as having become, under Obasanjo’s watch, a basket full of scorpions, all stinging themselves to death. The free-for-all release of venom, is also threatening to slowly asphyxiate the nation’s political process.

The denouement arrived at, this weekend in Bayelsa, underlines the dangerous dimension that the use of the awesome powers of state to satisfy the personal whims of leaders has reached in our country today. A hapless nation watched in utter disbelief as due process was publicly trounced just because of the personal preference of the President. The monster that Obasanjo cloned from 1999, at Aso Villa, is gobbling up the political system and nobody, not even the bravest analyst, can predict with exactitude, the nature of the political danger which lies ahead; but the portents are frightening!

It is instructive that the Bayelsa event took place at a point when the President has become increasingly vulnerable, isolated and most unpopular with broad segments of the Nigerian people. By all accounts, his attempt to drum up support amongst members of the National Assembly, for his plan to remove so-called ‘subsidies’ from petroleum products, got a short shrift, owing in part to a very incoherent and unconvincing presentation of his argument. He was told to “make himself clearer and present lucid facts and figures to support the reasons for the removal of the subsidy”, according to LEADERSHIP newspaper, last Sunday. It was a mark of failure that President Jonathan was told by the legislators “to do something about the security situation in the country. That is the most important thing now.” An average student of Pol. Science 101 would have been able to remind Mister President that his administration is performing woefully in its most basic function of securing lives and property. To paraphrase our greatest writer, Chinua Achebe, presidency is beginning to resemble the absurd man in the proverb who abandoned his burning homestead to chase a rat! No wonder there have also been denied stories of attempted impeachments in the Senate.

The Nigerian Constitution has given enormous powers to the president. And it does not matter that such a president is Olusegun Obasanjo, who enjoyed messianic delusions or a naïve-appearing, Goodluck Jonathan; there are inherent dangers that given the enormity of power which the office carries, the occupant of the office will have very strong temptations to attempt to play Pharaoh.

Historically, there were different sides to all the Pharaohs, good and bad! But in the setting of our country, the Pharaoh-like delusions of our leaders have not carried lofty ambitions.

Several expeditions

Take Ramesses II, perhaps the most celebrated of all the Pharaohs; he entered history as a great military leader who led several expeditions into the Levant, Nubia in the south as well as asserting Egyptian control of Canaan. He built cities, temples (remember the great temple in Abu Simbel?) and monuments.

But our putative Pharaohs are enamoured of an inordinate use of power for personal ends; preside over a country slowly dying from incompetence; possess no elevated vision of development and have instituted corruption on scales that have sapped the country of vitality. President Jonathan should quietly abandon the borrowed but ill-fitting robes of a Pharaoh.

The loss of popularity and increasing alienation of our pretence Pharaoh from the realities of contemporary existence has been played out in the pyrrhic victory scored in Bayelsa and the rude awakening from the National Assembly about the “flagship” project to ‘remove subsidies’ from petroleum products. It is too unpopular with the Nigerian people and the administration must be aware now, that it can trigger consequences it might not be able to contain.

Nigerian unemployment statistics and the roots of national crises

LET us give ourselves the pause for a moment, and reflect upon one simple fact: Most of those arrested and arraigned in court as members of BOKO HARAM are in their twenties; practically all of them, including the suicide bombers, whose pictures were released by the group itself.

It is instructive, because recently, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, released frightening figures for 2010, of unemployment in Nigeria. Between the ages of 16 and 64, barring those in full-time educational pursuit or those unwilling and able to work, the report said we have a workforce of 60million people. But only 48 million of these have jobs. However, unemployment is highest amongst youths between the ages of 15 and 24, with an average unemployment rate of 35.9 percent.

NBS also says the highest level of unemployment is in Northern Nigeria, with Yobe State having the highest level of unemployment in Nigeria at 39 percent of the population, followed by Zamfara and Sokoto states with 33.4 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively. Lagos has the lowest unemployment figure of seven percent, while the national unemployment average is 21percent, which reflects a rise of 1.4 percent over the 2009 figures.

As BUSINESSDAY newspaper of November 3, 2011, pointed out, the 21percent unemployment rate “underestimates the proportion of non-use of the vast potential of human capital in the country for the purpose of economic prosperity and the improvement of standard of living”.

I was not surprised that the direst elements of the statistics have come from Northern Nigeria. They relate very directly to the ferment currently gripping our Region and the inability of the ruling class to come to terms with the consequences of the situation.

As I have argued here before, Northern Nigeria has undergone seismic shifts in its entire structure over the past 30 years or so. The institution of UPE in the 1970s saw a reasonable level of enrolment in schools and the gradual removal of a lot of young people from rural backgrounds into the sprawling urban centers of the North.

They could be absorbed into the economic activities in the industrial estates of places like Kano, Kaduna or Jos as well as into other commercial activities. But with the economic crises of the past couple of years, the industrial estates collapsed and jobs disappeared, just as the rural economy has declined.

The urban-based population of young Northerners became increasingly marginalized, sucked into a lumpen existence in the cities, just as the political and business elite consolidated their corrupt enrichment and the flaunting of ill-gotten wealth.

The traditional structures of power were alienated from these young Northerners who had begun to apprehend their frustrations in radical religious frames. The traditional religious clerics were too much part of the corrupt status quo and so did not offer the radical interpretations of Islam favoured by the young people, who get nothing from an increasingly hostile and uncaring state, especially after the introduction of SAP and neo-liberal reforms.

It was this context which gave a youthful audience to radical preachers like Muhammad Yusuf. His preachments and lifestyle were more in tune with the temperament of the young, educated but hopeless Northern youth, whose contacts with modernity have not given them the possibilities of enjoying its goodies. As the NBS statistics showed, the greatest level of unemployment is amongst those between the ages of 15 and 24. And if we look at the ages of most of those already arrested for participation in the activities of BOKO HARAM, they are in their twenties!

If we add these to the fact that ours is a very young country, it becomes clear as day light, that the greatest challenge we face is the creation of jobs and opportunities for the young people. In fact, I think that should be the most decisive issue of national policy in our country today.

The states of Northern Nigeria must especially appreciate the demographic basis of the crisis situation we face in the Region to be able to begin to address the issues frontally. There can be no other way. A few years ago, Rev. Father George Ehusani did a study of crises in Nigeria. He pointed out that most of the ethno-religious crises have taken place between 12noon and 6pm; hours that people would normally have been at work.

And it is clear that most of those sucked into those tragic killings have been young people who should be busy at work, building our country.


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