AT last, after a testy election punctuated by rigmaroles and unadulterated political chicaneries, and unfounded fears of a handover compromised by a supposedly reluctant President Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was yesterday sworn in as the fourth democratically elected president of the Fourth Republic. The PDP had conceitedly vowed to rule for some 60 years, an arbitrary figure that had no scientific or logical foundation to rest on, but it barely lasted 16 years in office. In those 16 years, which seemed more like three or four decades of painful misrule, and during which the party produced three differing and controversial presidents, Nigeria slipped from hopefulness to hopelessness, from triumphalism to defeatism, from continental grandeur to continental humiliation, and from budding exceptionalism to full-grown commonality.
It was a relief to see President Jonathan go. Perhaps he was also relieved to relinquish the presidency, both for his inability to reconcile himself to the great and onerous demands of his office, and his constant irritations with those who pointed out his deficiencies. For the five years he presided over the affairs of Nigeria, he was often wrong-footed, and his judgement, to put it mildly, quite extraordinarily misplaced. His last Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting was one more robust indication of his idiosyncratic struggle with mordant reality. In Dr Jonathan’s departure and President Buhari’s coronation, history was made. While time will tell whether the new president appreciated the historical essence of his coronation, on the other hand, given the predictable manner Dr Jonathan nearly turned his last cabinet meeting into a valecdictorian snafu, there was nothing he said or did that showed the former president appreciated the uniqueness or the historicalness of the moment.
When he assumed office as Acting President, and when on merit he won the 2011 presidential election, his inauguration speeches contained nothing stirring, nothing historical. During his eventful five-year rule, he also made no notable declamation on any ennobling subject, whether of lofty democratic precepts or of mundane social exigencies. Even then, having lost the election, and left with no more than two agonising days in office, it was expected he would use his last cabinet meeting to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by finally and grandly declaiming on any subject of his choosing. Both his enemies and friends at least hoped in unison that in his last, final executive moment in office, he would do something unusual, something truly remarkable. Instead he chose to sell to Nigerians what he plaintively described as his achievements, though he seemed painfully aware he stood no chance of succeeding in that futile endevour. And he also chose to bitterly denounce what he paranoiacally concluded was a conspiracy by political gladiators to hound and disgrace him out of office. He offered no proof, nor, in his customary manner of speechifying, needed one.
Two things stood out in Dr Jonathan’s last cabinet meeting: his sarcasm on the subject of probes; and his sweeping generalisations on his enemies’ sinister tactics. First, his sarcasm, which he delivered with remorseless deadpan. Said he: “Some people are even calling for the probe of this government. I agree in Nigeria there are a number of things that we will probe, very many things. Even debts owed by states and this nation from 1960 up to this time, they say it is Jonathan’s administration that is owing all the debt. I believe that anybody calling for probe must ensure that these probes are extended beyond the Jonathan administration; otherwise, to me, it will be witch hunting. If you are very sincere, then it’s not just the Jonathan’s administration that should be probed. A number of things have gone wrong and we have done our best to fix them… How did we come to this kind of huge judgment debts? These issues should be probed. How do you allocate our oil wells, oil fields, marginal wells and all that; do we follow our laws? All these should be probed. And I believe all these and many more areas should be looked at.”
Dr Jonathan was evidently angry that a number of eminent Nigerians had suggested that President Buhari, who cut the figure of a sanitiser and an anticorruption fighter, should probe the Jonathan government, as if the outgone government had a monopoly of corruption. Was the former president’s sarcasm right? No doubt. Indeed, the Buhari government will face the dilemma of where to draw the line once his probes begin, for the trails would lead farther back than five years, as Dr Jonathan jauntily noted. The former president suggested scornfully it was necessary to probe the oil sector in particular, for happily he remembered that during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, there was no Petroleum minister other than President Obasanjo himself. Former vice president Atiku Abubakar once recalled to the media that under Chief Obasanjo, the oil ministry was a mystery, in fact so mysterious that the Federal Executive Council was made to retroactively approve massive amounts of deals shortly before that government expired in 2007.
Dr Jonathan spoke of witch hunt and persecution in regard to what the Buhari government might wish to do in the coming months. It will be interesting to see how the new government will navigate the murky and unpleasant disclosures bound to be published in the coming months, whether President Buhari faces probes squarely or commits it into the hands of his anti-corruption agencies. It is also interesting to know that Chief Obasanjo had, perhaps in anticipation, admonished President Buhari not to get bogged down with probes. If Chief Obasanjo advocated a culture of turning a blind eye to the evil done by former presidents, and Dr Jonathan defiantly warns against persecution and witch hunt, it is not clear what culture Nigerian presidents, many of whom had got away with murder, wish to enthrone.
Second, the generalisations. Said a fulminating Dr Jonathan: “Even this last fuel scarcity, to me, one can clearly say it was an act of sabotage. This government has few days to go. That is definitely not the time you expect massive strikes, using marketers and unions; unions asking for increase in salaries at a time oil price has dropped and volumes have dropped. None of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) is increasing salaries, but our unions wanted 11 per cent increase in allowances and so on and so forth and went on strike. There was 21 days reserve in this country. It is not as if we had no products but they just refused to lift. Diesel was deregulated long ago, so the issue was not the product but people who felt they must bring this government to its knees even when they know that we had few days to leave. But we thank God we are getting over it and God will see us through.”
In Dr Jonathan’s magnificent conspiracy theories, he obliquely and mendaciously suggested that both ASUU and Boko Haram were deployed as instruments of blackmail against his government. Then this. He believed his political enemies were always at work to humiliate him, including instigating oil workers to cripple his government a few days to its expiration. But whether in regard to Boko Haram, ASUU, oil workers, or any other challenges he faced, Dr Jonathan preferred the amateurish escapism overwhelmed presidents love to embrace. It is hard to imagine what ruinous escapades Dr Jonathan would have seized upon to unhinge the country had he been reelected president. It is a great relief he lost. It is perhaps a greater relief that his replacement, the dour and gritty former army general and head of state, is his complete antithesis, in behaviour and in substance. Now, there is no indication that President Buhari would be Nigeria’s best ever; but at least he does not seem capable of being the country’s worst ever in the noxious and embarrassing manner of Dr Jonathan, to whom no one can hold a candle in impunity.