By Niyi Akinnaso
Nobody doubts President Goodluck Jonathan's meek demeanour and amiable exterior, often adorned with an admirable smile. These qualities and his comportment during the power transition crisis of 2010, no doubt, earned him the people's support when his constitutional right to be the Acting President was being denied by a cabal loyal to the late President Umaru Yar'Adua. The same qualities attracted many voters, especially the young ones, to him when he ran for President in 2011.
What was not expected was that this amiable exterior would mask a divisive leadership style that would tear apart the country, geographical zones, several states, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, and even his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party. So divided are these entities today that many more forces within each one are determined to work against him than ever before.
We should have seen it coming when Jonathan stood behind the curtains as the zoning debate raged on in 2010, preparatory to the 2011 Presidential primaries and general elections. At the end of the debate, the zoning policy of the PDP was jettisoned so that Jonathan could run for President. Many Northern political leaders hooted and cried but to no avail.
No matter how one might have interpreted their boast “to make the country ungovernable”, two catastrophic events followed Jonathan’s electoral victory, which have kept the country divided along regional, ethnic, and religious lines. One is the post-election violence that ravaged the North, targeting especially Jonathan’s supporters in the presidential election.
The other is the escalation of Boko Haram’s activities from sectarian violence to full-blown terrorism. True, the destructive terrorist activities, which have claimed thousands of lives and destroyed trillions of naira worth of property, have been limited largely to the North and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, their effects on Jonathan’s ability to govern effectively cannot be denied. Besides, the terrorist activities and some pronouncements by the terrorist group set the North against the South and Muslims against Christians.
While dealing with these crises, Jonathan participated in the background, as usual, in fuelling the division within the PDP in his own state of Bayelsa, by pitting one power bloc against the other.The target was the then incumbent Governor of the state, Timipre Silva. True, Silva did not deploy his tongue well enough toward Jonathan, thus allowing the latter to capitalise on what was reported in the media then as the former’s “sins”.
At the end of the day, Silva was prevented from participating in the primaries for his reelection and he eventually became a guest of the EFCC. Ironically, Silva’s EFCC travails came on the heels of Jonathan’s controversial pardon of Diprieye Alamieyeseigha, a convicted fraudster and London jail breaker. Silva’s replacement, Governor Seriake Dickson, would later appoint Jonathan’s wife, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, as a Permanent Secretary after a decade of severance from the state’s civil service.
One of Jonathan’s main weapons, the PDP leadership, has been at work in Rivers State, where Governor RotimiAmaechi is being turned into a Silva, except that the former is not running for reelection. Amaechi’s sins include his effective championing of the governors’ causes, as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, and his much-talked-about political ambition of running on a ticket parallel to Jonathan’s within the PDP. I have written repeatedly that in civilised democracies, Amaechi would have committed no sin at all.
But see what has happened to him in our warped democracy since he won reelection as the Chairman of the NGF. A sitting President, seeking to anoint himself as the party’s candidate, would not tolerate dissent. Accordingly, two factions have been caused to emerge in Rivers State within the PDP, within the House of Assembly, and even within the state’s security apparatus. Futile attempts have been made to impeach Amaechi, while he has suddenly become a “dictator” in the eyes of the state Commissioner of Police, who has been questioning Amaechi’s close aides.
On top of these shenanigans, Amaechi himself is legally fighting his unwarranted suspension from the PDP. While the PDP leadership succumbed to pressure in lifting the suspension of Governor Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto State, apparently for supporting Amaechi, that of the latter remains in place.
The division within the NGF has also caused divisions within the PDP Governors’ Forum and the Northern Governors’ Forum. Neither has been able to muster full attendance of its members at any meeting since the NGF election crisis. With Jonathan solidly on one side of the divide in each case, the likelihood of a resolution remains a distant conjecture. Listen to an aggrieved Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso of Kano State as he analogises on Jonathan’s attempt to impose a candidate on the NGF: “I have two grandchildren in primary school, and no father or grandfather will choose a friend for his child or his grandchild … It is very difficult to tell your child that the father of this your friend is my enemy. A good father or grandfather is better, if he keeps quiet.”
Incidentally, the entire PDP hierarchy, including governors and members of the National Working Committee, is divided principally over Jonathan’s reelection bid and the tactics. Instead of seeking ways to bridge the division, it would appear that Jonathan is fuelling it by setting up one group against the other. Of the 23 PDP governors, at least nine appear to be against him, as evidenced by their vote for Amaechi during the NGF chairmanship election. Instead of working toward reconciliation, Jonathan declared his support for the minority NGF faction led by Governor Jonah Jang, partly because he worked hard on the formation of the faction and partly because it has the majority of 14 PDP Governors in it. Yet, the President’s continued meeting with this faction could only fuel the division within the NGF.
Jonathan’s meddlesomeness in the election of officials to the NWC of the PDP led to numerous irregularities, including the flouting of the party’s constitution, which led the Independent National Electoral Commission to declare many of them as unduly elected. He has now set up a committee of loyalists to screen applicants against the July convention of the party, hoping to get only loyalists elected to the NWC. The end product is further division within the party as loyalists are set up against non-loyalists. Jonathan has so cornered himself within his own party that he is now perceived as the leader of a faction within it.
The implications of these divisions for the polity are far-reaching. However, we may not know their full effects until the presidential campaigns heat up in late 2014 and early 2015. But one thing is clear: Jonathan, who once styled himself as “the most criticised President in history” may also go down as the most divisive President in Nigerian history. He may well be the only politician in modern Nigeria, who hopes to win reelection by riding on divisions along various divides.
At the end of the day, Jonathan may win the nomination of his party. But he may have a hard time winning the presidential election because he would have angered so many people, even within his party, who may decide to vote against, rather than for, him. It is not too late for him to begin to mend fences, if he does not want to sink with an increasingly unpopular faction in each of the divides he has been nurturing.