Caught between worsening insecurity and political exigencies, President Goodluck Jonathan will need more than good luck to not only hold Nigeria together but also hold on to power till 2015
For President Goodluck Jonathan, this is not the best of times. With the threat of impeachment from the House of Representatives and the dire security situation in the country, the President is said to be facing perhaps the most challenging period of his presidency. It seems forces that appear willing and ready to dismember the country, and possibly fling him out as a failed president, are weaving a web of conspiracy around him.
Under him, the nation appears to be at war with itself with the rise in the killings and destruction by the Boko Haram insurgents and other security challenges, pitching ethnic and religious groups against one another. Not a few Nigerians are worried by this development. This is why some prominent Nigerians including former leaders met with President Jonathan recently in Aso Rock with a view to helping him out of the situation, in order to prevent the nation’s ship from hitting the rocks.
Sources close to the seat of power hinted last week that the national leaders were disturbed about certain shortcomings of the Jonathan government and they told him so, in a point-blank, a no-holds-barred manner. They expressed their concern about his government’s inability to handle Boko Haram. They were not particularly impressed that the President continues to say the problem would be over soon while it gets worse. They were similarly concerned that the Boko Haram insurgency could lead to a religious war in the country. Although they felt that though the economy is growing, they expressed the belief that it could have grown faster if the government had been able to restore peace in the country. Their advice is that Jonathan must act and act fast to avert a political catastrophe that a forceful change of government could cause. It was gathered that if the President failed to act on their advice, he would be abandoned to his fate.
The rescue template reportedly presented to Jonathan appeared too bitter for him to swallow. For instance, he was advised to step up projects implementation, fight corruption, overhaul his cabinet and remove at least four ministers, including Dieziani Alison-Madueke, the petroleum minister. Based on the over N1.17 billion subsidy scam alone, the leaders felt that the minister ought to have been shown the door on moral ground, but they feared Jonathan lacked the courage to fire her due to a family relationship. They complained that Alison-Madueke had on several occasions also shown a visible arrogance at cabinet meetings. As a member of the Economic Management Team, EMT, it was alleged that she does not attend meetings regularly and says nothing when she attends. Sometimes, she rather sends a permanent secretary, without a prior notice to others. Given the crucial role her ministry plays in national income generation, it was argued this might constitute a drawback on the performance of the EMT.
Another minister that was asked to be fired was Stella Oduah in charge of aviation for alleged non-performance. The two other ministers on the elders’ list are believed to be fundamental to the President’s performance; one of them is said to have been the arrowhead of the campaigns for the last general election. In the area of security, it was learnt that even though the elders gave Jonathan kudos for removing the National Security Adviser, NSA, and defence minister they insisted that more still needed to be done in this regard. The President was advised to appoint a competent person as a new defence minister. Two former heads of state were said to have expressed their readiness to offer him a competent replacement.
For Jonathan, it appeared a personal attack to advise him to remove the petroleum minister and he was said to have bluntly turned down the request believing that the oil companies are after her because of the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill which the president described as a patriotic instrument that could help reform the nation’s oil and gas sector. The President was also said to have similarly refused to accede to firing other named ministers, as he believed they were crucial to the successful delivery of his reform agenda. The President was also said to have challenged the elders at the meeting, particularly those from the North to play more active roles in helping to tame members of the Boko Haram, and maintained that he had done much to contain their insurgency. He repeated his readiness for dialogue with the sect but lamented that none of the sect members or their sponsors had come forward for dialogue.
Although the elders’ intervention did not achieve much, it was said to be a window of opportunity for the President to adjust and change his style of governance by addressing his image challenges such as his apparent unwillingness to tame corruption, perceived incompetence, personal weakness as evident in his inability to confront issues, his resort to clannishness and cronyism in major appointments and alleged lack of integrity in sticking to his convictions. The magazine learnt that some of the elders were particularly worried by the President’s inability to protect Nigerians and tame corruption in the oil and gas sector. It was alleged that much of the oil subsidy fund was frittered away on the last general elections from which the President and his party benefitted generously.
The concerned Nigerians feared that the country was heading for the rocks if things were allowed to continue ‘the Jonathan way’. This palpable fear caused tempers to rise by several decibels last week as various individuals and groups joined verbal swords in the current drums of war being sounded across the country. For those who had doubts if Boko Haram has political connotations, the group provided the evidence that indeed their bloody campaign is mostly political when they gave President Jonathan the devil’s alternatives to peace. He should either resign as president or convert to Islam.
In a 30-minute video footage in Hausa posted in You Tube on Saturday, August 4, Abubakar Shekau, the sect leader, urged Jonathan to “abandon this ungodly power… repent and forsake Christianity...” This came as a shock to some Nigerians who hitherto felt the group may have genuine grievances and should be listened to. It suggested that theirs is a political pressure group that wants a violent and forceful overthrow of the government.
But Reuben Abati, special adviser to the President on media and publicity, rejected both options promptly. “When Nigerians voted overwhelmingly for President Jonathan in the 2011 general election, they knew they were voting for a Christian. As president, Jonathan is the leader of both Muslims and Christians. It amounts to sheer blackmail for any individual or group to ask the President to resign or convert to Islam. The President cannot be intimidated by any group or individual. The President will never resign. Nobody should imagine that he will succumb to blackmail”.
Last Wednesday, Ahmed Joda, a retired permanent secretary and former chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, added support to the Boko Haram demand when he asked Jonathan to renounce 2015 to restore peace in the country. In a statement in Abuja, he stated that the “President should defuse the present political tension that now pervades the country. This should begin with his renouncing any intention he may have of contesting the 2015 elections and devoting his entire time, energy and the resources of the country in order to give Nigeria a credible and acceptable constitution; a free, transparent and fair election.”
After renouncing 2015, he further urged the President to “restructure his cabinet; appoint more credible people; complete his present mandate to continue the work of governing the country to preside over a free, fair and transparent general election in 2015.” In addition, he should “impose an austerity budget and reduce government waste; work with the judicial system to undertake an accelerated fight against corruption; visibly demonstrate that all awarded government contracts are faithfully and actively being executed; become more visibly and more actively engaged in solving present security challenges.”
If Shekau had made his demand in isolation, many people may have waved it off as one of those outbursts from extremists. If Joda had made his in neutral times, it would have been taken as the concern of a senior citizen, watching events from his retirement. But taken in the context of recent suspected attempts to incite a forceful change of government, Jonathan’s think tank, the Niger Delta, the southern half of Nigeria and Christians in the country are suspecting a genuine plot to frustrate Jonathan out of power before or at the latest, in 2015.
Ordinarily, these apprehensions may have been ignored by defence experts as unfounded anxieties of ‘bloody civilians’, but when two former military heads of state – Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida – who have not been great friends lately due to political differences, came together to troubleshoot for the Presidency it would be very naive to overlook it. And as the magazine’s investigations suggest, the generals had to put their individual grievances aside to save the country from one of two threatening evils – a civil war, military coup or both.
According to Babangida in an interview with Daily Trust in his Minna home, their intervention was at the instance of Jonathan: “The President has called on us who were heads of government to come together towards working out modalities for lasting peace in the country.” Another version insists that it was the duo that went to the President to advise him on how to safeguard the unity of the country and the 12-year-old democracy. This, it was gathered, may have been informed by rumblings they perceived in the barracks, which if not nipped in the bud might lead to a catastrophe for the country.
Whichever version is correct, their body language points to the same conclusions. If Jonathan who has been visibly withdrawn from both men in recent times had cause to rally them for help to cure the Boko Haram cancer, then it underscores a level of desperation. On the other hand, if two quarrelling generals suddenly unite for what they believe to be the common good, those close to them say they have indeed foreseen a calamity ahead for a country they both fought for to keep as one.
Babangida confirmed that both of them had held the first meeting in Abuja in the last week of July. After the meeting they issued a joint statement released by Kassim Afegbua, Babangida’s spokesman, on Sunday, July 29, urging Nigerians to use the holy month of Ramadan irrespective of their religion as “a great opportunity to turn the tide against insecurity, violence and hatred.”
They noted amongst others that, “internecine crises are raging across the land unabated with damaging consequences on the social, political and economic life of the nation. And in the process, untold hardships are being visited on all citizens in one form or another on a daily basis. The loss of innocent lives being experienced by the day across the nation is simply unbearable. Currently, the nation is gripped by a regime of fear and uncertainty that virtually all citizens have difficulties going about their normal day-to-day lives without great anxiety and trepidation. This cannot be allowed to continue!”
In addition, they regretted that “a deeply worrying trend that is emerging from this terrible situation is that a pervasive cynicism is beginning to set in, so much so that millions of true Nigerian patriots are starting to question the platform upon which the unity of this country rests. This is simply untenable.”
By accident or design, Babangida followed up the same theme two days later on July 31 when he delivered the 20th anniversary lecture of the National Defence College, NDC, Abuja. Known as ‘Maradona’ due to his dribbling political brinksmanship, he indirectly told the officers that military rule is now obsolete. “I can say without equivocation that our democracy faces no danger from the military. This is because long before Nigeria returned to democratic rule, military officers who passed through this college were prepared for life of service under civilian leadership and control”.
Similarly, Thomas Lokoson, a rear admiral and commandant of NDC, reaffirmed that military takeover of government in Nigeria is a thing of the past: “The word 'coup' is not part of our dictionary, and you can no longer hear it discussed in any section of the military because we understood that we have to subordinate ourselves to civil authority”.
If many people believed Babangida’s sudden turnaround, some did not because of his legendary dribbling skills. He once reaffirmed a military strategy that once your opponent knows your next step, you are a dead man. So some critics feel he still could not be trusted.
Edwin Clark, Ijaw strong man appears to belong to this group. At a recent lecture Clark accused Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, another military head of state, of a conspiracy of silence in the face of the Boko Haram insurgency. As a guest lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ annual lecture on the State of the Federation, he said: “IBB should have spoken on the Boko Haram issue long before now, why has he been silent all this while? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has visited Maiduguri, why have IBB and General Buhari not visited the place?”
Clark alleged that Babangida might have a double interest in the case. ‘’IBB and Buhari have been meeting surreptitiously, yet he and Obasanjo went to issue joint statement on Boko Haram scourge. Why can’t IBB and Buhari do the same? The joint statement is suspect; after all, they are all in Boko Haram. Some prominent politicians vowed to make the country ungovernable if the 2011 election did not reflect the wishes of the people. They should be arrested and prosecuted.” What had been said in whispers was let out for an emotive debate.
Clark, highly revered by the Ijaw appears to have spoken the mind of many Niger Deltans who have always alleged that Boko Haram is a northern response to the sudden rise to power by politicians from the South-south. Clark further accused the northern governors of ganging up against Jonathan. “The governors have taken over the PDP. The governors have turned themselves into opposition political party. They installed some officers of the party and therefore, some of the officers are not loyal to the leaders of the party."
Last February, during an interview with the magazine, Jonathan stated that he would not arrest anybody on hearsay. He noted that people could make unguarded statements but they cannot be arrested without evidence of the act. Perhaps, Clark believes that if the President would not dare to arrest people suspected to be the brains behind the insurgency, he would go to town with his own list. That attempt flared tempers last week.
Babangida reacted swiftly to Clark’s allegation. He described his allegation as ‘senseless’ and alluded to the possibility that senility could be setting-in for the 83-year-old Niger Delta activist. Known to be hitherto conservative in his reactions, Babangida has of late adopted a bellicose style. In a swift reaction last week, the ex-militants of the Niger Delta started bracing up for a possible return to the creeks where they are promising to cripple the economy if anything should happen to Jonathan. Asari Dokubo, a former president of Ijaw Youth Congress, IYC, and leader of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, NDPVF, warned that any attempt to remove Jonathan from power forcefully could lead to a civil war.
“We will cut them (northerners) off from the world. We are capable of doing that. There will be no food and they will pay dearly for their actions. This war will be no joke. There will be no army to prosecute the war for them. When the war starts, other ethnic groups like the Yoruba will tell the North ‘you are on your own.’ We are saying that nothing must happen to Jonathan because if anything happens to him, the world will know. The arrogance of Boko Haram is un-Islamic. The type of bomb they are using is small. If we begin to throw bombs, nobody will stay in Abuja. We don’t manufacture bomb but we will buy them and dynamites. I started armed struggle in the Niger Delta. It is because of Goodluck Jonathan that we kept quiet. But soon, we will not be able to guarantee our patience any more. If Ijaw people should retaliate, every household in the North will cry. It is the North that needs peace more than us. Everybody must impress it on them that they should sheathe their swords and drop their arrogance.”
The magazine visited a number of barracks across the country to gauge the temper of the military against the tense situation in the country. It discovered that the soldiers themselves appear to be worried about the insecurity and political situation in the country. Four categories of views were discernible. The lower ranks are really unhappy with the security situation in the country. They complained that they are the ones getting killed in the campaign of Boko Haram. They alleged that there is no motivation for the risks they take every day against Boko Haram. They claimed that each soldier on 24-hour special duty against the sect gets paid N500 a day as allowance, making a total of N3,500 weekly and paid at the end of every week. “For N3,500 a week they want us to die for Nigeria! God forbid!”, said one soldier.
As the security situation worsens, military authorities are unhappy that no fewer than 33 out of 36 states of the federation have men of the Nigerian Army complementing the police to protect the citizens. Muhammad Abubakar, a major general and General Officer Commanding the Second Mechanised Division, Ibadan, speaking in Osogbo at the launch of a new security outfit for Osun State last week lamented the precarious security situation across the country involving kidnapping, terrorism, oil bunkering, ritual killings and other criminal activities, which he said made it impossible for the army to stay in the barracks. He said that, ”the task of security is the primary responsibility of the police but we cannot continue to pretend that we are safe and we cannot like this. Security has become worrisome in the entire nation.”
According to a cross-section of the lower rank, their emotions could be summarised as disillusionment with democracy. They regretted that after voting massively for Jonathan he has not displayed enough leadership in the management of national security. They also feel that the upgrade of the military hardware for an anti-terrorism campaign envisaged by the over N929 billion budgetary allocation to security is too slow in coming and they are daily exposed to danger. But a security source said some of the military hardware cannot be picked up from the shelf, and therefore have to be ordered for, which takes time.
The middle-level officers on the other hand, believe that they are better off under a democracy. Some explained that the era when a clique determined the career progression of an officer is gone. For the top-level officers, they said they are satisfied with democracy but complained of certain indecisiveness on the part of the President.
In the event that the anger becomes apparent in the barracks, are the politicians not giving soldiers an excuse to upstage democracy? That will be far-fetched, as some military officers insist that the country is now ‘too complicated’ for a coup to succeed. Not only that, some statesmen are said to be making efforts to ensure that matters do not degenerate to that level, so that the country would not become a laughing stock in the international community.
Bola Koleosho, a brigadier-general and director, Army Public Relations, told the magazine last week that the army is being transformed positively under democracy and are happy to be subordinated under the civilian authority (See box). He also confirmed the claim of the lower ranks that they are paid N500 a day as allowance. However, he explained that it is just pocket money and an addition to their salaries.
Outside the military, the environment also appears too complicated for a forceful takeover of government. Despite the security challenges, there appears no persuasive and legitimate reason for anybody to contemplate a military takeover, which appears to be what Boko Haram wants to precipitate. Communication is easier today but it could turn a double-edged sword for coup plotters. Whatever form of communications they adopt, except telepathy, could be intercepted. The command structure has been diffused, and each officer has his sympathies.
Perhaps, that is why Dokubo says that in the event of a war there will be no Nigerian army. He is suggesting that should there be any violent change of government; soldiers from the southern part of the country would rise against it. Another complexity that makes a coup unviable is the zone of origin saga. “Will you remove Jonathan and put a northern military president? Will you remove him and install a South-south junior officer and retire everybody above him? This will lead to a blowout and confirm the feeling of the Niger Delta that Boko Haram was dusted up to oppose Jonathan,” said a retired military officer who did not want his name in print, last week.
There is also the economic consideration. The Niger Delta insists it owns the oil that funds the national budget. And Dokubo has warned there will be no oil to export if ‘anything’ happens to Jonathan. The ex-militants had demonstrated enough capacity to cripple Nigeria’s oil production when they reduced crude oil production from 2.4 million barrels daily, mb/d to about 700,000 mb/d. That reality forced the federal government to resort to the Amnesty Programme. Today, oil production is over 2.6mb/d.
There is also the international community to consider. The global tide is against military governments. In Africa, Nigeria has been at the head of resisting military takeover of civilian governments across the continent. In Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Niger, Ivory Coast, Congo and other turbulent African countries, Nigeria had led African Union resistance of forceful change of government. In West Africa, Nigeria has stabilised Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, as a democracy compliant sub-region. Nigeria has demonstrated sufficient leadership in Africa regarding the advancement of democracy and any military coup will be an aberration. Consequently, any military incursion into governance in Nigeria will be highly resisted by the international stakeholders. Besides, any forceful change has the dangerous potential of working towards the prophecy of a possible break up of Nigeria by 2015.
Perhaps like his kinsman Dokubo, Jonathan appears convinced that any attempt to remove him forcefully from power would upset the nation’s apple cart and cause a chain of unpredictable events that may lead to the disintegration of the country. He is said to believe that he and the South-south hold the aces in terms of being in charge of the nation’s cash-cow, crude oil. Head or tail, they have something with which to bargain and attract other geo-political groups besides the North. It is believed that his agenda is to survive the till 2015, cause some reforms and bid for a second term.
But will he survive till 2015? If he does, the North is thinking about how to stop his re-election. Constitutionally, nothing stops him from running for a second term. In this, Jonathan and PDP face an unenviable dilemma. If things stay like this till 2015, he would not be a sellable candidate for 2015 election. So how does the ruling party field him and retain power, if the alliance between Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, works out? How does PDP negotiate their sitting President out of power?
Some leaders are also worried about Jonathan on the issue of trust. He promised to do only one term but his body movements suggest he will take another shot at the presidency in 2015, irrespective of his scorecard. The public perception of the ruling party is plummeting. However, if Jonathan delivers on his transformation agenda, nothing stops him from re-contesting in 2015. He has good ideas and if he succeeds in a photo finish he could pull off a re-election. But time is not on his side; his administration has been greatly distracted by the myriad of conflicts, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency. That is why his supporters allege that the North is using Boko Haram to handicap him from working and achieving visible success.
Additional report by Tajudeen Suleiman