Presidents are not judged simply by what they do but by how adroitly they respond to the peculiar exigencies of their time. It was always going to be the case that President Goodluck Jonathan would be judged by his handling of Nigeria’s national security crisis. Considering the tragic routinization of death and destruction and the privatization of violence by non-state actors, the commander-in-chief could not have expected any less.
The constitution states that, “The security and welfare of the Nigerian people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The sequence is significant. Security is the basic condition of society without which there can be no welfare. Under Jonathan’s administration we have witnessed the mass murder of conservatively over ten thousand Nigerians, the displacement of 1.5 million people by terrorists, the dislodgement of 3.3 million people – the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa – and the loss of some 20, 000 square kilometers of sovereign Nigerian territory to insurgents.
While Jonathan points to his accomplishments (and they do exist) in agriculture and infrastructure, it is his miserable handling of the security crisis that will likely define his presidential legacy. His campaign ads may flaunt pictures of newly installed trains and highways but dead people cannot ride trains or appreciate macroeconomic abstractions. Undoubtedly, the Chibok girls and their grief-stricken parents – tragic symbols of Jonathan’s indifferent leadership – are unenthused by his administration’s infrastructural gains. Most Nigerians just want to regain a sense that their lives are worth protecting.
Nigerians may have been willing to forgive Jonathan’s fatal dereliction of his duties as commander-in-chief had his responses to incidents like the Chibok abductions, the Nyanya bombings last year and the more recent slaughter in Baga not displayed such a blatant indifference to the plight of his compatriots. If the Chibok debacle witnessed his government responding with the haste of a paraplegic tortoise and the Nyanya bombings formed the morbid backdrop for a political rally the following day in Kano, where he bizarrely chose to dance on stage; observers were genuinely mystified when in the aftermath of the recent Baga massacres, Jonathan kept silent but swiftly sent a solidarity message to France over terror attacks in Paris.
Jonathan has been defended as a well-meaning neophyte in security matters, heavily reliant on his defence chiefs and security czars. However, the national security crisis has exposed much more than his lack of pedigree in security issues; it has highlighted a basic emotional unintelligence and an appalling failure to appreciate the crowd-pleasing optics and sonics that citizens expect of the man sworn to protect them.
The president has contrived to miss several opportunities to demonstrate executive resolve. Abba Moro, the Interior Minister who oversaw the fraudulent recruitment exercise into the immigration service that cost twenty young Nigerian lives in stampedes remains in the cabinet. Jonathan remains bafflingly beholden to the defence chiefs under whose tenure the insurgency metastasized into a programme of jihadist colonization. Vital national security functions such as maritime policing have been outsourced to a presidential crony – a transaction that has coincided with a spike in oil theft and piracy.
Whether through deliberate maleficence or involuntary incompetence or both, Jonathan’s abysmal statecraft is eroding Nigeria’s national security with an unacceptably heavy cost in Nigerian lives. The impression that this president was promoted beyond his competence by serendipity is unavoidable. In 2011, an unsuspecting electorate mistook his mild manners and self-effacement for virtues but the presidency demands far more than an avuncular disposition.
An election is typically a referendum on the incumbent. Aware that their principal’s record cannot bear clear-eyed electoral scrutiny, Team Jonathan has tried to focus attention on the challenger. However the question is not whether Muhammadu Buhari is qualified for high office (which he undeniably is) but whether Jonathan deserves a second term. The Jonathan campaign has deployed libelous innuendo, ethno-religious chauvinism and character assassination – all vain but understandably necessitous diversions from the real issues such as the incipient economic crisis, the imminence of austerity measures, the administration’s dire financial stewardship, the promised forensic and evidently phantom audit of the opaque Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, his sanguine tolerance of high level graft, serial failed promises to end the insurgency and the unforced errors that have made Nigeria a global punch line.
Jonathan has failed to weave his few modest achievements into a winsome narrative. A campaign which should have rebooted his presidency has instead yielded more counterproductive soundbites. Having criticized some politicians for sounding like touts, Jonathan’s campaign has itself frequently peddled the indecent and the indecorous. From Ayo Fayose’s repulsive death wish ad to Vice President Namadi Sambo’s abhorrent invocation of religious hatred, Jonathan’s men are plumbing the sewers for campaign material.
The most troubling aspect of Jonathan’s campaign is its cynical exploitation of our religious and ethnic fault lines to set Nigerians against each other – a ploy that detracts from the president’s already diminished stature. The ironic result is that the supposedly archaic opposition challenger has run the more issues-driven campaign while the incumbent traffics in disinformation, distractions and distortions. Thus, all that a purportedly transformative five-year presidency can offer is the backhanded argument that Jonathan is the certified devil to Buhari’s unknown angel. The leadership of the world’s sixth largest democracy deserves more edifying campaign rhetoric but Jonathan is clearly needs the debate mired in the gutter. This readiness to polarize the country and to appeal to our basest instincts rather than the better angels of our nature is one more reason why Jonathan does not deserve a second term.
Image sourced from www.pointblanknews.com