GEJ, his Military Chiefs, Dokubo and 2015 , By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600In the second part of my two-part piece on President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s offer of amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents published on these pages on April 17, I was cautiously optimistic that the president will hold out firmly against the wishes of the more gung-ho of his military and security chiefs who apparently believe counter-violence was the main, if not the only, solution to the sect’s insurgency. With the president’s recent declaration of a qualified state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, it is now obvious that my optimism was misplaced.
In retrospect, it seems even in my caution I was not cautious enough. First, in his initial rejection of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar’s, earlier call for amnesty for members of the sect, the president had repeated an article of faith of his administration that it couldn’t and wouldn’t dialogue with a group whose leadership was faceless, even though it is not true that the sect’s leadership is faceless. If indeed its leaders were faceless, how did the security forces get the identities of those on its wanted list of the sect’s top leaders?
Second, when the president inaugurated the somewhat unwieldy – in itself perhaps a statement about the strength of his faith in amnesty as a solution to the problem – committee he set up under his Minister for Special Duties, Alhaji Kabiru Turaki, to identify the grounds and possible strategies for amnesty, he said he expected it to perform “miracle.” That was not the language of someone who sincerely believed dialogue had much of a chance in the resolution of the Boko Haram problem.
Having, however, set up the Turaki panel, I, for one, expected the president to give it even the ghost of a chance to succeed. He didn’t. Instead, he found an excuse – albeit a good excuse – in the horrible massacre of nearly a hundred policemen by a hitherto little-heard-of vicious ethnic militia in Nasarawa State, and the earlier but even more devastating destruction of lives and property in Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad in Borno State, to declare his state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States.
It all reminds one of a similar situation about forty seven years ago when the country’s first military head of state, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, constituted a panel under Chief F.R.A (Timi-the-Law) Williams to draft a new constitution for the country as part of his yet indeterminate programme for return to civilian rule. Before the panel could begin sitting, the general enacted his ill-advised Unification Decree which was to trigger the tragic events that eventually led to our three-year civil war which ended in 1970.
The general’s anticipation of the outcome of Chief William’s panel was clearly at the behest of the more hawkish civilian advisers he had surrounded himself with whose triumphalism in their new status as the country’s new kids on the block seemed to know no bounds. Obviously this power hungry lot did not give a damn about the predictable consequence of, in effect, imposing a unitary constitution on a country as varied and as plural as Nigeria.
Of course, 2013 is not 1966. Neither is President Jonathan’s state of emergency the same as General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s unification decree in its gravity for the integrity of our political-economy. However, unless the president, as commander-in-chief, can put a tight leash on his armed forces as they battle Boko Haram, his amnesty may inexorably lead to the fulfilment of the American prophesy of several years ago that Nigeria could become a failed state in a couple of year’s time. Unfortunately, if the record of his control over his military and security chiefs is anything to go by, the omens do not look too good.
Indeed the omens look even worse when you consider the hard-to-deny fact that the president’s men, if not the man himself, seem too obsessed with his remaining in power beyond 2015; a fact attested to by the “No President Jonathan in 2015, No Nigeria” mantra chanted by the likes of Mujahid Asari Dokubo who apparently not only have the president’s ears but have behaved as his un-salaried attack dogs.
Unfortunately for Dokubo and his ilk, but happily for Nigeria, they speak only for themselves and the charmed little circle of those who have profited immensely from the president’s amnesty for the ex-Niger Delta militants, clearly at the great expense of the ordinary people of that oil rich but pauperized region.
The fact is that there are others from the same region who do not share the same enthusiasm for a Jonathan presidency beyond 2015, precisely because they believe the man, as the first president from the region, has made little or no difference to its terrible lot. The Guardian of March 3 carried interviews with four such South-Southerners, none of whom can be regarded as anti-Jonathan just for the hell of it.
All four, Ms Ann Kio Briggs, an Ijaw activist and indeed an unapologetic Jonathan supporter; Chief Frank Kokori, who needs no introduction as a veteran trade unionist; Mr. Okpobari, national coordinator of Ogoni Solidarity Front; and Mr. Aniyakwee Nsirimovu, former chairman of the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation sub-committee of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta, were agreed that their region has been the worse off for all the president has done – or more accurately, not done – to end its pauperization.
Yes, they all agreed, the man has poured tonnes of money into the region but then there has been little or nothing to show for all his efforts. The most obvious symbol of this failure, they said, has been the terrible state of the notorious East-West highway linking the region with much of the rest of the country. In spite of the huge sums voted for the construction of the road year in year out since the presidency of General Olusegun Obasanjo, Ms Briggs said in her own interview, the road “is now worse.” Anyone familiar with media reports of the state of the highway would consider her lamentation a gross understatement.
Amnesty for Niger Delta, they all said, was not just about giving money to those who carried guns. Rather it was more, much more, about removing the region’s infrastructural deficit and ending its people’s abject poverty-in-oil-wealth. In these objectives, they all agreed, the Jonathan presidency has been a signal failure.
However, of the four none seem to have captured the frustration of Nigerians with the Jonathan presidency, especially in the face of the expectations it raised among Nigerians with his “Transformation Agenda,” than Mr Nsirimovu. In what was as much a parody of President Jonathan’s now famous 2011 presidential campaign sound bite about growing up without shoes as it was a repudiation of the threat from the likes of Dokubo that their principal must remain president beyond 2015 regardless of his performance and whether Nigerians like it or not, Mr Nsirimovu said, “For somebody who had no shoes… he has done poorly to relieve others who have no shoes. He has gotten shoes and does not want others to have shoes.”
Mr Nsirimovu’s words may seem terribly unkind but it is the bitter truth. However, it is a truth that the president can still do something about if, as he has often said, he does not wish to go down in History as the last president of Nigeria.
It may be too late for the man to fulfil all his campaign promises, much of which was unrealistic, anyway. But if he can improve the terrible state of insecurity in the land by prevailing on his military chiefs to stop their terrible abuse of the human rights of civilians in their war against Boko Haram insurgency, and if he can also give Nigerians more electricity than he had given them so far and, not least of all, if he can begin to show by example more than by mere words that 2015 is for him not a do-or-die affair, he would have justified his undeclared but obvious wish to seek re-election in 2015, without, of course, prejudice to the constitutionality of his wish which is being tested in the courts.

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