Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of the Editorial Board of Thisday Newspaper, has done us a whole world of good with his recent book on the 2015 elections: ‘Against the run of play.’ News outlets are feasting on its rich repertoire of elite greed and foibles, especially as relate to the 2015 presidential election, which former President Goodluck Jonathan lost. In the wake of the book’s release, many of the key actors who must have luxuriated in their self-importance and convictions while Adeniyi interviewed them are suddenly seeing their confessions in new light, among them former President Jonathan and APC leader Bola Tinubu, especially in the light of new realities.
First Tinubu. The former governor of Lagos State claims in the book that he had a deal with Buhari to be his vice president based on the merger arrangement of the parties that coalesced into the All Progressives Coalition, notably Tinubu’s ACN and Buhari’s CPC, before the admission of defectors from the ruling party then, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Among these ‘joiners’ is Senate President Bukola Saraki, who worked on Buhari to scuttle Tinubu’s assured VPticket. As reported by The Punch newspaper, Tinubu said: “What they (Saraki and others from the PDP) did behind my back was wrong. We always do things as a group. By the time they joined, we were already too far ahead in our processes but we accommodated them.
“We agreed to take their state structures and subsume them into the part and they all had their opportunity to nominate the candidates of their choices for different political offices. “But they went behind to instigate Buhari and some other people in the party against me on the pretext of religion. That was not right. They were canvassing arguments that the Christians in the North would not vote for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.” In the end he accepted the decision and nominated Professor Yemi Osinbajo for the position.
So it is not too difficult to see why some people define Tinubu’s opposition to Saraki’s emergence as Senate president not within the context of ‘party supremacy’ but within the prism of personal interest and revenge-politics. Aside sustaining the argument of a revenge motive, Tinubu has by his own hand deodorized the Saraki brand, in the eyes of those who seek a national religious and ethnic balance, as the man who is sensitive enough to respect the major group interests in Nigeria, even if for a political motive. Surely Tinubu could not have wished for this kind of outcome. His representative, Tunde Rahman, said as much at the launch, where he was unhappy with the focus on Tinubu’s anger at the loss of the VP ticket and has promised us a book from Tinubu’s stable on the true facts of things. Let us recall also that Buhari’s own commissioned biography by Professor Paden does not permit Tinubu as much of an influence in the choice of Osinbajo. It said that Buhari had a choice of three names: Tinubu and his protégés Osinbajo and Tunde Fashola, and “When the three names were forwarded to Buhari, he chose Osinbajo despite enormous pressure from Tinubu.” Tinubu’s own Environment commissioner in Lagos State and now Secretary to the State Government, Tunji Bello, laid out an account that came across like Tinubu was apathetic to the VP idea after a while and, indeed, discarded the idea himself, when obviously it doesn’t seem a decision taken willingly. But we all know how Osinbajo came about, don’t we?
The reality of a failing APC brand, especially at the centre where the issue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s illness, the obvious dissonance in, and the slow pace of, the government evokes a feeling of déjà vu after the experience with late President Yar’Adua in 2009-2010. This challenges the key political actors to redefine the truth so that the perception they generate must restore their statesmanship and political capital. They could not have foretold that two years down the line the promised change would have dissipated like a bubble, replaced by despair and angst, and the villains of yesterday are looking, well, like benevolent demons. Else, we should have moved far beyond the recriminations over the past, shouldn’t we?
On Jonathan’s part he railed, against the PDP National Chairman Adamu Mu’azu and northern politicians who worked against him. He could be right but even if they were so determined to get him elected, the lessons from the riots and killings post-2011 presidential election were so clear that many of them simply made a rational choice; they could have been dead meat if Buhari lost. For Jonathan not to see this reality bothered me, even then. Jonathan cast his loss in rather unfortunate terms. For him it was about the north against him and his ambition, not about complaints of corruption and weakness. It is an absurdity that a Nigerian politician would not understand that geopolitical interests are not matters to whine over, especially when you don’t have the numbers.
Jonathan was the incumbent, even if unfair (and this is not an endorsement), he could have strategized and executed an Obasanjo-type script earlier on, not late in the day when matters have gotten tense and eyes were on him. The 2003 and 2007 elections were adjudged some of the worst in Nigeria’s history, with instances where results were written on pieces of paper and announced pronto. INEC chairmen appointed by President Obasanjo conducted those elections and while the world cried hoarse, Obasanjo maintained his grounds that the elections were credible. It was our truths against his truth. Perhaps Dr Jonathan only needs to look at President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to understand what former military leader General Ibrahim Babangida said after the 2015 election that he (Jonathan) was not weak but inexperienced. There is a reason men like Obasanjo appoint people like former INEC Chairman Professor Maurice Iwu to office very early in the day, lying in wait for the day of long knives!
Posterity would remember Jonathan for being the gentleman and for seeking to follow a responsible path of higher values than a partisan tendency, especially in this case of appointing people to INEC. He needn’t have to tar that image with the statement of northern leaders not supporting him. Already, there are narratives on how Jonathan was framed very early in his day; those are not for the statesman to say.In the aftermath of his loss of power, many commentators posited that President Jonathan was weak and ineffectual. I never felt he was that ineffectual but it was clear that he was too beholden to interests that were not in sync with a progressive cause and some of his ministers were patently corrupt and were protected by him. He also could not discern the moment, that time when character must stand up for something. The signs were all there when the whole country as one rose up that he may be given his due against the cabal that sought to deny him the presidency when President Yar’Adua was clearly ill and incapacitated. And that movement helped him to the presidency in 2011; he only needed to show greater transparency, one that he was so cavalier about, especially on a public declaration of his assets. He still insists that he owes no one a ‘damn’ about not publicly declaring his assets. Jonathan appears not to understand the meaning of emotional intelligence. Surely his upcoming book, too, would detail his account of the 2015 elections, which he seems to have framed already as a rebuttal to the opposition’s account in Adeniyi’s book. The former president’s admission that he had an understanding to do one term in office and ditched it because “you can make a political promise and change your mind, so long as it is within the law” is not only disingenuous, it is politically suicidal. How does a gentleman claim to deliberately dump a gentleman’s agreement? In all his years in and out of office, Obasanjo has never admitted to the existence of a similar agreement to do a term in officethat he discarded, despite extensive claims ofits existence; it is either Dr Jonathan is simply being honest or naïve.
There will be several books on the election, the formation of the APC, the demonisation of the PDP and the truncation of dreams and expectations, we hope, if the huffing and puffing over Adeniyi’s book does not lose steam. When they do come, we will discover that the truths of the 2015 elections, the matters before and matters arising, do have many strands, if not variations. What you believe may well depend on where you stand on Nigeria’s tripodal identity of tribe, religion and political tendency. It is as Michael Scott says of the character Nicolo Machiavelli in his enchanting novel The Sorceress:“Even if he could not see them, several lifetimes of listening to emperors, kings, princes, politicians and thieves had taught him that it was often not what people said, but what they did not say that revealed the truth.” In the end the fine details of the truth of the 2015 electoral defeat of President Jonathan may not be in the pages of the books that will come but in memories wrapped in shame and odium and buried in the many heads that know the truth but cannot say it.