- Salisu Suleiman for Nigerians Talk, part of the Guardian Africa Network
- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 April 2013 14.47 BST
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
There is a joke about a morgue attendant who was so used to seeing dead bodies that one day, when a supposedly dead body started twitching, his response was, “this is the morgue, not the emergency room”. He promptly smothered the twitching body until it was well and truly dead. “That’s more like it”, he said, as he sat down to guard the cabinet full of dead bodies and to wait for new arrivals.
In many ways, the way Goodluck Jonathan has handled the affairs of Nigeria since becoming president can be likened to that of the morgue attendant. And worse still, Nigeria under his administration has grown to become a vast, sprawling mortuary where deaths and dead bodies do not seem to matter at all. In the aftermath of Jonathan’s visit to Maiduguri, the trouble northern city under attack by Boko Haram, in security operatives reportedly dumped about 70 bodies at the morgue, up from the daily average of 10 or 20.
Like the morgue attendant in the story, when about two years ago, the Borno state Elders Forum met the president and asked him to order the withdrawal of troops from Maiduguri to enable them take a different approach against the jihadist group, Jonathan flatly refused. In the two years since, how many more lives have been needlessly lost in the fighting? His attitude seems to be, “I’d rather preside over dead bodies than save lives”.
Accepted, Jonathan took over a country that was severely distressed. But what is the job of the president? For someone who has spent the last 14 years in power at the state and federal levels, the excuse that he is still studying the situation is one of the lamest apologies in political history. Either deliberately or inadvertently, like the morgue attendant, Jonathan’s actions and inactions all seem geared towards killing Nigeria off once and for all.
Why was it that when he was eventually shamed into visiting northern Borno and Yobe states by opposition governors, his response to calls for an amnesty for Boko Haram was, “We can’t grant amnesty to ghosts”. Within a week of his mindless retort, another 25 Nigerians had been blown to smithereens in Kano. Since he can’t grant amnesty to ghosts, perhaps, he can grant amnesty to dead bodies?
Incidentally, more and more Nigerians are beginning to suspect that the deteriorating security situation may be more than the handiwork of Boko Haram. More than ever, there are growing fears that some, if not many of the attacks attributed to Boko Haram may be the work of other “ghosts” beyond the militants, whose ultimate objective may be to divide Nigerians further along ethnic and religious lines for political advantage. The very nature and timing of some of the attacks on churches and some ethnic groups lend credence to that supposition.
Is this the same Jonathan who told us on his inauguration that, “Today, our unity is firm, and our purpose is strong, our determination unshakable. Together, we will unite our nation and improve the living standards of all our peoples whether in the north or in the south; in the east or in the west. Our decade of development has begun. The march is on. The day of transformation begins today. We will not allow anyone exploit differences in creed or tongue, to set us one against another?”
Perhaps, Nigerians should not be surprised at what Jonathan has become. From the supposedly timid state governor and vice president, we now have one of the most calculating and thick-skinned leaders, totally deaf to criticism. The only thing on his mind seems to be to retain power beyond 2015 while allegedly helping friends and cronies accumulate wealth. After all, when he was asked about politicians declaring their assets in public, he said: “The issue of public asset declaration is a matter of personal principle. That is the way I see it, and I don’t give a damn about it, even if you criticise me from heaven.”
Which is why the condemnations of the pardon he granted to Diepreye Alamiesegha, a former state governor who stole millions of dollars and jumped bail in the UK after disguising himself in as a woman, are likely to fall on deaf ears. It is why, even with a daily income of $224 million, Nigerians are among the poorest people on earth. It’s why we have 68 million people unemployed; why Nigeria is the most corrupt nation in the world and why studies show that a child would be off being born in Somalia, Mali, Chad, South Sudan and other war-ravaged countries than in Nigeria.
Jonathan’s well-paid and ill-mannered army of internet and media warriors may sing his praises to high heavens and work hard to distort any discourse about the woeful failures of their paymaster, but they cannot hide the fact that, under Jonathan, Nigeria has become a vast mortuary where death and tragedy are routine. And like the morgue attendant, the president seems intent on smothering all remaining signs of life.
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