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Published On: Tue, Jun 16th, 2015

Now, how will he govern? (3)

Threats & dangers to the Jonathan Presidency

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Conventional wisdom is that the result of the last presidential election was simply a matter of an unpopular President Goodluck Jonathan losing to a more popular candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Well, it’s not really as simple as that. Over three years ago – indeed, shortly after his election in 2011 – I had done a-3-part series, which eerily predicted the outcome of Jonathan’s administration and his eventual electoral fate.

I am reproducing the article here for you, dear readers, to see for yourself how history often repeats itself. And how right I was three years ago …. The series began last month

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President Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence was as we would say in football lingo, against the run of play. It is only the brinksmanship of an Obasanjo, with his prodigious strength of character, that would have made a President Jonathan a credible possibility. But the lesson of Nigeria’s history is that it is one thing to attain power and quite another thing to exercise power effectively.
Part of the unsavoury consequences of the civil war is the irrelevance of the former Eastern region in Nigeria’s power equation. Since the end of the civil war, the areas consisting of the old Eastern region have been almost excluded from the inner caucus of power in the country. So they have been unable to develop the structures which underpin political power at the centre.
As a result, Jonathan emerged President on a very weak footing. His weaknesses were immediately apparent. His initial step of reaching out to Rtd. General T.Y. Danjuma was an act of desperation, signaling his helplessness. Danjuma was to be his stabilizing force. Since then of course, he has made a few appointments especially within the military and intelligence circles to reinforce his position and anchor his power more firmly.

But is that enough? Is he now strongly entrenched enough to exercise power and authority firmly as Executive President, in the manner of his predecessors? Is he able to project authority in the way the constitution envisaged or is he going to be a cipher, a titular head who would reign while others rule? Given the wide spread angst against his presidency within certain section of the North; is there a possibility, no matter how remote, of a repeat of the July 1966 crisis? More importantly, does Jonathan realize the historic significance of his presidency and its symbolic importance to millions of Nigerians, especially in the South East and South South? Does it matter to him that over 90% of eligible voters in these regions voted for him? Did he get the message they were trying to send? And if he did, how does he intend to respond?
In order to resolve these posers satisfactorily, we would identify the several indices of power and determine how President Jonathan weighs against each.

Military/Security Power
From the outbreak of the war to the emergence of Jonathan as President, the military and security services were dominated by the North and the South West. Indeed, Northern dominance of the Nigerian Armed Forces started with the civil war and continued thereafter. Before the war, the Armed Forces and Security services were more diffused with very significant Eastern region presence. The first Chief of Army Staff, the late Maj.-General J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi who later became the first Military Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was an Easterner. There were several other ranking Eastern region officers in the various arms of the Armed Forces. But the civil war affected the make-up of the armed forces fundamentally.
The Federal Forces consisted mostly of Northern and South Western officers. So by the end of the war, the Nigerian army effectively became the army of two regions; North and South West, with the former being the dominant group. Sir Ahmadu Bello’s prescience in promoting Northern influence in the armed forces, paid off handsomely. Thus in an era when Nigeria was ruled by the military, the country became a defacto government of the Northern army.

The Northern influence in the Nigerian military was so permissive that Hausa language became the unofficial lingua franca of the military. This columnist has it on good authority that even during meetings of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, AFRC, the Hausa language was often freely used. Apart from Obasanjo who became Commander-In-Chief by virtue of the death of Gen. Murtala Mohammed, the only other non-Northerner to head the Army was Lt.-General Alani Akinrinade (rtd). Before him, no other Southern officer rose to the rank of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) considered to be the most strategic appointment in the military. It was Obasanjo who tapped him for the office at the eve of his exit. However, Akinrinade’s tenure was cut short by the first civilian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari who brought in a Northerner to replace him not too long after his assumption of office. His replacement resumed a long tradition of Northern dominance of the position. Interestingly, it was the same Obasanjo who appointed another Southerner, General Azazi to be the second Southerner to head the Armed Forces after Akinrinade, in post-war Nigeria. It is noteworthy that Yar’Adua brought in a Northerner to replace Azazi during his tenure.

It is therefore obvious that the Armed Forces is strategic and crucial in the control of political power, even in a democracy. Tunisia and Egypt provide enduring lessons on the relevance of the military. In both countries, the refusal of the military to support their beleaguered Presidents marked their downfall. On the contrary, both Maomar Gadhafi of Libya and Hafez Assad of Syria have continued in power because of the support of their military. Given the increasing security challenges in Nigeria and the growing possibility of sectarian conflicts, the importance of the armed forces cannot be overestimated. Thus for Jonathan to be firmly in office and in power, it is clear that he must be in control of the military and security forces. He has made a good start in that regards. But it is not enough to take control of the leadership of the armed forces. He has to critically examine the officer corps, the Divisional Commanders, even brigade commanders and other strategic units and intelligence arms. The struggle for power in Africa and indeed elsewhere in the world is not a tea-party. For a President to succeed in a turbulent democracy such as Nigeria’s, where the institutions of state are so weak, he has to develop a strong personality and dominate the political space. Obviously, a vulnerable President cannot dominate!

Wealth and Access to Money
Money is very central to political power, even in the United States, which many regard as the ideal democracy; money is the most crucial determinant of power. In Nigeria where wealth is usually a derivative of power, it means that since the Eastern region has been cut off from the power loom since the war, many Easterners have not been wealthy. Now I do not mean the two-bit millionaire Igbo traders. I mean the kind of wealth the Abachas, Abdulsalamis, Babangidas, Tinubus, Obasanjos, etc have accumulated. If you really want to know who and who are really rich in Nigeria, then check out the list of oil dealers; those who lift oil and those who own oil blocks. One other irony of the Nigerian state is that though the oil is located in the East, those who have benefitted mostly from it are not Easterners.

… to be continued

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