Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jonathan: An Unlikely Avenger

By Amanze Obi
I am fascinated by the brewing effort by the authorities to package and sell our ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, as an avenger. A section of the media had reported that the former president was involved in the formation and ongoing activities of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). The story was not speculative. It was declarative enough. If your imagination, like that of many Nigerians, has been saturated with the oddities that change has inflicted on us, you cannot but see the new image being foisted on Jonathan as comical, and therefore, fascinating. It will provide us with the opportunity to be treated to some more histrionics.
*Jonathan and Buhari
According to the newspapers that carried the ‘scoop’, the story is the product of an intelligence report.  The report claimed that Jonathan started meeting with the avengers before the 2015 general elections.  The militia group, it said, was put in place to respond in prescribed ways should Jonathan lose the elections. One such way was to do what it is doing at moment. The renewed militancy in the Niger Delta region is, therefore, believed to be the product of Jonathan’s loss. That is the story before us.
But we must note that before its recrudescence, militancy has been an issue of concern in the region. The return of civil rule in the country after many years of military interregnum brought with it a new fervour. It provided the citizenry the opportunity to let off steam. The military muzzled free speech. Civil rule was the obverse of that.
It was in the wake of the new order that some elements in the oil-rich Niger Delta, who felt that they were not getting their due from the oil exploration and exploitation in their domain began to raise voices of dissent. They queried the situation where the goose that lays the golden egg is being starved. Their repudiation and rejection of this state of affairs eventuated in the agitation for resource control. That was the political angle to the agitation.
But it also had a military wing. Some angry youths, who do not have the patience for verbal engagements resorted to brute force. Many took to oil bunkering. They needed the proceeds from the crude to line their pockets and feel a sense of belonging. If they could not share in the oil wealth legitimately, they can, at least, help themselves with the crumbs.  It was in this way that some of them seized oil and gas installations and bombed them at will. Those who stood in their way, especially foreign nationals, were taken hostage and freed only when some handsome ransom was paid.
As should be expected, the unwholesome activities of the militants pitted them against the government. But it took ex-president Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme for some level of sanity to return to the region. The Jonathan administration, being an offshoot of Yar’Adua’s, also enjoyed relative peace from the Niger Delta militants.
But all of that have changed under the Muhammadu Buhari regime, owing largely to the disposition of the president to the Christian South. The president’s actions and inactions, so far, give the impression that he wrested power forcefully from an enemy and, as such, the enemy must be stigmatised and punished. 

This disposition of the president is bound to elicit some reactions and responses from the affected section of the country. That explains the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta and the new and forceful dimension the Biafran agitation has taken. This is a familiar story. It is the story of our present state as a country.
But there appears to be a twist in the tale. The new dimension to it all is the story that Goodluck Jonathan is an avenger. This tag flies in the face of what we know. Jonathan, the man, who, contrary to expectations, ceded power to his opponent cannot reverse the gains of his action by being a member or sponsor of the NDA.
Before we stray further afield in this matter, we need to remind ourselves that Jonathan could have remained in office if he wanted to. Some of us blame him for permitting the open-air electoral robbery that the Buhari camp engaged in, in order to have an undue advantage at the polls. But Jonathan will tell you that he saw through the desperation of Buhari and decided to let it go for the sake of the lives of hundreds of innocent Nigerians, who would have been slaughtered had Buhari not realised his consuming ambition. By his action, Jonathan surprised everybody, including Buhari. Jonathan’s action, to all intents and purposes, transcends self. He did it in the interest of the nation. Nigerians, the ultimate beneficiaries of the ex-president’s action, may not appreciate its gains, but the larger world does. That is why the man’s profile has risen.
But even if we do not remember him fondly for his patriotism, we should not, at least, demonise him unjustly.  I see pettiness in the brewing effort to give Jonathan a bad name, using the activities of the avengers as a ploy. It is cheap blackmail, pure and simple.
It is even worse for Jonathan’s traducers to escape into the convenient world of probe. We are being told that the avengers are up in arms against the Buhari administration because of the corruption battle he is waging against oil thieves and treasury looters. This recourse to moral rectitude whenever some people want to talk about Buhari has begun to sound inchoate. It has become too choreographed to appeal to discerning minds. Those who make a singsong of this nothingness should remember that not all of us are fools. Buhari is not the moral agent they think he is. If he is after some alleged treasury looters, he is doing so not to rid Nigeria of the cankerworm of corruption. He has other motives most of which are self-serving.
Rather than worry about the avengers, those who are making a fetish of the so-called anti-corruption battle should advise the president to redirect his energies to worthwhile engagements. He should be told to discriminate less in his actions. He should stop reveling in triumphalism and using same to inflict mental pain on those he feels he has conquered. It is cheap for a president, who is supposed to be the father of all to act in ways and manners that suggest parochialism and incivility.
It is, indeed, parochial for a government that is saddled with a myriad of national issues to seek to dwell in this pettiness. What do those interested in this matter understand by Niger Delta Republic? Why are they imagining that there can be anything so called? The fact of the matter is that the agitators are drawing attention to themselves. They are doing so because there is no mechanism of engagement, coming from government. The avengers or any other militant group in the Niger Delta region do not have the capacity to seek for a separate republic. Government ought to understand this fact. That is why it is laughable to suggest that the avengers planned to declare a Niger Delta Republic in the event that Jonathan lost the 2015 presidential election. If the matter was as serious as that, why then did Jonathan cede power to Buhari?
The point those who are shooting recklessly should appreciate is that government is not a tea party. Governance is not about scare-mongering. It is about policies, programmes and projects. The present administration will be doing itself and Nigerians a favour if it puts on its thinking cap so that Nigerians will have something positive to remember it for. A resort to cheap blackmail will not help.
*Dr. Amanze Obi, former commissioner for information in Imo State, writes a weekly column for a national newspaper


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