It was certainly an unimaginable feat of political miscalculation or error of judgment, President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision the other day, to take time off to attend the so-called unity rally of his party in Kano, a day after several Nigerians were murdered in cold blood in Nyanyan, right at his door-step. It was a colossal error of judgment on the part of the PDP and its leadership and in clearly unmistakable terms, it portrayed Mr. President as thoroughly insensitive.
What would make a political campaign or gathering of any sort desirable or worthy of the president’s attendance a day after the massacre of the same Nigerians he swore to protect, by a murderous group his government has found difficult to contain? Shouldn’t the situation have called for sober reflection on the part of the government and the ruling party for two major reasons; namely, that several homes had just been thrown into needless mourning by the dastardly act of the insurgents and would still be mourning at the time Mr. President and his party men were jubilating and dancing in Kano? Secondly, that government had been unable to find solution to the recurrent problem of insecurity in the land and in particular, the Boko Haram insurgency? What the occasion called for, from Mr. President, was total sobriety and an appearance of personal devastation as though he was an uncle or father or relation of the victims of the Nyanyan bombing. That would have been the only way to empathize with those who were bereaved. The day the Kano rally took place should have been the day to summon an emergency security meeting to demonstrate his anger and impatience with those who design and tend the failing security architecture of the country and as a way of assuring Nigerians that he had not resigned to fate.
But President Goodluck Jonathan gave primacy to politicking over and above governance and statesmanship forgetting that he was elected to govern and primarily to ensure security of life and property, a responsibility he has shirked so abysmally and without remorse, as the Kano rally would tend to suggest. Whereas, the surest way to a second term of office, nay victory at the poll, for any elected public office holder is not so much about the number of rallies attended or how much of electioneering he is able to conduct; it is how well the basic things of life have been made available to the citizenry and how well the quality of life has been enhanced. A life that is daily threatened or in constant apprehension of danger is far from being a life of quality. Every citizen, the world over, knows that talk is cheap and that what politicians excel in, particularly in this part of the world, is to say what they don’t mean. So only a handful of people, probably the naïve, get carried away by what transpires at those rallies. In effect, nothing is really sacrosanct about them other than being an avenue to share out largesse to party members who are at the foot of the ladder.
Calling off the Kano rally, therefore, would have been a wonderful symbolic gesture, that would have spoken volume to Nigerians about the quintessential attribute of their president much more than any political rhetoric would. What is more, that gesture would have resonated and achieved much more than his physical presence in Kano. No government, which counts on the vote of the people for victory would demonstrate the kind of insensitivity symbolised by the Kano rally. To say the least, Jonathan’s presence in Kano, in ordinary language, was an affront generally to Nigerians. He should have been willing to forego self-interest, which the Kano rally represented, for national interest, which called for sober reflection and deep introspection.
And that was not the end of the litany of errors. If it was bad enough that Mr. President attended the rally, it was worse that he made there unguarded and highly controversial statements, unbecoming of the exalted office he occupies. So in a way, it is right to say, as many have said that Jonathan’s conduct generally at the rally – dancing and backslapping with his fellow PDP members– at a time Nigerians were mourning, coupled with his altercation with Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso was far beneath his office. The bitter diatribe launched against the governor in his state was capable of heightening tension in the state and a recipe for violence, as idle and fanatical supporters may take up the gauntlet to embark on a free-for-all or acts capable of disturbing public peace. A better conduct is expected of Mr. President at this time when the ship of state appears to be floundering and all appears not to be too well with the polity, symptomised by deep cleavages and political discontent along geopolitical, religious and tribal lines. Intemperate language from high quarters such as witnessed in Kano will only exacerbate existing tension and widen the fault lines beyond manageable proportion. That the president, in a democracy, needs to join issues with the opposition would not avail. Only uncommon restraint and maturity would. A tensed atmosphere is not conducive to the conduct of a peaceful election, meaning that if 2015 election must be devoid of violence, there must be cessation of verbal assaults from the political gladiators. The diatribe in Kano was one too many.
And more important, what the president is doing by his so-called unity rallies amounts to electioneering campaign, a wanton violation of the electoral laws of the land, which spelt out clearly when such campaigns must start. An adjunct of that is the lawlessness of using state resources to prosecute this political jamboree. There is no provision in the 1999 Constitution that justifies this political recklessness at public expense. This again underscores the failure of the mechanisms put in place by democracy to check this kind of excesses. These mechanisms work virtually everywhere democracy is in place. It is not working in Nigeria because of the effect of partisan considerations on state institutions. Party politics emasculate the constitutional organ, the National Assembly, put in place to put the president in check where arbitrary deployment of national resources is involved. Needless to say that illegal frittering of public resources on political rallies is also capable of breeding friction and disharmony in the country, as governors who find this distasteful, obscene and repulsive may never welcome the president to their states, in breach of protocol, as a way of protesting the abuse of office and state resources such rallies represent. This will not augur well for the polity.
Above all, there is little to celebrate in the face of Boko Haram and in the way insurgency is being addressed. A lot more is required to rekindle hope that the battle is not lost and that the insurgents are not achieving their objectives. President Goodluck certainly needs to execute his office with greater competence and grace than he has done.