Ever so distinguished from the South-South Governors’ Forum, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF has often been widely touted as the oracle of Nigeria’s South-South Zone. To that extent, the organization has in its own right become very important not only to the Niger Delta Region but also to the entire country. So, it wasn’t much of a shock to observers of Nigeria’s socio-political development when in anger, it literarily descended on the Buhari administration recently. The organization described the Buhari administration naming Agbor Railway Station after former President Goodluck Jonathan as meaningless and belittling to the person and stature of the former President. And many, many Nigerians agreed with that assertion.
A statement credited to Hon. Ken Robinson, National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF said it was even worse that after the so-called honour by the Buhari administration, the government went ahead to name several other stations after so many other Nigerians. The organization went on to emphasize that though all the other railway stations were named after prominent and deserving Nigerians, if the gesture was truly an honour done to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, there would have been no reason to name several other stations after numerous other Nigerians. President Jonathan should have been distinguished for who he is, and for what he means to Nigerians and to the world.
The statement said it was improper, incongruous and completely unacceptable that one of several railway stations in the country would be named after former President Jonathan. Moreover, there was no other former Head of State or President that a railway station was named after, which glaringly made the so-called recognition a mockery.
PANDEF rightfully demanded the immediate reversal of the naming of the railway station after former President Goodluck Jonathan and suggested that instead, a befitting national infrastructure be named after him. If indeed President Buhari sincerely wanted to honour former President Jonathan in terms of naming an infrastructure after him, it should be something befitting his status as an ex-President. For instance, what could possibly be wrong with the democratically elected pioneer President of Nigeria from the South-South geopolitical zone having the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State, named after him? That would fall in line with the level of recognition given to similar levels of government Chief Executives.
Lagos international airport was named after a former military head of state, Murtala Muhammed. Enugu international airport was named after a former governor of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Akanu Ibiam. Imo airport was named after a former governor of old Imo state, Chief Sam Mbakwe. How then could President Buhari have thought it expedient to name a mere train station after ex-President Jonathan? That gesture, many Nigerians saw not only as derogatory but as a direct insult on the stature of the former President. And so, PANDEF called on the former President to reject the dishonourable gesture.
Ex-President Jonathan, more than those who occupied Aso Rock before him, deserves to be celebrated by the people of Nigeria for many reasons. And no gesture should be considered too special in doing so because he deserves the best. Jonathan struck publicly as a man who clearly knew where he was leading his country to, and what he was doing with the fate and fortune of his people. And that was very important.
He came across simply as a man who was committed to do his best to make his country a better place for both citizens and foreign residents. He also came across as a man who knew from his experience as a university teacher that it was not going to be easy to please every Nigerian all the time. Yet he worked assiduously and to the best of his ability to make his countrymen and women happy people. He, more than any other President before him committed his entire efforts into entrenching a solid foundation in the country’s arduous march towards true democracy.
In all the 60 years since Nigeria had self rule, no other President had the same level of comportment in bearing the name-calling, insults and derogatory languages about him as Dr. Jonathan did with his fellow Nigerians. Despite what they now know under the Buhari administration that they had falsely accused him of doing or not doing whatever it was, he felt at home with them as their President. His high office often humbled him. Any other President before or even after him would have hounded those he saw as his detractors into prison and some of them would have died there while in detention. Not Jonathan.
Jonathan often said that he did not want to run after every Nigerian who hurled an insult on him because such a move would only corrode the foundation of democracy that he was laying for the country. He often defended himself when he was likely to hurt the ego of law enforcement agencies and insisted he did not want them parading fellow Nigerians on the television unless their cases had gone to court and they had been convicted as criminals. He did not want Nigerian citizens paraded as suspects because parading then before they were convicted would tantamount compromising their human rights.
In one interview in Nigeria, President Jonathan was asked if he thought there were national issues he handled imperfectly as President. He said yes. He was open to his conscience. He was frank to the nation. He spoke of his handling of the Boko Haram insurgency. He confessed that his administration had underestimated the strength and level of commitment of the enemy. Possibly, the fact was that he was not well briefed at the time, which could have been why he told Nigerians that Boko Haram had penetrated into even his government.
Jonathan was fully aware that what actually brought his government down with both Nigerians and foreign observers was the issue of Boko Haram. Although the threat of terrorism was a global issue, many Nigerians believed that the Jonathan administration did not handle the Boko Haram insurgency the way it was supposed to be handled. But even as a military general and a northerner, has Buhari handled the Boko Haram issue any better? How many times, in comparison, did the National Assembly convene to request that Jonathan sack his Service Chiefs, alleging they were incompetent? Not once.
When Jonathan was Vice-President, his avowed commitment was to stabilize the country by conducting free and fair elections. That was his keen interest. Indeed, the country stabilized and conducted elections which both Nigerians and foreign observers agreed were the best so far in the political history of the country. Jonathan felt that a large part of his initial plans for Nigeria had been achieved, and that his second tenure administration would focus on other issues. But that second tenure never came. And recently Buhari signed a bill into law which prohibited a second tenure for any President who completed the tenure of his principal.
Despite all those challenges that faced him, it would probably be right to assert that it was ex-President Jonathan who laid the proper foundation for democracy to thrive in Nigeria. Talk of free and fair elections. Even by congratulating Buhari before the results of the elections were announced by the Independent Electoral Commission, he not only saved several lives of young-adult Nigerians that would have been murdered in the sort of post election violence that usually marked elections in Nigeria, he also told the world that his ambition to stay in office was not equal to a single drop of the blood of a Nigerian citizen – thus sending the message across to Nigerians and to the world that politics in the country should no longer be regarded as a do or die affair.
In an attempt to bridge the yawning educational gap between the north and the south, Jonathan built very many Almajiri schools in the north. He was bent on taking young northern children away from street life and crime to a safer environment where education would mould their character and make them more useful to themselves and their society. He built six more federal universities in the north, all within his one tenure of leadership.
After so many decades of neglect, it was Jonathan who put back train services on the social map of Nigeria. APC inherited that vision from him. It was Jonathan who signed the freedom of information into law, thus making it possible for Nigerians to hold public officers accountable for how public funds were dispensed with under their watch.
Considering all these and more legacies Dr. Jonathan bequeathed the country, the recent call on President Buhari to rescind the naming of the railway station after ex-President Jonathan is perhaps the clearest indication that those who live in glass houses should endevour not to throw stones.
Jonathan was inadvertently being smuggled by President Buhari into the “Class of 1966” and into the Cult of the “Horse Riders” of Nigeria. Those fellows always had a culture of vendetta and a culture of challenging each other. Call them the gallant men of Nigeria if you like. I think that is how they see themselves. And their stake: chivalry, fame, money and vendetta. It’s all part of being a state actor.
Jonathan and his admirers should not sleep over that understanding. There are only three Presidents who are still alive since Nigeria regained democratic rule in 1999 – Obasanjo, Buhari and Jonathan. And I think I should analyze this trend a little bit more.
When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Nigerian did a stint as a military head of state and two terms as civilian head of state, the northern oligarchy immediately saw it as a challenge that must be countered. No other Number One citizen attained that height before Obasanjo. And the north won’t let the south get away with the “superiority complex”.
So, Buhari, a northern Nigerian, came forward to be counted. He had been a military head of state and now he is doing his second term, to square up with Obasanjo’s tenures. But like people who know him closely and those who have had course to study him and his life’s journey say, Obasanjo is a man endowed with native sense, just like Buhari is also.
Obasanjo was born on 5 March 1937 and is currently 83 years old. Buhari was born on 17 December 1942 and is presently 78 years old and obviously a younger man than Obasanjo. Both lost their fathers when they were young and had to be brought up under the eagle-eyed supervision of their mothers. Jonathan was born on 20 November 1957 and is currently 63 years old and also a younger man than Buhari. Together they now complete the post 1999 presidential triumvirate.
Obasanjo saw that Buhari was “coming up”. He observed that Buhari was determined to do a second tenure in other to catch up with him. What did he do next? He enrolled in the Open University for a PhD. He was 82 years old when he bagged his PhD. And that was the challenge Buhari, his rival was to face at the expiration of his second tenure as a democratically elected President. Trust me if I told you that this was the main reason why Obasanjo got back to university at the age he did. He would like to know how far his military-cum-political rival would go in meeting his challenge.
God did not create all fingers equal but man seems to think it is possible for all fingers to be equal. It was then left for Buhari at his age go back to the University to read for his own PhD. Who knows if he would accept the challenge and do so since it is part of the culture of being the Number One citizen? It was a typical challenge from a fellow horse rider and fellow member of the Class of 1966. Even Jack Gowon went back to school after being Nigeria’s military head of state for very many years and he knows all this, even though he considers himself as superior as Emeka Ojukwu in their army days. It will indeed be interesting to see how Buhari would react to this challenge from an elderly colleague.
Meanwhile, it very much looks like he has made his plans. He must not lose track. There are only three Presidents since Nigeria came back to democratic rule in 1999. So, Buhari must apply his native sense to fall Jonathan, his younger colleague, in line. And to do so, there must be a diplomatic way to bring him down. A railway station could be named after him, possibly to humiliate him. It would not be desirable to name another station after any other Nigerian President dead or alive. Only Jonathan!
In such a way, Buhari might be able to summon the courage he would need to read for his own PhD after his tenure. He must prove to the world that what one strong man can do another strong man also can. But it is beginning to look like for once, perhaps, Buhari’s plan will not work. It could even backfire if that inferior honour on Jonathan who had a PhD before Obasanjo was not rescinded with the expediency it deserved. Understanding the politics of Nigeria’s No. 1 citizens can be intriguing and very interesting at the same time. But just as PANDEF demanded, President Buhari’s best bet would be to rescind the naming of that Agbor Train Station after President Jonathan.
By Chief Emeka Asinugo, KSC