Politics has a way of bringing out the best in people. And the worst, as well. From a meek, likeable and supposedly unassuming deputy governor, governor and vice president, politics has brought Goodluck Ebele Jonathan full circle.
It is difficult to imagine how the affable presidential candidate of 2011, with all the smiles and promises of fresh air and transformation has become the hardened and hard-nosed politician who is willing, ready, perhaps even anxious, to tear down the very democratic structures that made him president, as he seeks reelection.
Maybe one shouldn’t be too surprised; the signs were clear in the way he hunted down James Ibori on the one hand, and then granted a presidential pardon to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, on the other. His approach was also evident in the way he eased out Timi Alaibe from his ambition of being governor of Bayelsa State without a whimper and forced out Timipre Sylva to pave way for Seriake Dickson – all in one motion.
Having settled matters in Bayelsa state, Jonathan’s attention then turned to the wider South South, beginning with his epic clash with Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi. A weaker and less astute politician would have been thrown out long ago, especially after his head-on collision with Dame Patience, but Amaechi is hanging on.
The last salvo has not been heard of this fight, and if Jonathan remains in office beyond 2015, Amaechi, despite his giant steps in Rivers State, may find himself in difficult straits, to put it mildly.
That is because Jonathan may want to affect a mild amnesia, but he never forgets any wrong, and is a master at pulling out the longest knife in every night of long knives. And as the countdown to his expected declaration for 2015 gathers momentum, the president has reached into his selection of long knives.
For daring to decamp to the opposition, Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako, despite last minute entreaties, had to go. Offences he allegedly committed long ago suddenly emerged like a long knife from the grave. For Jonathan, it is acceptable to commit impeachable offences as long as one remains in PDP.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) claims that each member of the state house of assembly was induced with $300,000 to sack Nyako. The acting governor practically confirmed the plot when he declared to the PDP leadership that he had delivered Nyako’s scalp.
Before the dust had settled in Yola, another opposition governor, Umaru Tanko Almakura of Nasarawa was facing impeachment. Like Nyako, Almakura was a former member of the PDP who decamped and succeeded in knocking out an incumbent PDP governor. His crime was failing to return to the PDP after becoming governor.
Tragically, three people have died in anti-impeachment clashes. The APC also claims that N500 million has mobilized to facilitate the impeachment. An opening into the character of President Jonathan was revealed in the way he smiled and joked with Almakura during his official visit to Nasarawa, while fully aware of the plot to sack the governor.
Jonathan also has Edo state in his sights. Reports suggest that £300,000 has been set aside for each member of the Edo State House of Assembly to sack the comrade governor. Removing Oshiomole may not be easy, but the president would have succeeded in putting the labour leader-turned politician on the defensive, too busy fighting to survive to be an effective participant or campaigner for the opposition in 2015.
The war for 2015 has started. The daggers are out and the pretexts, over. The real Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has emerged, and his early tactic is to browbeat everyone into submission, beginning with opposition governors. His dual approach is to induce politicians – not a difficult feat in Nigeria - or that failing, harass those who refuse to kowtow.
But Jonathan is hardly original.
In terms of corruption, the Jonathan administration has been accused of simply lifting monies in tranches from the treasury – including the $20 billion that got the former CBN governor sacked. But that is not a record by any means since oil has been selling for over $100 per barrel for the past several years: Sani Abacha in all probability ‘lifted’ close to $5 billion when oil selling at less than $10 per barrel, with fewer barrels produced and sold.
Similarly, in terms of impunity and abuse of power, Jonathan still lags behind Olusegun Obasanjo, under whom, in the words of Dele Momodu, “several governors were impeached in hotel rooms or legislative houses at gunpoint”, though he is getting close.
The current gale of impeachment is Jonathan’s way of skewing the political calculus in his favour because he knows the level of antagonism to his 2015 ambition, even from within his party. By masterminding the removal of opposition governors, he is sending PDP governors a warning: ‘if I can shoot down brooms from a distance, I can puncture your umbrellas at pointblank range’.
In essence, Jonathan is chewing pebbles to frighten peanuts.