It is difficult to explain why President Goodluck Jonathan, a man who hardly shows emotion, has become so irritable in the past one week. Not only did Jonathan expose his repressive qualities last week, he also showed his inability to be diplomatic in his public utterances.
The most recent comment that Jonathan made in the public sphere depicts him as a man, who is increasingly getting fidgety just about every subject.
On Tuesday last week (4 March 2014), Jonathan cautioned state governors, who criticise him and his government that such behaviour would cost them the development of their states. He cited Peter Obi, outgoing governor of Anambra State, as a model that other governors, who have been hostile to his government should aim to ape.
Jonathan told his audience: “A number of politicians feel that the best thing to do is to be abusing Mr. President, abusing the Federal Government and so on. You are elected to develop your state, I think the best thing is to have good relationship with the centre, whether you have a pin or you don’t have but one day, it will come. Wearing boxing gloves, jumping into the boxing ring to face Mr. President does not help the development of any state.”
Jonathan made his comment when he received a delegation of Anambra State indigenes, who expressed gratitude to him for the assistance he delivered to the state during Obi’s tenure.
As if he was on autocue, Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, expressed similar sentiments when he said: “It will be difficult for any governor to make any meaningful impact without the support of the Federal Government. I have served under three presidents and I can say the difference.”
My first reaction to Jonathan’s outrageous and imprudent comment was that the president had got it wrong. If Jonathan intended to intimidate state governors by threatening to withhold federal resources from those states administered by headstrong governors who challenge the authority of the president, he must be advised that he has overstated his powers. No state government deserves to be deprived of its lawful entitlements from the Federal Government regardless of the nature of the relationship between the president and the state governor.
Jonathan believes the reward for governors who maintain a warm relationship with the president should be the accelerated development of the states. That is an authoritarian and overbearing impression of how states should relate to the Federal Government. It should never be encouraged. Whether a governor maintains warm or cold relationship with the president should not determine the level of federal assistance and resources that should be provided to the state.
Jonathan seems to superintend a little world in which a state governor who plays the “good boy” can expect to be rewarded with some incentives from the president. I am not persuaded that a democracy functions well when a president and state governors maintain a kind of master-servant relationship. It is odd. It is appalling. This weird perspective seeks to repress the right of state governors to express their opinions freely, including opinions that may be critical of the president and his style of leadership.
A democracy works best when opinions clash in a marketplace of ideas, where citizens have the free space to express themselves. Governors, as elected representatives of their states, must be free to criticise the president, particularly when the president is seen to be moving in a wrong direction.
I have heard Jonathan’s defenders argue clumsily that there must be a difference between governors who constructively criticise the president and those who consistently insult the president. I do not share that view. Criticism or insult, a president should be mature enough to absorb insults in the same manner he enjoys fawning adulations from his supporters.
In a multiethnic and multicultural country such as Nigeria, there is no way a president or governor can satisfy everyone. Some people, including governors, will always find fault with the president, just as ordinary citizens do. A president must take the good and the bad. While some people will commend him, others will subject his actions and opinions to severe criticisms. These are elements that nourish a democracy.
Nigeria’s political space is large enough to accommodate all shades of opinion. Disagreement with the president does not imperil our democracy. Governors whose views differ with Jonathan are not obstacles to our democracy. Jonathan is not immaculate. He has his flaws in the same way that governors have their blemishes. There is absolutely no need for Jonathan to feel that only those who flatter him are the people whose views count or the people who should be rewarded.
One governor who has consistently criticised Jonathan and maintained a chilly relationship with the president is Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. Amaechi has never hesitated to make it clear to anyone keen to hear that he has little regard for Jonathan. Amaechi is one of the estranged PDP governors who openly declared their contempt for the party leadership at state and federal levels. He has now left the PDP.
When Jonathan said that governors who criticise him risked damaging the interests of their states, he must have flashed one eye in the direction of Amaechi, and other recalcitrant northern governors such as Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State, Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto State, and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State who left the PDP to join another party. Jonathan must have also directed his criticism to Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State.
In principle, misunderstandings between the president and state governors should not affect federal allocation to states. Jonathan was elected to govern all the states as the general overseer of the nation. No one should be interested in how the president relates with state governors. The key concern should be the obligation of the Federal Government to deliver to every state what each state is entitled to by law. No citizen of any state should be disadvantaged just because the state governor does not idolise the president.
As president, Jonathan is not a superstar and he must not see himself as one. Jonathan is not president of a state or a collection of states. He is the president of Nigeria. The president was elected to serve the people of Nigeria, not to cater for the interests of people in one part of the country.
Jonathan and some state governors who have left or are threatening to leave the PDP must not engage in the silly politics of reprisal that could rob the citizens of their entitlements to federal resources.
Of course, it is true that the wages of a prolonged conflict between some state governors and Jonathan could be federal disdain for the welfare of the people of the state, in which ordinary people could be loser. However, Jonathan must be careful not to visit his anger on the people of the states just because he does not have cordial relations with the governors. No matter what a state governor says publicly about Jonathan and the Federal Government, the state must receive its full statutory allocations and in good time too.
Perhaps Jonathan made that statement fully aware that in our current federal system, the states are at the command of the Federal Government in regard to resource allocation and distribution of services. Despite this unequal relationship between the states and the Federal Government, a smart governor should not demean himself or stoop too low to appease federal authorities in order to attract federal resources to his state. In practice, resources are allocated not to the office of governor but to the people. Governors serve as the people’s representative. Ordinary people should not suffer because of the politics of vengeance that requires a governor to maintain a warm relationship with the president.
Further evidence that Jonathan is becoming intolerant of the opposition and the freedom of movement of party members to join other political parties was displayed last week when he said in Minna, Niger State, that PDP members who defected to other parties were ungrateful. He said the five former PDP governors who joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) were on a self-imposed exile. He questioned how former members who gained advantage from the PDP as governors and ministers could abandon the party and make insalubrious comments designed to damage the party’s image.
Speaking as if he was already on election campaign mood, Jonathan said the APC represented an animal that changed colour frequently and therefore should not be trusted. He is entitled to his opinion.
It is difficult to understand why Jonathan is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the opposition and the right of governors to criticise his government. Perhaps, he is feeling the pressure on him to clarify whether he would contest the 2015 presidential election. Perhaps, his uneasiness could be attributed to the growing number of PDP members, including federal and state parliamentarians, who have abandoned the party to join the opposition.
Whatever might have snapped at the president, it is obvious that something has stirred him to reveal the ugly side of the president, who, for many years, has been perceived as an unruffled political leader. Is Jonathan as unflustered as we are made to believe?