To understand the Jonathan Presidency, we must return to its roots in the Yar’Adua era and trace developments therefrom. The Yar’Adua presidency at its inception announced a seven-point agenda, focusing on key issues of power and energy, Niger Delta, land reform, national security, wealth creation and employment, transportation, and food security and agriculture.
The objective according to the then President was to reduce poverty in a country where more than 70% of the 150 million population lives below the poverty line, on less than a dollar per day, ensure peace in the troubled Niger Delta region, achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals, and fast-track the country’s development process. President Yar’Adua in a remarkable show of candour also admitted publicly that the 2007 elections which brought him and others to power was indeed flawed and that there was an urgent need for electoral reform to which his administration was committed. This raised a critical question of legitimacy but whereas Nigerians may have been suspicious of the PDP’s performance in the 2007 elections, they seemed willing to give the new administration a chance.
It was the first time since 1960 that two university graduates would take charge of the reins of power at the top. This in a way underscored the importance Nigerians attach to education, but the output from the administration would end up a telling comment on Nigerian university education. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had a Master’s degree in Analytical Chemistry, he had worked as a college teacher, and in his early days, he had been a fire-brand Marxist, one of the radicals from the North despite the aristocracy of his pedigree. He had also served in Katsina state as Governor for eight years. He was 56. His Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, 50, had a Ph.D, had also been a college teacher, worked in a development agency, and served as Deputy Governor and Governor. The duo may not have been the best leadership materials that the country could have at the time but it was assumed in many quarters that they would understand the issues at stake and go to work in the public interest.
The first signs of trouble had occurred long before Yar’Adua took office, but more trouble became evident when the administration could not put a cabinet together on time, and when it did, it was an uninspiring team, many of whose members were meeting the President for the first time. The new Federal Government also displayed much indecisiveness as it found itself in a difficult situation whereby early policy decisions were soon reversed and so much intra-governmental dissonance was advertised. The most celebrated in the latter regard was the announcement of a redenomination of the Naira policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which the Presidency claimed it had no knowledge of, and which it ordered Charles Soludo, then CBN Governor to reverse; his complaints that he was backed by the CBN Act notwithstanding. Senior government officials routinely contradicted each other, showing a seeming lack of direction.
One of the arguments that the Obasanjo team had put forward in the lead up to the 2007 elections was that the Yar-Adua-Jonathan ticket would be in Nigeria’s interest, because it would be a government of continuity; and that the foundations that had been laid by the Obasanjo administration would yield bountiful fruits under Yar’Adua. This did not happen. One of the first things the Yar’Adua government did as it settled down was to distance itself from the Obasanjo legacy. The so-called Obasanjo boys who had expected to be rewarded for their contributions to the Yar’Adua campaign were marginalized and replaced with a Katsina mafia which surrounded the new President, that Mafia would soon assume the title of a cabal before the end of the Yar’Adua Presidency. Jonathan was an outsider to that group.
In due course, President Yar’Adua settled down fully in office. Some of the highlights of his administration included the launch of an amnesty programme in the Niger Delta which served the purpose of helping to reduce the national security crisis in that region, albeit poorly conceived. The President also set up a committee on the power sector with a promise that he would declare a state of emergency in that sector. The country’s power supply crisis was already almost an intractable problem with many companies relocating from Nigeria on that account. The emergency that was promised was never declared.
However, in a speech he delivered on May 29, 2009, to mark Nigeria’s Democracy Day, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua offered his mid-term report and gave himself a pass mark: He said among other things that his administration had made tremendous impact in the country’s agricultural sector in two years, by constructing five agro-export conditioning centres and 10 rice processing centres. He claimed also that his government had increased irrigated land from 4,000 hectares in 1999 to 150, 00 hectares, and a N200 billion long-term concessionary loan had been instituted for large-scale farmers. ?
He cited the Niger Delta as a region where “our agenda for the resolution of the developmental problems of the region” was being successfully implemented. In addition to a Niger Delta amnesty programme, his government had also created a Federal Ministry for the Niger Delta, saddled with the task of providing infrastructure and employment. He added: “We also have retained the Niger Delta Development Commission as a Federal Government intervention agency and ensured that its statutory allocations are paid in full…Knowing that these efforts and other developmental efforts will be ineffectual if there is no peace in the region, we are taking necessary steps to ensure greater security in the area…Our offer of amnesty to militants in the region who lay down their arms remains on the table.”
The speech also referred to the Petroleum Industry Bill which the Executive had submitted to the National Assembly for consideration; which when passed into law should result in far-reaching reforms in the extractive sector which accounts for 99% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. This was to be complemented by a restructuring of the downstream sector for greater efficiency and transparency in addition to self-sufficiency in domestic petroleum refining.
The administration by May 2009, had also submitted to the National Assembly seven bills on electoral reform, sequel to the establishment of the National Electoral Reform Commission led by Justice Muhammadu Uwais, and the consideration of that Commission’s report. Yar’Adua further promised Nigerians a target of 6, 000 megawatts of electricity by December 2009. He said: “I am pleased to report that we have taken concrete steps towards meeting this target and achieving 10,000 MW by early 2011.”
“We have also provided US$ 1.5 billion for investment in gas network infrastructure which will, among other things, ensure the adequate supply of gas to our thermal stations.” His administration according to him, had also awarded contracts for the rehabilitation of 34 Federal Highways across the country at a cost of about N140 billion in addition to completing 13 major highways inherited from the previous administration.”
This was the last major report President Umaru Yar’Adua presented to Nigerians before his death a year later, possibly one of his last public appearances before October 1, 2009. Positive as the report sounded, very few Nigerians were impressed. The Yar’Adua Presidency was widely considered to be rather slow and ineffective, so much that the President was given the sobriquet - “Baba Go Slow”. Many of the achievements he claimed raised more concerns. The Federal Ministry of the Niger Delta was another bureaucracy, with the appointed Minister Ufot Ekaette embarking on a wasteful familiarization tour of the region, even when he is from that same part of the country.
The so-called amnesty programme by 2009 was already failing with no hope of sustainable peace in the Niger Delta. Both the Presidency and the National Assembly had played so much needless politics with electoral reform and the report of the Uwais Commission, that the seven bills submitted to the National Assembly made complete short-shrift of the core recommendations of the Commission on the independence of the Electoral Commission, its funding, and the system of elections. More than 140 billion had been spent on roads, but across the country the state of public infrastructure remained deplorable. Till date the disbursement of the N20 billion agric fund is a subject of official mystery.
For two years, the government could not address the crisis of electricity supply in the country, and whereas there was so much to be done in terms of development projects, every December, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) ended up returning money to the treasury simply because they had not done anything in the course of the year. In 2008, there was the celebrated scandal of such monies being shared by Federal Ministry of Health officials in collusion with members of the Senate! There were also many untidy developments: the removal of Nuhu Ribadu as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the attendant politicking which gave the impression that the Yar’Adua administration was not so committed after all to the fight against corruption. There were also allegations of a re-Northernization of the Federal Government, particularly of key government departments.
But the bigger source of concern was the failing health of President Yar’Adua. This had been a major issue during the Presidential campaigns of 2007, with persons who knew him reporting that the only reason Katsina state under his watch as Governor did not spend so much money was because the Governor was on sick bed most of the time. Nevertheless, he won the election and became President because he was the man that former President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted and whom he swore would succeed him. It did not take long before Nigerians knew the truth: they were saddled with a sick President. There were reports of Federal Executive Council meetings being cancelled because the President was indisposed. He also travelled abroad frequently for medical treatment, first to Germany and later Saudi Arabia. He was Chairman of ECOWAS, but he missed many of its meetings, and also important UN engagements.
The Nigerian press was largely sympathetic however. Yar’Adua’s illness provided a perfect alibi for the slowness of his administration at a great cost to Nigeria. The poser then was: if he had a Deputy who was healthy, why could he not delegate most of his functions, and allow the country to move on while he sought medical help? In Nigeria, processes and traditions that work elsewhere are rarely respected. Since 1999, there has been at both Federal and state levels, a crisis of relationships between substantive political figures and their Deputies (Governor/Deputy Governor, President/Vice President).
When Governors travelled, they often did so with their entire cabinets including the Deputy Governor, leaving the state in the care of either the Head of Service or the Speaker of the Assembly, or whoever would not pose a threat to the Governor. Before the end of their tenure in 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar were sworn enemies. The 1999 Constitution assigns no specific role to Deputy Governors or the Vice President, placing the occupiers of such positions at the mercy of their bosses. The oft-stated consensus among Nigerians is that these are “spare tyre” positions. Ambitious Deputies readily found themselves in the line of fire; various stakeholders have learnt to defer only to the man in power, who also does not usually leave anyone in doubt about the scope of his authority.
President Yar’Adua may have been ill, but he was assertive. He left no one in doubt that it was his Presidency and that he was in charge of it. There was never at any time any public display of disaffection between him and his Deputy but Dr Goodluck Jonathan wielded no extraordinary influence. Members of the Katsina Mafia inside the Presidency were reportedly far more powerful. Aides of the Vice President complained about how their boss’s office was cash-strapped. The Vice President did not even live in the official residence of the Vice president. He was quartered in a Presidential Guest House. It was not until January 2010 that the Federal Executive Council hurriedly and most conveniently approved a sum of N7 billion for the design and construction of a befitting residence for the Vice President. Adamu Aliero, then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory said: “The vice president is staying in a guest house meant for visiting heads of state. It is not right. It is not befitting for the vice president…It is unbecoming for the vice president to stay in a guest house…” This was nearly three years after Jonathan became Vice President!
Members of the Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG) had in fact complained before then that not enough security was being provided for the Vice President. The BBC has described Jonathan as a “low-key deputy to a low-key President” and that if his Vice Presidency was distinguished at all, it was only in terms of the role he played in the negotiations with Niger Delta militants, his own kinsmen. Jonathan, as in Bayelsa, again played the role of a loyal Deputy: he was not a threat to his boss. But his age of innocence ended in November 2009 with developments that thrust him closer to the big job, and serious lessons for Nigeria.
To be continued...