In the end, nothing could save President Goodluck Jonathan. Neither the belated effort, using foreign troops and mercenaries, to roll back Boko Haram’s military gains. Nor the last minute ‘cash and carry’ offensive which saw his aides distribute staggering amounts of cash to traditional rulers and allied political patrons in different parts of the country. Not even, as it turns out, the postponement of the ballot from February 14 to March 28, a six-week extension framed in terms of military necessity, but all too clearly a last ditch attempt to derail the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). To be sure, the postponement allowed the president to make significant adjustments to his campaign, and without doubt the already cash-strapped opposition lost some momentum as it struggled to match the President Jonathan’s determined financial onslaught. But it was all too little too late, and not even his famous good luck could save Jonathan from becoming the first incumbent president in the country’s history to lose to the opposition.
There will be enough time in the months ahead to pick over the bones of what happened in Nigeria last week; why a population so enamored of the president’s ‘by his bootstraps- village boy made good’ story turned so decisively against him. Mention will be made of his handling of the case of the Chibok girls, whose whereabouts, incidentally, one year on, remain unknown. For several weeks after the attack on the village, the president stuck to his improbable story that the reports had been made up by the opposition to denigrate his regime. Fair or not, the entire episode gave the distinct impression that the president underestimated the severity of the insurgency, and had no military or political strategy for combating it.
Mention too will be made of his lethargy in dealing with corruption, or worse still, in a lot of cases, appearing to condone it. Under President Jonathan, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was effectively stripped of its powers. Whilst, in the Obasanjo era, the EFCC at least went after the president’s political enemies, both real and perceived, under Goodluck Jonathan, the anti-corruption campaign was more or less abandoned, and things turned completely farcical after the president openly sought to distinguish between actual corruption and politicians ‘merely’ stealing public money. Suffice to say: it is disingenuous to blame any single person, let alone a one-term president, for all of Nigeria’s corruption woes. The problem is not going to go away anytime soon. Besides, it goes beyond official larceny, historically salient as it no doubt it. Nevertheless, in failing to apprehend, let alone articulate its profundity and dimensions, President Jonathan gave ammunition to those who had always doubted his sincerity of purpose.
Nor will anyone forget First Lady Patience Jonathan in a hurry. Mrs. Jonathan, not unlike her predecessors, took her role as her husband’s first line of defense seriously — perhaps too seriously at times. But unlike previous first ladies, Mrs. Jonathan did not always a draw a line between legitimate defense of the man she is married to, and outright assumption of his official prerogatives. Not exactly blessed with the gift of verbal delicacy, Mrs. Jonathan stuck her foot in her mouth on more than a few occasions, and in the process probably turned a lot of people against her husband. In mitigation, Mrs. Jonathan only went as far as her husband allowed her, and her gaucheries say more about what Nigerians have allowed the office (sic) of the First Lady to become, than it does about Mrs. Jonathan as an individual.
But the capstone impression from the Jonathan years is bound to be about the president himself. Policy fumbles and a trying spouse aside, the fact of the matter is that, ultimately, the president flattered to deceive. Permanently projecting an air of insecurity, not least in matters of diction, President Jonathan was the classic anti-president. He was never quite sure of himself, never really convinced, only fleetingly presidential; a reminder of the painful truth that he only came to power through a series of fortunate events, and lacked the preparation that would have put him in good stead to navigate the rigors of such a powerful office. Which makes the unstinting solidarity of ‘Niger Deltans’ all the more intriguing. It was obvious from the start that President Jonathan was ill-prepared for the presidency at the very moment when the opportunity fell on his laps, and the people of the oil producing states must now rue the strategy of putting all their eggs in the basket of his failed presidency.
If Niger Deltans must regret sacrificing a legitimate political cause on the altar of identity politics, Nigerians in general have every reason to be queasy about the president-elect. That General Buhari means very well for the country is beyond doubt. But it is troubling that, over the course of a long campaign season, he never succeeded in articulating a clear socio-economic program, let alone one capable of launching the country into the twenty-first century. Beyond vague promises about eradicating corruption and enthroning social discipline, the general is yet to explain, for instance, how he proposes to tackle a youth unemployment crisis that is one of the worst in the world.
General Buhari has a mandate to govern, and will have Nigerians’ continued support, especially if he, early on in his presidency, manages to extirpate Boko Haram’s barbarous insurgency. But it is also clear that the country is going to need more than that. The economy, dysfunctional for so long, and practically immobilized by falling oil prices, will have to be revived. At the same time, the faith of majority of Nigerians in the Nigerian project itself will have to be renewed. If, at the beginning, the new president takes too many steps in the wrong direction, the fragile and not particularly progressive coalition that has managed to deliver him the presidency may start to unravel. In that eventuality, what happens next is anyone’s guess.