By Sonala Olumhense
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (in white) and his lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, was freed two days after he was sentenced
By the state pardon granted the disgraced former governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha last week, President Goodluck Jonathan confirmed that he does not understand the joke.
One thing is for certain: the joke is on him. Nigeria’s most powerful man, but the joke is on him.
Mr. Jonathan said something of great significance last year. In an interview with TELL magazine, he said, “When I look at some people that shout ‘Corruption! Corruption!’ I shake my head.”
That was exactly three years after Jonathan took the presidency. The statement suggested that he knew how deeply corruption was ravaging Nigeria. But neither in that statement nor in anything else that he told his interviewers did he appear as if he would ever do anything about it.
Clearly, Alamieyeseigha, whom Jonathan tried to clean up last week, was not among those shouting ‘Corruption! Corruption!’
I am not an admirer of Jonathan. I have never admired weak or hypocritical rulers, and last week, he reminded us he is both.
His first defence of the Alamieyeseigha pardon was that it was done by the Council of State, not he. Not true; it was his initiative. Even if someone else managed to smuggle it into the agenda; even if it came from someone who was trying to win favours from him; even if it came from an enemy who was trying to make him look bad, he could have struck out that name, not only was it the patriotic and responsible thing to do, it might have saved his presidency.
When that ruse did not work, he tried to ram the decision down the throats of citizens, declaring he had no apologies for the decision, and that Nigerians will one day thank him for it.
When that patronizing approach failed, Jonathan unveiled the saddest argument: that Alamieyeseigha is a national economic asset who is responsible for the increase in the barrels of oil now being sold by Nigeria. Besides, the President said, the man is sorry.
This is partly why there is so much laughter around Mr. Jonathan that he probably interprets as applause.
But the pardon goes far beyond that. By making it, Jonathan has effectively put himself on trial.
Prior to it, Nigeria was set for a 2015 election that could well have been a referendum on Jonathan’s presidency. In this column, I have pointed out how almost everything that Mr. Jonathan has told Nigerians has turned out to be questionable.
As we approached 2015, he would have had the task of justifying his track record. That would have been a daunting task itself. With last week’s event and the absurd justifications his government came up with, he confirmed that his presidency is not on the side of Nigerians.
That is why he has now unwittingly rephrased the road ahead as his own trial. I am not sure that this is clear to Jonathan. But it is certainly clear to many of the people who are traveling with him. In 2011, he did not have to campaign; he simply showed up at campaign events where somebody gave him a list of promises, tailored to meet local expectations, to read. He read the list and moved on to the next venue.
That is why he wound up with the astonishing list of electoral promises I posted in this column on May 22, 2011, one week before he took his oath of office. He has done everything since then to avoid identifying with those promises, but if he wants to retain the job, he will have to confront them.
In 2011, he did not have to debate anyone. At the only debate at which he showed up, he debated himself. All of that was good for a man who was being swept along by a tidal wave of sentiment; in 2015, he will have to show up at his trial and speak.
There are two obvious problems here. The first is that the people to whom Jonathan was making his promises in 2011 did not know he was from Nollywood. They believed him; it resonated with them that as one who once “had no shoes,” he would bring them shoes. And possibly socks.
But Jonathan then took office, and the only people who have ascended in the world are such men as Doyin Okupe, Tony Anenih and Alamieyesegha.
In 2015, Mr. Jonathan will not have the advantage of a soliloquy. He will campaign, on the basis of his record or lack of it, and answer questions. Unless Anenih and the electoral commission intend to count votes in the dark, it was always clear before last week that Jonathan would have to attend live debates and answer his father’s name.
That was the picture before last week when he announced the pardon to Alamieyeseigha, a pardon, which was stunning only because Jonathan had tried to prepare the ground weeks earlier by declaring the man to be his mentor.
Still, Jonathan ought to have known that the pardon was not a sale he could make. His former boss cannot suddenly become a saint or an admired citizen simply because somebody — anybody — has declared him pardoned. He symbolizes Nigeria’s darkest hour.
By pardoning the man in this way, Jonathan achieves the opposite: he alerts the people of Nigeria to the simple wisdom that, in the end, the people who have driven Nigeria to the edge are sticking together. These people laugh at how easy it is. They exchange favours, from huge massive homes and prime parcels of land in Abuja to massive government contracts and private jets.
That is the reminder that Jonathan provided to the public last week, arguing rather ingenuously — at the same time as he was describing Alamieyeseigha as “hounded,” that the man is sorry.
This explains why the most prominent feature of Jonathan’s administration is its repeated ability to defend and explain. His government has demonstrated a singular lack of capacity to come up with strong initiatives, but even of the everyday clichés it has announced, think about it: when was the first time the government accomplished something it set out to do?
The answer is: apart from an Almajiri school he promised in the North, Never! Instead, the government is loaded with twists and turns, circumventions and circumlocution. He hired the ethically-challenged Okupe, with absolutely no hint of irony, to provide muscle to the image of a weak presidency, adding to the layers of personnel he agreed with Danjuma’s Presidential Advisory Committee he would whittle down. It is a government of defence, the principal business of which is to explain not how something was achieved, but why it was not.
In this one respect, we must concede something to Jonathan: it is consistent. Consistent in a character of negativity and under-achievement; he has no problems digging up dead bodies so he can argue he has provided meat.
Most world leaders are engaged with the challenge of finding a positive message. Our leaders send for the dung that is the product of their malice and their incompetence and call declare it food.
That is why Jonathan has no achievements. If you know of any, please list them next to your name and I would be happy to publish them on this page.
But if he seeks a way forward and an accomplishment he can beat his chest about, let him revert the tragic pardon of Alamieyeseigha he inflicted on Nigeria last week. It is a cynical action for a man who claims to be fighting corruption. It is corruption winning by a landslide, and Jonathan is certain to pay for it.