By Olalekan Adetayo
President Goodluck Jonathan reads Nigerian newspapers. He does not only read news stories, he also enjoys the cartoons inside the newspapers. That much was given out when he kept referring to an unnamed newspaper for publishing a cartoon that went sarcastic about his promise that Nigeria will soon be exporting cars.
I have seen his aides many times carrying the President’s bunch of newspapers religiously behind him when travelling abroad so that he can be reading them inside the aircraft. In some of these foreign trips, they take these local newspapers into his hotel rooms even before the arrival of his luggage.
Despite his love for reading newspapers, however, I have not seen any piece, whether in form of an opinion, column or letter to the editor, written personally by the President. The best you can see are those written by his handlers or spin doctors under different strange names.
It was therefore surprising penultimate Friday when an opinion appeared in the Washington Post under the name of President Jonathan.
That piece titled “Goodluck Jonathan: Nothing is more important than bringing home Nigeria’s missing girls,” was published at a time the online media were awash with reports that the present administration had hired a foreign firm to launder its image. It also came shortly after some presidential aides travelled abroad and featured on some foreign broadcast outfits in their desperate bid to convince the international community that the government is tackling the security challenge in parts of the country headlong.
Interestingly, the issue the President dealt with in the piece also had to do with security. He used the avenue to explain why he had remained silent on efforts being made by security agencies to rescue the over 200 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok, Borno State by members of the Boko Haram sect on April 14.
Jonathan said he decided to keep silent because he did not want to jeopardise investigation into the matter. He however regretted that his silence was being used by critics to suggest inaction or weakness. As usual, he vowed that his government would not spare any resource until the girls are rescued and their abductors brought to justice. He, of course, could not give a timeline on when the girls should be expected back home.
The piece, expectedly, went viral on the Internet and many local newspapers reproduced it in form of news stories on Saturday. Why can’t Mr. President write such piece and make it available to local newspapers? Why can’t he grant interviews to local newspapers apart from very rare chanced interviews at the scene of bomb blasts or at venues of events? Does he owe foreigners explanations than Nigerians who voted him into power? These are questions that he and his handlers alone can answer and they are also issues for another day.
Naturally, the President’s opinion generated reactions, both positive and negative. The more pronounced among the reactions was the one published by another foreign newspaper, the New York Times.
The newspaper in its editorial titled “Goodluck Nigeria” accused Jonathan of playing what it described as “newspaper column diplomacy” with his piece that appeared in Washington Post.
The newspaper stopped short at saying the President will not fulfil his promise of bringing back the girls when it said that the same Jonathan who said he would ask the UN General Assembly to establish and coordinate a system to share intelligence among other things was the same leader whose military initially claimed it had freed the girls, whose wife’s anger was directed at Nigerians protesting the government’s inaction rather than the kidnappers and who presides over Africa’s largest economy and fourth largest armed forces.
We are waiting for the next foreign newspaper in which the President’s next piece will appear. Especially as the 2015 general election approaches, one just hopes Jonathan will not take to foreign media to declare his interest to seek second term. After all, he chose Facebook to declare his interest in the 2011 election.
Jonathan and the burden of ‘orders from above’
“Orders from above” is said to be a phrase made popular during military rule. It was used to attribute some actions to the military leaders without necessarily mentioning their names.
The language is gradually creeping back into the polity. Ahead of the Ekiti governorship election won by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ayodele Fayose, some governors were reportedly stopped from entering the state about 48 hours to the election. Like the popular “oga at the top” episode, security operatives who barred the governors and their entourage were reported to have said they were carrying out “orders from above” and the All Progressives Congress held the belief that that could only refer to Jonathan.
There was also a time when soldiers declared war on newspaper distributors across the country. They impounded newspaper delivery vans, confiscated their contents and destroyed some. Newspaper houses lost millions of naira to that ugly development. By the time the public rose against that act, the only explanation the soldiers gave was that they acted based on “orders from above.”
Recently too, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, had a brush with soldiers in Kaduna. The soldiers had stopped him and insisted on searching his car as his convoy made to drive into Hotel 17, the venue of an international conference on security in Africa.
After a brief altercation between his security details and the soldiers, Tambuwal was said to have left the vehicle in anger and walked down to the venue. Again, “orders from above” was mentioned and Jonathan is the one on top there.
Also, the recent move by members of the Adamawa State House of Assembly to remove the state governor, Murtala Nyako; and his deputy, Bala Ngilari, has been attributed to “orders from above.” In this case, the Presidency was specifically mentioned, forcing the presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, to come out to deny the claim.
“When people have headache, they will attribute it to President Jonathan. When they sneeze inside their houses, they will attribute it to the President. They will even attribute a change in weather condition to Mr. President,” Abati had told me in an interview.
Presidential way of breaking Ramadan fast
The month of Ramadan is here again and Muslims all over the world are currently engaged in the religious obligation which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
President Jonathan is not a Muslim but he has been taking part in this spiritual exercise (or so we were told) since his assumption of office. Apart from fasting, the President had also, in the years past, taken it upon himself to host different categories of Muslims to traditional breaking of fast in his official residence.
During the week, Jonathan had broken fast with top government officials, including Vice President Namadi Sambo, ministers, Head of Service and the National Security Adviser among others. When Abati posted photographs from the unique session on his Twitter handle, one of his followers demanded whether the President too was fasting to which the presidential aide replied “yes.”
More groups such as Islamic clerics, and elder statesmen will still join Jonathan to break their fast in a presidential way as the exercise progresses.