Analysis: Why Lame Duck Goodluck Jonathan ‘Fires’ On All Cylinders

imageAS a lame duck, President Goodluck Jonathan should by now be packing his papers and belongings, getting set for the exit door, as a new president takes over on 29 May, 2015.
But the Nigerian leader, reputed for weakness, has of recent been firing from all his cylinders, rewriting what a lame duck presidency should be, damning in some cases the consequence of his actions.

In the battle against Boko Haram insurgents, President Jonathan appeared set to complete the job of routing the men who probably accounted most for his electoral loss, egging his military commanders to push harder into the last stronghold of the rebels in Sambisa. Close to 500 women and children have been recovered from several camps in the forest, but elusive is the biggest prize of all: recovery of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls, the kidnapping of whom gave Jonathan a bad reputation across the globe, as an uncaring leader.

Although his successor, Muhammadu Buhari canvassed for votes on the promise he would make the nation safer and rid it of Boko Haram insurgents, President Jonathan has vowed to thrash his baggage himself by handing over a country completely free of insurgents. Suddenly, a lame duck president is in resurgence, imbued with energy and spirit to deliver on what he failed to do since 2009.

This week, as the incoming president inaugurated a 19 man transition team and set terms of reference for it, the response from the Jonathan camp was that the incoming team was trying to set up a parallel government. A minister who spoke on behalf of the president after a Federal Executive Council meeting warned the new men at the gate: President Jonathan is still in charge and will be so till 28 May.

When the president-elect announced his plans to probe the alleged missing $20 billion oil money, Jonathan ordered the release of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit of the NNPC accounts, between January 2012 and July 2013, adding that he ‘has nothing to hide’. The president had kept a lid on the report first submitted in November 2014, with an updated version submitted in February 2015.

President Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect in Abuja recently

Not that any one doubts that he remains Nigeria’s caretaker till the date scheduled for the change of baton, he has confounded observers about the significant moves he has been making and even his comments, suggesting that the votes his defeated PDP got were ‘suspect’.
After the 28 March election in which he was roundly defeated by the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, the first casualty of Jonathan’s fire was the head of the police, Suleiman Abba, who he appointed over many seniors in August last year.

A statement released by Reuben Abati, his spokesman, did not state any reason for the sack and only stated that the police boss leave office immediately, evoking the military spirit of the 80s and 90s.

The lack of explanation only spurred speculations that the police chief, Abba was removed to settle an ‘unspoken’ score, connected with the election.

In Nigeria, the past 16 years, elections were won by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, with the active collaboration of the police machine. The police helped to arrest opposition leaders, even snatch and stuff ballot boxes. But this year, nothing of such happened, except in the notorious states of Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta, where people’s votes do not really count and where private armed thugs, working in league with the police and the military, normally hijack the democratic process.

In Suleiman Abba’s case, he was said to have issued instructions to the police in all formations, not to get involved with the elections, unless an instruction came directly from his office. And so, the elections were conducted in many parts of the country, with very isolated incidents, leading to the first victory by an opposition candidate, against an incumbent.

Analysts thus interpret the sacking of Abba as part of last-minute score settling, especially since President Jonathan had approved huge money to the police to ‘facilitate’ their assistance during the polls.

Analysts also interpret the new appointments being made by Jonathan as part of ‘patronage’ politics.

One clear case of that was the appointment of former governor Peter Obi as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Obi was the former governor of the eastern state of Anambra and was elected twice on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.

No sooner Obi finished his term than he joined the PDP, becoming one of the biggest campaigners for Jonathan’s re-election.

Apart from Obi’s appointment, Jonathan also appointed a new person to head the SEC. Similarly he fired the heads of the Nigeria Ports Authority and the National Health Insurance Scheme, appointing instant replacements.

Will these appointments stand, with the lame duck presidency just weeks away from exiting from Aso Rock?

Some analysts say the appointments are essentially futile apart from being done to water the political patronage industry

Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in the capital Abuja, says there can be several reasons behind Jonathan’s moves.

“It’s really directed at the specific individuals, either against or who may have angered him. Or he’s trying to reward people who have been, who have offered some support,” says Nwankwo.

Government officials have been forced out of office by scandals before. But Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, managing director of the Center for Public Policy Alternatives in the commercial capital Lagos, says the changes at these agencies seem retributive.

“Up till the point where they were fired, nobody was screaming for the head of the port authority [to be dismissed]. And nobody was demanding that the inspector general of police be discharged. So it wasn’t some sort of uprising against these people,” says Gbadebo-Smith.

University of Ibadan political science professor Adigun Agbaje says Jonathan may have faced pressure from within his party to shake up agency heads as part of the PDP’s long-term strategy.

With the days counting, the nation awaits further actions from the very active ‘lame duck’ President Goodluck Jonathan.

*With VOA interviews

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