Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Implications of Jonathan’s unpardonable pardon

Uche Igwe
A man who has no tincture of philosophy passes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from habitual beliefs of his own age or his nation, from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man, the world seems to become definite, finite and obvious; common objects rouse no questions and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected
Betrand Russell
Since President Goodluck  Jonathan announced a pardon for his former boss and ex- governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and others last Tuesday, many Nigerians have, understandably,  been incensed by his action. Realising the blunder, his handlers in the Presidency and other apologists immediately swung into action, struggling  in the last few days to offer either a justification or at least an explanation to douse the fury of both the citizens and friends of our country. It may be true that the President ‘innocently’ exercised his constitutional right and tried to spread the largesse to other geopolitical zones. It may also be true that the beneficiaries — at least in the case of Alamieyesigha and Shettima Bulama — have suffered enough and might have become “sober” and remorseful. It could also be possible that this could be yet another script in the well-crafted dance drama that will water the ground for the eventual announcement of Jonathan’s formal interest in the Presidency, come 2015. It may even be just a simple token of gratitude to a former boss who plucked him from relative obscurity to limelight.  Whatever the reasons that anyone can conjure, what is clear is that this may turn to be one of the “daftest” and most politically-disastrous decisions that the President has ever taken. Simply put, he goofed. The revelation that some of those in the list had benefited from the same thing or something similar, whether called clemency or pardon, makes the whole exercise even a bigger caricature. I do not want to be drawn into the difference between pardon and clemency. I leave that to the lawyers among us who delight in ontological promiscuity. Rather, I will try to draw out three probable political extrapolations from his action. The first is superlative political insensitivity. The second is naïve confidence in his instrumentality of manipulation. The third is ignorance of the possible global repercussions of such an action.
Frankly speaking, the political support of President Jonathan is diminishing by the day. There is hardly any week that passes by that he will escape the critical radar of the Nigerian public. He has been very slow in delivering on any of his campaign promises. Electricity supply is still unstable nationwide. The security in the northern part is worsening despite celebrated rhetoric to contain it. Decaying infrastructure litter the country. High level corruption and impunity have been going on unchallenged in our public service. Many governors and even his own appointees do not seem to respect him. The verdict on the street is that he lacks the courage, somebody said the balls to play the ball, to appropriate the powers of his office to cause improvement in the lives of citizens.  Therefore, one should naturally imagine that it is only an insensitive politician that will be seeing all these as they are and still go ahead to take any decision that potentially narrows down his/her political support. By the action of pardoning Alamieyeseigha at this time, the President has portrayed himself as a politician who is not only tactless but  out of touch with the pulse of the street.
Another reason discernible from such an action at this time could be that Jonathan has received assurances from his strategists that all is set to manipulate the polity and possibly maximise the rigging machinery to his advantage. They may be thinking that 2015 is already a fait accompli. His recent moves to capture the soul of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party has yielded fruits with some of his loyalists now in charge of vital party organs.  A few others in the party hierarchy who are not necessarily supportive of him are now busy with one case or another and so they have been taken care of. The President’s men have also invaded the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. The agenda ostensibly is to castrate the “overbearing body” and enthrone a leadership which will be a rubber stamp in endorsing policy positions that are pleasing to the President whether or not they reflect the aspirations of the Nigerian people. The offspring of his desperate approach is the PDP Governors’ Forum — a coalition of cronies, which is set to do the President’s bidding and who has sworn to cleanse the party of alleged ‘Judases’.  If all these machinations and shenanigans succeed, a smooth ride will be provided for the emergence of Jonathan as the “consensus” candidate of the ruling party come 2015. With an adequate financial war chest allegedly accumulated already and well-oiled machinery, the ruling party will aim at foisting an unpopular candidate again on the Nigerian people. How can a man who is aware that his lieutenants are putting final touches to such a  “master plan” give a damn about taking unpopular decisions?
The third and probably most important dimension is the insinuation (nationally and globally) that granting the pardon is tantamount to high level endorsement of corruption. The question in the minds of many relates to the kind of perception this will trigger in the global community and its consequences on the image of the country. Corruption hurts. It portrays state institutions as ineffective and diminishes a nation’s ability to attract foreign direct investment, leading to lower growth rate, stumpy GNP per capita, poverty and inequality. Since the Obansanjo era, Nigeria has been posturing in the war against corruption through the establishment of anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. These efforts, however, have been dismissed by many as largely selective and hypocritical; however, it earned the country some mileage in the perception of the world. Pundits believe that Jonathan’s action has just landed a big blow on whatever remains of the war against corruption. Granted, the President may not be vast in international affairs to know that what powerful countries and potential allies think about his leadership style is important; but at least he should know that his so-called transformation agenda will make little progress unless investors have confidence enough to bring in their resources to partner him in delivering the deliverables.
In drawing my conclusion, I want to deliberately ignore the incompetence evident in the handlers of the President and the blunders they often commit. Rather I want to dwell momentarily on the person of the President. The famous philosopher Betrand Russell, in his book, The Problems of Philosophy, reminds us of “an instinctive man” — one who is shut within the circle of his private interests, family and friends and who considers the outer world only from the lens of how it helps or hinders his instinctive wishes. Such a man possesses an arrogant form of dogmatism and lives a life that is in a “constant strife between the insistence of desire and powerlessness of will”. That sounds to me like a picture of what Jonathan personifies.  But a President of such a complex country like ours needs to break away from such a beleaguered fortress. He needs the impartiality of deep contemplation to weigh every action he takes no matter how urgent. He needs to see the bigger picture.  In short, he needs a tincture of philosophy. The other option is to pretend or grandstand and continue in that imaginary confinement until 2015, when the righteous anger of the Nigerian people will likely prevail.

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