January 19, 2012 / The Verdict according to firstname.lastname@example.org
At the height of the crisis engendered by the controversial return to the country from Saudi Arabia by the then ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in March 2010, I got a text message from Mr. Atedo Peterside, the chairman of IBTC. With invectives which he said he jointly wrote with his wife, (a Yoruba like me as he claimed), there was no unprintable adjective on earth with which Mr. and Mrs. Peterside did not qualify me in the long text message which I forwarded to several people. Mr. Atedo Peterside claimed in the SMS that his wife, whom I have never met, is a psychologist who had diagnosed my character from a distance, and with that the Peterside family decided to damage me with their words. What was my sin? I had joined the Mrs Turai Yar'Adua 'cabal' that was preventing his Ijaw-kinsman from becoming the president of Nigeria !
Interestingly, Mr. Peterside has been very busy in the last one week, jumping from one television house to another, to grant syndicated interviews where he not only talks down on Nigerians protesting the hardship exacerbated by the hike in the pump price of petrol but also attacking some imaginary enemies of the Jonathan administration. What I find particularly amusing about his efforts is that it is now becoming increasingly clear that operatives of the Jonathan administration (and their external storm-troopers) have a way of inventing a 'cabal' whenever they run into a difficulty. It is therefore not surprising that their problem today is also credited to another ill-defined cabal in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. The worry for me, however, is that Mr. Peterside and other Ijaw kinsmen of Jonathan are claiming ownership of, and unwittingly destroying, a president who only a few months ago secured a pan-Nigerian mandate.
It is in this light that I have followed with sadness the utterances of Chief Edwin Clark, a man I have for decades held in high esteem essentially for standing up for the Niger Delta cause which I also identify with both as a reporter and as a government official. But having publicly announced himself as Jonathan's 'godfather', one can understand Chief Clark. That perhaps explains why in the course of the 2010 political crisis he could not even show a little compassion for the man (Yar'Adua) who used to address him as "father", for no other reason than that he ( Clark ) wanted his Ijaw kinsman to be president.
It is, however, not what Chief Clark and some South-south leaders did to Yar'Adua at his most vulnerable moment that is the issue today, it is the violence they are unwittingly doing to the image of President Jonathan. Almost every day now, it is common for one Niger Delta group or another to invent either an assassination attempt or impeachment plot against the president. And following the protests of last week, they are now trying to recreate a president whose support base is restricted to the South-south and the South-east of the country, and yet they don't see anything wrong with that.
Last week, Chief Clark led some respected people from the Niger Delta to allege that some vested interests were trying to hijack the nationwide protests to remove the president from office. According to the group, "the People of the South-south will not tolerate any untoward action or plan against our son, whose actions though seemingly painful in the interim, are geared towards repositioning this country for the ultimate good of all in the future.”
Those who attended the meeting held in Chief Clark's house in Abuja and signed the communique included respected senior citizens like Alabo Tonye Graham Douglas; Admiral F.B. Porbeni; Air Cdr Idongesit Nkanga; Senator Lee Maeba; Senator Felix Ibru; Brig-Gen. Idada Ikpowen (rtd); Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw; Senator Stella Omu; Dr. Mac Emakpore; Patrick Fufeyin; Prof. Saliba Mukoro; Chief Francis Doukpola and Chief Douglas Naingba amongst others. Unfortunately, anybody who has been following the public intervention of the otherwise respected Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Pastor Ayo Oristejafor (also from Niger Delta) cannot but also notice such unnecessarily provocative and clearly insensitive "it-is-our-turn" slant in his utterances.
To worsen the situation, last weekend, Annkio Briggs, a well-respected voice in the Niger Delta and Ijaw leader in her own right, advocated a "protest to occupy our land, water, swamps, mangroves and creeks to protect our God-given resources" because of the "goings on against the person of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, an Ijaw and Niger Delta son, over the past one week," and even threatening secession based on the logic of if "our son" is not good enough for Nigeria, then "our oil" is also not good for Nigeria.
Then on Monday, Mr. Peterside circulated this email (from his i-pad) which I publish unedited: "The President's Broadcast clearly confirms that the FGN has heard the Protesters. Beyond the fuel price reduction (which I commend), he went on to make promises regarding fighting corruption (including action on a forensic audit of NNPC) and accelerated attention to the PIB. Added to his earlier pledge to adopt belt-tightening, he has touched on virtually all the points raised by protesters. The genuine protesters should please congratulate themselves & distance themselves from the miscreants who are still on the streets & will be dealt with by the Police & the Army."
The questions that agitated most people were: When has it become a crime to stage civil protest in a democracy? Does Mr. Peterside also have control of the police and the army? I think someone needs to quietly tell the president that the Ijaw nationalists around him are not helping his cause. They are not only offending the sensibilities of many Nigerians with the way some of them are carrying on, they are alienating the president from the people. But aside the fact that they wear a similar bowler hat with the president and can speak the same dialect with him, do some of these ethnic do-gooders really know Jonathan?
I worked with the president for close to three years then in his capacity as vice president and later as acting president. The main reason I admire him today is because during those crisis days when most people around him were losing their heads, he maintained a sense of perspective. And he refused to be pushed into taking precipitate actions that could have been catastrophic for the nation. He was very decent in the manner he handled the crisis even when some desperate power-mongers around him were not. Notwithstanding the revelations in my book, there were far more insights I deliberately left out in the interest of national peace and cohesion. But Jonathan earned my respect at that most critical period and he is not the sectional leader some of his kinsmen are trying to make of him. I am yet to see a Nigerian like Jonathan whose inner circle would comprise mostly of friends (from across the country) he made in the course of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) almost three decades ago.
Some Niger Delta leaders may find it convenient to forget today but two years ago the most vociferous campaigners for power to be transferred to Jonathan were from the North and South-west. Senate President David Mark will easily testify to the role played by President Shehu Shagari, General Yakubu Gowon and General Abdulsalami Abubakar as well as then Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Kutigi in the bid to get Yar'Adua's handlers to make him send a letter to the National Assembly. And within government, nobody played a greater role in the emergence of Jonathan as acting president than then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed yet the last time I checked, he was not an Ijaw man. While I was not in the country during the election proper, I followed what transpired. Given the manner in which some prominent Northern politicians handled the issue of zoning (asking a sitting president not to run--a very unrealistic proposition), there was ever going to be only one option for the Yoruba people of the South-west: Jonathan all the way!
But sadly, the same Yoruba people have become enemies to Jonathan's handlers because of just one protest that is indeed well justified. Drafting military troops to Lagos when there was no violence in all the protests in the state was bad judgement. Contemporary history ought to teach that nobody tries that sort of nonsense with Yoruba people and get away with it. I make bold to say that it is the height of needless provocation for which there will be serious consequences. In a society with sufficient number of Luca Brasi (for those who have read Mario Puzo's magnus opus,The Godfather), no Nigerian leader can intimidate Lagosians with military troops, not even the late General Sani Abacha succeeded. So if President Jonathan is taking advice from people like Mr. Peterside then he is on a very slippery slope.
At a time like this, what one would expect of those in authority is to sit down and ask why, for instance, the Nollywood actresses and musicians who I gathered were heavily 'subsidised' to sing for Jonathan less than a year ago were singing for free against him last week.
I fail to understand why anybody would imagine that Jonathan will hike the pump price of petrol and Nigerians would clap for him, or even that the opposition would not capitalise on such a measure. It is in the nature of politics for those who have scores to settle with Jonathan, or any leader for that matter, to exploit such policy for advantage and that exactly was what happened last week. But that ought to have been expected if there was any strategic thinking.
The issue, however, is that there are many people who believe in the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry but were not mobilised for support while the timing of the removal of fuel subsidy was also inauspicious. All said, it was bold of the president to stay faithful with the policy even when I also know he has no choice: the Governors have made it clear they will no longer tolerate NNPC making the slush fund that the subsidy money has become a first line charge on the Federation Account.
I commend the president nonetheless. As I have consistently argued, I am for the full deregulation of the downstream operations of the petroleum sector and my position predates my joining government. I also know that there are issues with the implementation and some of those I will address as I engage the topic in the coming weeks. As I write, I have in front of me two February 2009 documents. One, a presentation by the Economic Management Team to the Presidential Steering Committee on Global Economic Crisis titled "Petroleum Subsidy in Nigeria : Issues and Policy Options". The second is a 34-page final federal government position paper titled "The Deregulation of Downstream Petroleum Sector: Action Plans and Roadmap". Clearly, some critical things have been left undone.
No doubt, there are challenges ahead but I believe the president can correct some of the distortions in the sector with the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) on which he has pledged commitment. He, however, deserves our support because the range of options available to him today is actually limited. But he will not get it with the manner in which the new-fangled apostles of Ijaw triumphalism are behaving. Making inflammatory remarks about dividing Nigeria doesn't in anyway help the president. Neither does the ill-advised decision to militarise the South-west. That is why I want to commend to them a Yoruba adage: "Oba t'o je ti ilu toro, oruko re ko ni pare. Oba t'oje ti ilu tuka, oruko re na ko ni pare".
I am sure the Yoruba wife of Mr. Peterside can always do the interpretation for the president and his Ijaw handlers!