Fahamu (Oxford)

Nigeria: Jonathan, Two Bishops and the Rest

opinion

Nigerians are getting increasingly disappointed by President Jonathan's uninspiring record. Religious leaders could play a greater role in pushing him and other politicians to dutifully discharge the mandate given by the electorate

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan comes across as a very humane, compassionate and calm person. He is always quick to brandish his less privileged upbringing as a unique selling point to anyone who cares to listen.

However, he often portrays himself in public as someone who is hardly on top of his game. Many of his responses are clueless, colourless, insipid, lacking in both depth and rigour fit for his exalted office. I find it extremely difficult to continue to support such a person. His approaches seem impulsive, less well contemplated and habitually 'unpresidential'.

One of such scenarios played out during the exchange between the President and the Archbishop of Bomadi during the burial of the former National Security Adviser, late General Andrew Owoye Azazi.

During the funeral service for the departed, which was broadcast live on television, Archbishop Hyacinth Ogbebor, in a rare display of apostolic liberty, brought the attention of the President and others who attended the ceremony, to the increasing incidents of corruption and decaying infrastructure especially in the Niger Delta Region.

Trust Jonathan. He quickly responded by passing the buck to the attitude of Nigerians and woefully referring to some bizarre statistics from the Federal Road Safety Commission about lower frequency of accidents on bad roads.

Does the courage of Archbishop Ogbebor during the burial of Azazi and the sincerity in the speech of Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah during the burial of late Governor Patrick Yakowa bear a resemblance worth further reflection? What role could the clergy play potentially to mobilize against decay and enthrone good governance? Should Jonathan have replied to the bishop instantly? How do such actions impact on his waning support base?

I commend both Archbishop Ogbebor and my friend Bishop Kukah for speaking the truth to power at different times during the burial of those who lost their lives when the helicopter came down in Okorobia. Both clergymen offer courageous examples of the potential role of the clergy in promoting good governance. I argue that these potentials are currently being underutilised.

The clergy in Nigeria command a lot of respect and 'immunity' which can be used positively to confront the divisive politics of plunder that our elite have inflicted on this nation. Bishop Kukah was clearly on point in his homily at Fadan Kagoma Kaduna, where he expressed his disapproval at the elite corruption, abuse of office and how the northern political cabal often use religion to disguise their greed. Coincidentally, both clergymen not only spoke on similar issues, they also belong to the Catholic Church.

At a time when other churches are consumed by prosperity preaching and ostentatious display of wealth, these examples offer a positive direction for the rest of the clergy to follow. Sometime last month, President Jonathan was at Holy Ghost Congress organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos. Such a gathering should not only have been used to offer prayers for the President but also to remind him that he cannot continue to squander the goodwill and expectations of Nigerians who elected him to office. Sadly that did not happen.

Another point to ponder is whether the President should respond to every criticism especially when such criticisms are based on facts. That is where President Jonathan dropped the ball.

It was former President Obasanjo who acquired fame or notoriety for rudely replying to everything said about him. Such an attitude is unbecoming for someone occupying such a dignified office. The best he could have done was to note the comments of the bishop and respond by expediting action on the points that he raised. Again, is a burial ceremony the right venue for such an 'unpresidential' exchange? Clearly Jonathan derailed to the utmost disappointment of his admirers.

On a related note, the state of the East West Road that the bishop referred to is a big assault on the conscience of the people of the Niger Delta Region. The contract was awarded to a construction company with links to a prominent politician from the Niger Delta. How come work on the road has been very slow and many people are dying daily due to the sorry state?

I travelled on that road several times during the holidays. It is as dangerous as the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway. Unless something is done urgently, that road may not be finished by 2015, which will be a shame on this administration. Where are all the monies appropriated for this road in the past? Many people from the region are now keeping quiet because we live in a country where criticism is equated to opposition.

Be that as it may, President Jonathan's face saving reference to the statistics from the Federal Road Safety Commission must be challenged. Is it true that fewer road accidents happen on roads that have pot holes and on those that are not tarred? So why then do developed countries tar their roads? Where did this research originate? How come we have not heard of such a retrogressive research before now?

The emergence of President Jonathan enjoyed tremendous support from ordinary Nigerians. We believed that his humble background would make him a leader who would listen to the pulse of the street.

Civil Society, women and youth groups galvanized themselves into popular movements to lend their support to the doctrine of necessity that we saw as an opportunity to dismantle the status quo. Were we wrong? From my crystal ball I can see that the quantum goodwill is becoming a thing of the past. Hopes of ordinary citizens have been dashed, our expectations have been betrayed. The support base of this President is diminishing by the day. He is known for rhetoric and less action.

On a final note, we must take two lessons from what happened in Yenagoa and Kaduna. Imagine the quantum harvest that our nation would potentially reap if our spiritual leaders united for good governance. These politicians are part of their congregation either in churches or in mosques. They must use that sacred opportunity to raise their voices against corruption, divisive politics, underdevelopment and other vices plaguing our nation. Those spiritual leaders who currently prefer to remain politically correct to continue to feed off politicians must realize that they are on the wrong side of history.

We must deploy our collective creativity to continue to make the parasitic elite uncomfortable. Archbishop Ogbebor and Bishop Kukah are patriots that other spiritual leaders in Nigeria must try to emulate if we must move this country forward. For President Jonathan, what our country needs now is action. He still has a little time to demonstrate that he is capable of using the powers that destiny has bestowed on his shoulders to etch his name in the sands of time.

- Uche Igwe is a governance researcher, based at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. He can be reached on ucheigwe@gmail.com

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