Second coming of Jonathan? Perish the idea, by Olaniyi Adepegba

The article with the above caption, written by Chief Dele Momodu, is a good study on the willful capitulation of a typical Nigerian columnist fired by an instinct for survival. At a time Nigeria is battling with recession, writers too are developing means of staying afloat. It is more of ingenuity when writers begin to praise sing and grovel before a former President simply perceived as tending a novel ambition to return to power in 2019!
Nigeria, over the years, has produced fiery columnists who earned respect from wider circles. Those in this category emerged as opinion moulders through whom readers gauged their thoughts and actions on issues. Hence, a good number of Nigerians believed that columnists are conscientious, tall in integrity and grounded in principles. It was not until some of them jumped desperately on lean offers dangled by the government that people learnt that some columnists could be cheap, poor and easily tamed. These days, columns are used to praise-sing, tap favours and bid for political appointments.
Those familiar with the antics of Momodu should not be shocked that he is suddenly on the first row of well wishers who want former President Jonathan to return to power by 2019. In his column, Momodu pleaded with “trepidation” that Jonathan should make the attempt. Why not? Jonathan perhaps, may have the financial muscle to test the murky waters of politics (including burning both local and hard currencies in the process) ahead 2019. What is in doubt now is whether the former President who supposedly is now better schooled on the antics of praise singers, grovellers and fake prophets will play the dumb to answer the putrid call.
Momodu had risen to a lofty height in the Nigerian social circles with proper anchorage of his column. He had used the power of the pen to soften hearts of political juggernauts and business moguls, the likes of late Chief MKO Abiola, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Africa’s ace billionaire Aliko Dangote and Senator Bukola Saraki, among others.
During the last presidential election, Momodu deployed the social media tool to wish the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari, some luck. He was one of the earliest well-wishers who sought an interactive session with the President. He probably made the efforts with a political appointment in mind. That never came up till now. And now, former President Jonathan is beginning to ooze out sweet aroma that appeals only to the likes of Momodu.
Not too long ago, Columnist Momodu undertook to launder the image of former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison Madueke. No one should forget that in a hurry. By his intervention, Nigerians were browbeaten to look towards Diezani with some pity as she was cast in the image of a sickly, stricken ex-government official supposedly afflicted by an undisclosed ailment. The ex-minister granted an interview and trenchantly dismissed all allegations of corruption levelled against her. Momodu could not have consented to package Madueke altruistically.
In decent climes, columnists earn respect not because they love to fester their ego and swell their bank accounts. They do so because they analyze issues and situations with informed opinions backed with facts and figures to spark some positive developments. The story in Nigeria seems to have a different peg in view of antics of some of our columnists.
A columnist who sees red and calls it white deserves nobody’s respect. Nigeria is in dire straits today not because of the alleged omissions of the President. Nigeria is in distress because of the unregulated acts of profligacy, mindless pillaging, disposition to banditry by cabinet members and general wastes, which the past government failed to stop.
If Nigeria is battling with recession today, the process as well documented started years back under the government of former President Jonathan. That was when many state governments stopped paying salaries while the federal government had to take the option of borrowing to pay federal civil servants. Will Nigerians ever forget that terrorism snowballed as a major challenge under past governments because the Nigerian soldiers were deliberately repressed to give the Boko Haram insurgents upper hands? The story of arrest of some soldiers and on the basis of their protest against lack of weapon to fight the insurgents is still in focus as they battle to push their case through in the court of reason.
There have been hues and cries about how monies meant for purchase of arms to fight terrorism were polled to politicians to mobilise support for Jonathan’s re-election, while the Nigerian soldiers allowed to contend with obsolete weapons in battle. Was it not reported that the former President who personally carried aircraft loads of foreign and local currencies to some part of Nigeria, shearing monies to deserving and undeserving politicians, just to brighten his chances of staying longer in power? With these, how would a Dele Momodu convince Nigerians that a former President who once affirmed that stealing is not corruption should be given the second chance to rule Nigeria? Is the Columnist oblivious of how Nigeria made huge sums of money during the oil windfall and by the exit of Jonathan from power, the foreign reserve was virtually depleted?
In his column, Momodu harped on “persecution complex” as a fault line of President Buhari’s government. If Momodu is aligning with critics who conclude that the war against corruption by the government is designed to persecute perceived opponents, the question is has any among the alleged looters come forward to absolve himself of the allegations levelled against him?
At a point in time, Momodu practically relocated to the neighbouring Ghana, which he describes as more conducive for business and social life. He seems to be at home in Ghana given his closeness to some of the political elites in that country. But Ghana is a West African country, which former President JJ Rawlings helped to rebrand. The point is that Momodu should remember that Ghana would never have gone this far on the path of peace; tranquillity and progress had Rawlings not done so much to wage a life time war against corruption in the country? The point again is that President Buhari is devoting much attention to the fight against corruption as a right step towards re-setting standard and safeguarding the future of the country. His present efforts would be appreciated much more in the future if not now.
In urging former President Buhari to reconsider being re-elected, Momodu alluded to a BBC report on the former President’s last visit to Sokoto. He wrote, “According to the report, Jonathan was received by a large crowd of admirers, some holding banners bearing the words “Come Back Baba Jonathan. The same voices that chanted “Sai Baba” and “Jonathan Must Go” are now fiddling with the tunes of the possibility of a Jonathan to stage a comeback. Here lies the irony of political triumph and the paradox of high expectations.”
Against this background, Momodu is probably aware that in Nigeria renting is an art often employed by political elite to push an agenda and score a point. When a crowd of youths suddenly emerge from nowhere wielding placards with inscriptions urging Jonathan to ‘come back’, the right question to ask is who was the real sponsor and what motive lied beneath the fresh efforts to prop up Jonathan for the 2019 political battle?
At this juncture, there is a scenario that we need to ponder on. Assuming Momodu on the strength of his initial open support for President Buhari got appointed as the Minister of Petroleum or Nigeria’s Ambassador to a country like Great Britain, will he will today react the same way on Jonathan’s visit to Sokoto with the rented crowd that urged him to come back to power? Will he from a vantage position pick a pen to support such a political agenda expressed by the placard wielding youths of Sokoto? The fact remains that in Nigeria, we know ourselves and how to expose some coded tracks.
On this issue, the truth is there are columnists and there are columnists in Nigeria. Dele Momodu is just one of them.
. Adepegba, media consultant and public analyst, writes from Abuja.