On January 23 in Davos, Switzerland, President Goodluck Jonathan briefly fielded questions from CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on her Amanpour programme, in a satellite-relayed interview.
The president’s responses were unbefitting of a country that has produced a Nobel Laureate in Wole Soyinka, a globally acclaimed writer in Chinua Achebe, and an extremely articulate international civil servant in Emeka Anyaoku, among many other illustrious Nigerians. Briefly put, the Jonathan pedestrian performance was sad. But it was also a fearfully vivid metaphor of leadership lagging behind the people, the bane of governance in Nigeria.
The president’s responses failed almost on all counts: substance, style, depth, class and even basic logic. It also suffered from basic untruths: the president’s claim that Nigerians were “pleased” at the level of power supply in the country was too sweeping to be true. Another flat promise (without any proof) was that at the end of 2013, Nigeria would be a power El Dorado. The president was spot on, however, when he contradicted the earlier assertion by saying that if Nigeria had all the money and political will, fixing the power problem would still take some time.
But it was on the issue of Boko Haram that he showed a scandalous lack of grasp of the situation, though he projected himself, to a squirming global audience, as one of those providing a solution to the problem by getting involved in rooting out terrorism in Mali. Still, he rightly reasoned that rooting out the alleged Boko Haram nursery in Mali was crucial to curbing the menace in northern Nigeria– a menace that has consumed thousands of innocent lives.
Ironically however, beyond the derring-do of a Nigerian strong man come to solve Mali’s terrorism challenges en route to checkmating Boko Haram, the president was at sea at the basic trigger of the terrorist group. When Ms Amanpour suggested that it was basic misrule, poverty and corruption that gave Boko Haram its initial boost – which were true – President Jonathan combatively demurred and denied that self-evident fact, to the utter embarrassment of his viewers.
However, President Jonathan committed the gaffe of the day when he cautioned the US State Department – and others who believed that Nigerian security agencies widely abused citizens’ rights in the name of fighting Boko Haram – not to play politics with the terrorist group! Is the American foreign ministry then part of Nigeria’s local politics? Such un-presidential naivety!
Failing in basic analysis of the problem, the president latched on to an embarrassing illogic of a combined appeal to pity and clambering on the global train to fight and defeat terror, rather than demonstrating his own understanding of the dire situation for his country. Pray, if a president does not even understand a problem, how does he go about solving it?
On umpteenth theft of Nigerian crude, President Jonathan was no less flat. His riposte to Ms Amanpour’s quote of a figure by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister and coordinating minister for the economy, that 400,000 barrels of crude was daily stolen, was not how to stem the financial bleeding. It was rather an annoying counter-blackmail to the “international community” who nevertheless accept to refine the crude, knowing it had been stolen! So, traders in international crude, licit or illicit, should do Jonathan’s job for him?
Even on the power question, Ms Amanpour, who was relatively soft by her own hard standard in this satellite-relayed interview, virtually drew rings around the president when she made a joke that she was at a loss at what to tell Nigerians who said they hoped they would have electricity to even watch the interview on which the president was being featured!
Whoever dragged Jonathan to CNN, without adequately preparing him for the chore, had done the country a lot of ill. The president also did himself no credit by his below-par performance. In future, it is either the president prepares and excels; or perpetually keeps his peace. Enough of this image of a drooling president that does neither himself nor his country any good.