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The demons of President Goodluck Jonathan

Few articles in print can be as troubling as “The Spiritual Side of Aso Villa,” published by former Nigeria presidential adviser Reuben Abati on October 14. 

 Mr. Abati’s account portrays the Nigerian seat of power under Mr. Goodluck Jonathan as having being under spiritual bondage, and suggests that performance was impossible. 

 The situation was so bad under Mr. Jonathan that staff were always falling sick, according to the account. Men routinely reported they had become impotent, and their wives comforted themselves with sex videos and toys.


 Mysterious fires were common in homes of villa staff. It was so bad that someone warned the writer that he was “coming to the villa using Lux soap, but that most people around the place always bathed in the morning with blood. Goat blood. Ram blood. Whatever animal blood…He said there were persons in the Villa walking upside down…” 

 A pastor told Abati the villa was full of evil spirits and too much human sacrifice. Someone always died. People “lost daughters and sons, brothers and uncles, mothers and fathers…” Faulty presidential aircraft, one enduring a bird strike in Kenya. In Norway, a helicopter bearing President Jonathan almost crashing. Abati, who twice in the article claims not to be superstitious, fields far-reaching conclusions:

 “When Presidents make mistakes, they are probably victims of a force higher than what we can imagine…When the President makes a speech and he truly means well, the speech is interpreted wrongly by the public…” His most important one is probably this: “Should I become President of Nigeria tomorrow, I will build a new Presidential Villa: a Villa that will be dedicated to the all-conquering Almighty, and where powers and principalities cannot hold sway…in the United States, Presidents live like normal human beings. In Aso Villa, that is impossible…No Nigerian President should be in spiritual bondage because he belongs to all of us and to nobody.” 

 That last point seems to be an effort to make Nigerians accept that the squalid picture the writer paints of the Jonathan presidency applies to Muhammadu Buhari, who assumed power famously declaring that he belongs to everybody and to nobody. Abati’s article’s should have been written in 2011, somewhere between June and November, that first half-year in office when he discovered it was impossible for Mr. Jonathan to succeed. 

This is the import of his story. Since neither he nor any of his so-called troubled colleagues found the strength to quit, his dissertation is laughable, at best. A lot of Mr. Jonathan’s initiatives were well-received. He did not run into trouble because they were poor. The devil, pardon the imagery, was always in his failure to implement. 

The Freedom of Information Act, for instance, was one of his early, and celebrated efforts. But in practice, neither he nor any of his senior officials honoured it. Similarly, in July 2011, Mr. Jonathan announced an anti-corruption “war,” saying he would begin with a comprehensive audit of the finances of all Federal Government ministries, departments and agencies, with effect from 2007. For four years thereafter, he never implemented it. 

 This was not new. That year, I documented how Mr. Jonathan, in an effort to win the election, bathed every nook and corner of Nigeria with promises. Not only did he fulfil none of them, in November 2014 at the launch of his presidential campaign in Lagos, he lied that he had fulfilled ALL of them. In February 2015, Abati himself, in response to The Economist’s dismissal of Mr. Jonathan’s re-election hopes, backed that position, claiming Mr. Jonathan had “worked very hard to fulfil all the major promises he made to them on assumption of office.”

There is a comprehensive contradiction between the energies Mr. Jonathan and his staff spent in trying to remain in power and the claim that uncontrollable forces was preventing them from exercising that power. 

 The truth is that power is a strange aphrodisiac which lures the unwary into forgetting that its flip side is responsibility. Ibrahim Babangida, Aso Rock’s first occupant, didn’t want to leave, neither did its most prominent occupiers so far: Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo. Are we to take it that the same gremlins that encouraged them to underperform and to betray also insisted that they must be forced to leave? Jonathan is known as Nigeria’s luckiest politician. 

 He virtually sneaked into the presidency, unnoticed. But by his own admission, even as vice-president, he declared his assets in 2007 only because President Umaru Yar’Adua forced him. And then he found in his hands presidential power, that is: the opportunity to transform his country forever. What did Jonathan do with it? “A colleague called me one day and told me a story about how a decision had been taken in the spiritual realm about the Nigerian government,” 

Abati writes. “He talked about the spirit of error, and how every step taken by the administration would appear to the public like an error.” Error? Jonathan swore never to declare his assets. He didn’t give a damn. He conferred respectability on stealing. He granted state pardon to the corruption ex-convict, Dipreye Alamieyeseigha. He armed the National Security Adviser (NSA) with slush funds. Arrogant and deliberate howlers, obviously but in no wise spiritual. Jonathan’s embrace of corruption enhanced the decay of our military. 

The disaster of Chibok was magnified because the Jonathan government first chose to deny the abduction. Was that supposed to appear to the public as though it was a wonderful decision misunderstood by the public? Jonathan was not hampered by extraneous forces, but by a lack of vision, motivation and strength. He ran a bazaar, not a responsible, responsive outfit. For example, Doyin Okupe was appointed Special Adviser in 2012 because Abati himself was said to have demonstrated no ability to “defend” the First Lady from critics. 

 For that position, the former medical doctor explained last July that NSA Dasuki gave him N50m upon his appointment, another N50m in October 2014, and N10million monthly. To do what, you wonder. Okupe also said he had a staff of 23, of which about half had at least university graduate degrees. 

How did one attack dog multiply so darkly and expensively? People were sick in Aso Rock? Sorry o! But people are sick all over Nigeria, their miseries of diabetes and hypertension and cancer compounded by incompetent and malicious governance. Unlike Aso Rock, they often lack diagnosis or treatment, and cannot travel to Germany. Families are dying of hunger, and in road crashes, robberies and kidnappings.

 Let us be clear: Bad governance is not a victimless crime. It is a weapon of mass destruction. Bad policies are bad policies, such as Buhari not identifying powerful looters and speedily prosecuting them. Nigeria should not erupt in joy because he is trying to sell only two executive jets instead of at least five. Leaders should not spend power on themselves and their inner circle, and when it is gone, attribute their failure to people who walked on their heads. 

We like to cite the US, while conveniently forgetting that in that country, the licence Nigerian leaders take in Aso Rock would put the president in jail within one week. And our people have a saying: If the man who slept indoors says he saw a ghost, what should the man who slept outdoors say?

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