George Bernard Shaw it was who said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” An apocryphal quote attributed to the economist John Maynard Keynes echoes Shaw: “When the facts change, I change my mind.”
Generally, in the build-up to elections in Nigeria, plenty of mind-changing happens. Politicians switch allegiances, switch godfathers, switch parties; citizens change their minds about the candidates clamoring for their votes. That’s what today’s column will be about.
Take one of the most dramatic cases; that of Femi Fani-Kayode. In February 2014 he declared, in an interview, that President Jonathan was not “man enough” to tackle Boko Haram. He also threw up the super-fascinating ‘five-presidents’ theory: “The country has five presidents, and they are Mrs. Patience Jonathan, Mrs Alison-Madueke, Mrs. Stella Oduah, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. All these five presidents control the nation, but the most powerful of them is Mrs Jonathan.”
Fani-Kayode added a killer-blow: “Jonathan has disappointed Nigerians in all sectors of the economy and if he should be allowed to continue in office, this country is heading for serious disaster.” Today, barely one year later, Mr. Fani-Kayode is in charge of “media and publicity” for the President’s re-election campaign.
There are also those who have changed their minds about General Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate. In October 2010, as preparations for the 2011 elections intensified, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s media office released a statement on his behalf in which General Mohammadu Buhari was described as “perpetually unelectable” for reasons ranging from highhandedness to his intolerance for dissenting views. That statement also said that “El-rufai believes that it is time for a new generation of leaders with new thinking and wholesome democratic attitude to move our nation forward.”
It took only a few months for el-Rufai to change his mind. To his credit he came out to acknowledge that a change of mind had taken place, and he took the pains to give reasons for “[dropping] his objection” to Buhari: first, the choice of Tunde Bakare as Buhari’s running mate, and second, “Buhari’s message of inclusion and teamwork.”
I do not think anyone should be attacked for changing their mind about a candidate, as long as they are willing to, one, acknowledge that indeed they have had cause to change their mind (instead of trying to argue about being originally ‘misquoted’, as Nigerian politicians like to do), and two, to make an argument as to why the ‘u-turn’ has taken place. On that note I am eager to hear why Fani-Kayode no longer thinks that a Jonathan re-election will lead Nigeria into the abyss. Perhaps he has explained that, and I have missed it. I’d be grateful if anyone can point it out to me. I have the feeling that if Fani-Kayode can eloquently explain why he’s had the dramatic change of mind, he might be able to win new supporters for his new principal.
Just as we’ve had people who have changed from dislike to support (for Jonathan and Buhari), we’ve also had people shifting in the reverse direction. At least I can say that for Jonathan – because I am one of them (more on that below). I know several people who enthusiastically voted for Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 (many of them under the umbrella of the ‘We Voted Jonathan, not PDP’ Movement) but today vow that ‘never again!’ Many of them in fact now wholeheartedly regret that 2011 vote.
What I must admit I haven’t yet found are people who once liked Buhari, but no longer do; who voted for him in 2011 but have decided to not vote for him in 2015. If there’s any such person I’d be willing to hear from them. I must of course acknowledge that Jonathan is, on the basis of his being the incumbent President, far more likely than Buhari to be the one who has lost supporters between 2011 and now. That is the curse of success. Ask Barack Obama. Indeed, if Buhari does win the presidential elections next month, you can bet that by 2019 there will be a slew of voters who will have grown disillusioned with him, and will be clamoring for change. It is the nature of politics.
I’ll end with a personal narrative on this theme of changing one’s mind. I wasn’t in the country during the 2011 presidential elections, and so did not vote. But had I voted it’s very likely I would have voted for Goodluck Jonathan. I was genuinely excited by his personal story, and how he seemed to represent a new generation of Nigerian politician (an outsider; a non-participant in any of the earlier phases of Nigerian politics; a man cut from cloth that was neither military khaki nor the agbada or babanriga or two-piece suit of their prominent civilian collaborators).
Once it became clear that a group of powerful persons within and outside the Yar’Adua kitchen cabinet were making moves to prevent a simple transfer of power to the then Vice President Jonathan, I joined a group of my friends on protest marches in Lagos and Abuja, under the joint auspices of the ‘Save Nigeria Group’ and ‘Enough Is Enough Nigeria’. For the Abuja trip we bought our flight tickets and paid for our own accommodation; at that time there was no Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), or any of those more-money-than-sense agglomerations of sycophancy, to foot any pro-Jonathan bills.
In August 2010, impressed by how Nigerians passionately took to liking President Jonathan’s Facebook page, I described him in a newspaper column as a “breath of fresh air”. (That phrase would go on to be appropriated by the president’s people as campaign mantra). I recall that by the end of 2010 President Jonathan had become the second-most-liked Head of State on Facebook, after Barack Obama. Indeed, in those early days, it all seemed so Obama-esque, and many like me fell headlong for it.
In a series of articles I wrote in my column for the now-out-of-print NEXT newspaper, I tried to put that excitement into words. In ‘From Canoe-Carver’s Son to Commander-in-Chief’, published in April 2011, just after he won the presidential elections, I recalled my ‘breath of fresh air’ line, and built on it: “Today, I will stretch my claim further, and declare that Mr Jonathan is potentially a breath of fresh air to the way presidential leadership is conducted in Africa. I think we are looking at the man destined to, not only tackle long-standing problems like power supply and poverty, but also bring far-reaching reform to Africa’s largest and most messed-up political party, the PDP.” I pointed to what I thought were the qualities that stood him out: “an endearing calmness, a modesty that is rare with Nigeria’s ‘Big Men’, and a seemingly sincere desire to engage with the people he’s ruling.”
But I was also clearheaded enough to see that the excitement that surrounded Jonathan was bound up more in potential than in any existing record of his. As at the time he became President there was no real record to speak of; his entire political career until then consisted of more than six years as a maltreated Deputy Governor, one-and-half years as Governor (finishing someone else’s term), and three years as a sidelined Vice President. Nothing spectacular. What I saw was a huge possibility for future transformational leadership from a man I expected would have the good sense to realise the import of what fate was offering him, almost unconditionally, on a platter of gold.
In ‘Goodluck, Goodwill and Goodsense’, published on April 19, 2010, while he was acting President, I said: “Luck is not enough. Luck might put you in the presidential palace, but it will neither keep you there nor endear you to the people you govern. Luck will not secure a favourable verdict from posterity.” I ended that piece with these words: “Yesterday you were Goodluck Jonathan. Today you are Goodwill Jonathan. Now you must strive to be Goodsense Jonathan, in whose hands the destiny of a nation lies.”
Five years later I am more than convinced that, even after taking into consideration all of his achievements – and there are acheievements, no doubt, which I will talk about in a future column – Goodluck Jonathan has let Nigeria down a lot more than he has ‘transformed’ it. In that coming column I will explain why I think so. For today it is enough to say that I have since changed my mind about the man I considered “a breath of fresh air” four years ago.
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