Let’s begin on a note of appreciation to both those who have reacted angrily to the first installment of this attempt at rating the presidents since 1999 and those who welcomed that installment. Intervention welcomes both the commendation and the condemnation. It is probably important to point out that Intervention is not involved in objective analysis. Rather, it is involved in critical analysis because that is what is possible and that is what Nigeria needs, not the deceit called objectivity which doesn’t exist anyway. In critical analysis, how any of the four presidents is declared the best is more important than who the president is. In other words, readers who challenge our argument that presidential handling of the most tense security moment in the tenure of each of the four presidents is the most important criterion for deciding the best president will interest us more than those who just want one particular president or another to be named the best.
That decision stands in so far as no one is contradicting the basis for that which is the analysis that democracy in Nigeria has not brought home Nigeria’s share of the massive expansion in quality of life across the world. Intervention does not subscribe to the notion that there is no distinction between formal and substantive democracy even as it believes that there is no China Wall between the two.
Taking presidential handling of high security moments in the past 20 years, we have seen how Obasanjo handled the Sharia crisis; how Umaru Yar’Adua handled the Niger Delta crisis; how Goodluck Jonathan handled the 2015 presidential election outcome and how President Muhammadu Buhari has been handling Boko Haram-herdsmen- banditry crises.
President Buhari has since been removed from the list because there is nothing in the form of a consolidated discourse or a Buhari doctrine of the high security moment he has faced. This contrasts with all others before him.
Obasanjo’s discourse of the ‘Sharia turn’, for instance, was that it would fizzle out or survive depending on how genuine it was. 15 years thereafter, he was in a position to celebrate that discourse when he said that, by that position of his, he succeeded in making Nigeria the ultimate winner of the debacle. In his analysis, that happened because he denied Muslims who could have used whatever he said as ammunition to cause mayhem just as he resisted unspoken Christian pressure of rolling out military tanks to crush Sharia proponents. Similarly, Umaru Yar’Adua’s discourse of Niger Delta crisis was that confronting violence with violence is not a solution in that context. That discourse produced the response in the form of the Amnesty programme. His successor told the world that his second term was not worth the life of any Nigerian.
These are discursive responses which are neither true nor false statements. Rather, what a discourse is interpreted to mean has nothing to do with the producer of the discourse but dependent entirely on what the listener or the audience makes of it.
Returning to the question of which of the high security moments under Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan deserves to decide the question of the best president since 1999, Intervention’s conclusion is that Goodluck Jonathan wins.
The key reason for this is that as weighty as each of the moments in question were, none would have been like the first three days of 2015 presidential election results if violence broke out. We can say this because it is not as if there were no Sharia riots or lots of killings associated with insurgency in the Niger Delta. So, irrespective of the source of the wisdom in conceding defeat in 2015 at the time he did, that action remains an anti-climax worth recognizing for what it aborted when seen from 2011 post election violence.
This rating does not absolve former President Jonathan of non-performance. What it makes clear is that, in statecraft, some actions are almost always rated higher than others. Conceding defeat at that moment thus overwrites that president’s observable lack of grip on power and degree of looting he superintended.
It is a celebration of the primacy of agency. What science could ever explain an African president, surrounded by bodyguards, red carpets everywhere, automatic access to privileged quarters and the cash backing to make things happen but compelled solely by his understanding or interpretation of what was before him at that moment, be it the fear of the unknown, personal survival instinct, facts of the matter, simulated foreign pressure or pure national interest.
Finally, that action offered an enduring critique of certitude and predictability, a big lesson for people who go about with timeless notions of right or wrong; what causes what; who is the good guy and the bad guy, who will be allowed or not allowed to be what; what tomorrow will be like and so on and so forth.
The question then is how might a president perform? No president can perform if he has no idea of what democracy should mean in relation to Nigeria. A president who comes into office with a so-called universal meaning of democracy has already failed even before he arrived. Democratic aspiration may be a universal experience but its operationalisation can never be universal. No Nigerian president since 1999 has manifested a Nigerian entry point into the democratic space. That is why they have had very little to show other than that the country has not collapsed!
If in coming leaders at various levels find anything worth picking up from this assessment, Intervention would have been fulfilled!