President Goodluck Jonathan is under immense pressure following the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency, threats of impeachment and an economic slowdown, writes Olu Ojewale in Lagos
These are not the best of times to be a Nigerian president. As the February 2015 general elections draw closer and, considering the power of incumbency, President Goodluck Jonathan is naturally the candidate to beat. But as events in Nigeria continue to unfold, Jonathan is a man to be pitied. The president is embattled on many fronts. The five-year-old Boko Haram insurgence, which has led to the killing several hundreds of Nigerians and displaced several thousands of people from their homes, is becoming more ferocious than before; the nation’s economy is floundering as oil the price continues to plummet and the president himself is not enjoying the best of times with legislators who are threatening him with impeachment.
Despite all the troubles, Jonathan looks set to be confirmed as the presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). While the president continues to move around the country soliciting for support, Boko Haram insurgents appear bent to derail his chances of re-election.
On December 1, the dreaded Islamic terror group launched multiple and almost simultaneous attacks on Maiduguri and Damaturu, capital cities of Borno and Yobe states respectively, killing 39 people and badly damaging properties.
While the attack on Damaturu was carried out very early before the early morning Muslim call to prayer, the attack on Maiduguri came about 40 minutes before noon. The insurgents had woken up residents of Damaturu at about 5 in the morning, shooting sporadically and setting off explosives as they moved to take control of security facilities in the state capital. The militants also engaged Nigeria police and the military and it took several hours before the Nigerian forces could regain control of the city. Ibrahim Gaidam, the state governor, approved the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in the state capital to restore order.
The attack on Maiduguri was a replica of the previous week’s where two female suicide bombers detonated explosives strewn around them at the Monday Market in Maiduguri, on Monday, November 24, leading to the death of 35 persons, another two female suicide bombers were again used in the attack of the same market in the capital city, December 1. Five persons, including the bombers, were killed in the attack. Security sources said the first explosions occurred around 11:20am at one of the entrances of the market when a female suicide bomber who refused to submit to security check detonated the explosives strapped on her body. In the explosion, three persons and the suicide bomber died on the spot.
The incident caused panic in the metropolis as parents went to schools to pick their children and shop owners hurriedly closed their shops for business. The attacks on the two state capitals with heavy military presence, observers say, may have been the sect’s way of testing its combat capacity. Perhaps, more worrisome for Nigerians is that the attacks are becoming more frequent than before, which some observers have linked to President Jonathan’s ambition for a second term. Indeed, since his declaration, the fundamentalists have attacked many towns and communities in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, where a state of emergency imposed last year had expired. The insurgents also bombed a mosque in Kano on Friday, November 28, leading to the death of more than 100 people.
The security situation in the country is already having its toll on the economy. Many foreign investors were interested in the country are believed to be having a rethink because of a perceived insecurity in the country. Monday Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos, disclosed that a business partner of his friend who was supposed to fly into Nigeria on Sunday, November 30, cancelled the trip because of the recent Kano bombing. ‘The foreigner was supposed to bring in money for some business interest but has changed his mind. This not good, and has made my friend to lose a source of revenue,’ the lawyer told AfricaBriefing.
Lawmakers are also compounding the situation by refusing to renew the state of emergency in the three troubled states. The House of Representatives, the lower chamber, has already declined the president’s request, saying that the just expired state of emergency in the states had done nothing to curb or eliminate the insurgence. Instead, the lawmakers were said to have compiled 14 impeachable allegations against the president. Sources said the senators were working towards harmonising their allegations with their counterparts in the House of Representatives before sending an impeachment request to David Mark, Senate president.
Informed sources said the pro-impeachment senators and representatives were scheduled to meet before the end of the week to agree on when to present the request to Mark, in line with Section 143 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution. The Notice of impeachment states being prepared by the senators said in part: ‘The President, as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces and Chief Security Officer of the nation, has failed to ensure the protection of lives and properties. Mindless carnage by the Boko Haram insurgents, especially in the Northeast, recurrent violence in states like Taraba, Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, etc are manifest examples of how the president has failed to exert the enormous powers inherent in his office.
‘This total failure of leadership has not only served to threaten the corporate existence of the country, it has taken an untoward toll on the development and progress of the nation. The President has in an unprecedented manner reduced the Office of the President to an object of ridicule both locally and in the eyes of the international community, thereby reducing both the country and our hitherto respected Armed Forces into laughing stock.’
The senators want the president to explain why he could not curtail the Boko Haram insurgency and non-release of the abducted 219 Chibok girls since April 14, among other things. Reports said 63 of the 109 senators were backing the impeachment move, while 213 of the 360 members of the House were also in support of impeachment.
In addition, the economic slowdown is not helping matters. Of Africa’s oil exporters, Nigeria arguably feels the greatest pain from the plunging oil price. The economy – the continent’s biggest – depends on oil for about 80 percent of government revenue and 95 percent of exports. Government spending, particularly on infrastructure, indicates a breakeven price north of $110 for the country.Earlier this year, this estimate already implied that the country would need more debt. At the current price below $70, investors are rightfully growing more fearful and the Nigerian currency, the naira, is bearing the greatest burden of that fear. Early November, finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala warned that the government would introduce austerity measures to cushion the effects of the dwindling oil revenue by cutting down on spending, and Sintroducting some levies and taxes.
The naira has dropped 11 percent against the dollar this year. Interest rate hikes by the Nigerian Central Bank has not slowed the bleeding. The government, focused on the upcoming election, will likely maintain current levels of spending to sustain public support. But a resulting bump in debt, however, could spell a jump in inflation and trigger numerous downside effects in multiple parts of the economy.
Given the current situation in the country, the re-election bid may be seriously hampered but with power of incumbency it will not be easy to dislodge Jonathan from power. For instance, because of the cumbersome process of impeaching the president, analysts say it is almost a Herculean task in view of coming elections. Besides, the PDP hierarchy is said to be working assiduously to frustrate any such plan. Boluwaji Kunlere, a senator from Ondo State, said impeachment was not the best option to tackle the political and security situation on ground. ‘We should consider actions that would strengthen our democracy and not to overheat and create confusion,’ he said.
Ubani agrees, arguing that impeachment would cause a lot of trouble for Nigerian politics because people from the South-South would regard it as a plot by the North to reclaim power, more so because Jonathan’s deputy is a northerner. ‘I want us to thread the path of caution because this is fragile country… If Nigerians are tired of Jonathan, they have an opportunity to vote for another person at next election,’ Ubani told AfricaBriefing. Besides, the lawmakers might not have enough time to get the process through.
To remove President Jonathan from office through impeachment, the legislature is relying on Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution, which says: ‘The President or Vice-President may be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of this section whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly is (a) presented to the President of the Senate (b) stating that the holder of the office of President or Vice-President is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified.’
Whatever the political gladiators decide, the aftermath of the 2015 general elections remains a source of concern. This, according to analysts, is that whether Jonathan wins or loses the presidential race does not matter because the opposition All Progressives Party (APC) is most likely to elect a northerner as its presidential candidate. ‘If he (Jonathan) wins, the Boko Haram insurgency will increase as [we] can see that the insurgents intensified their actions as soon as the president said he would contest the election. If a northerner wins, you can be sure that Niger Delta militants are going to seize the creeks and start breaking the pipelines; that is why the Americans warned that Nigeria may break up in 2015. It will take God’s intervention for us to remain as one,’ Ubani said.