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Book Review: “On A Platter of Gold: How Jonathan Won And Lost Nigeria By Bolaji Abdullahi”

Was the assertion correct that Jonathan, not the PDP, lost the election, correct? Well this trajectory might attempt to answer that question. “At the birth of the fourth republic in 1999, the PDP won 21 States. By 2003, the party’s rampaging electoral army had captured the entire South West minus Lagos, and brought the number…”
May 9, 2018 5:04 pm

Was the assertion correct that Jonathan, not the PDP, lost the election, correct? Well this trajectory might attempt to answer that question.

“At the birth of the fourth republic in 1999, the PDP won 21 States. By 2003, the party’s rampaging electoral army had captured the entire South West minus Lagos, and brought the number of states under its control to 26. This number increased to 28 after the fair or foul election of 2007, a period which the party seemed to reach its apogee. In 2011, 28 states shrank to 23. Now with this parting of ways, the PDP was left with only 18 states.” Pg 284

I have worked in the news media, for the past year and some, and there’s very little about the intrigues of the current admin that I’m not aware of. If not in depth, at least enough to hold a judgement either way on the successes or failures of the President Muhammadu Buhari led government.

However, I only became deeply interested in Politics since the past few years, and I admit to not knowing enough about previous governments as I normally would be comfortable with, hence my insatiable hunger for memoirs and tell-all books, especially ones that cover a span of governments since our turn into this democratic dispensation.

Still, I approached On a Platter of Gold with caution. Written by someone in the opposition party as at then, one would of course be justified for keeping a healthy amount of salt nearby when digesting the ‘revelations’ in the book. Suffice to say, I half expected a hack job.
I was pleasantly surprised.

The first word I’d employ to describe the book would be ‘honest’. I had read Segun Adeniyi’s brilliant book – “Against the run of Play” last year, and I had an idea of some of the nuances of the stories, and the actors predicted within, so I expected the narrative from an APC member to be from a biased narrative. Again, no, that didn’t happen. It isn’t a hack job on Jonathan, and isn’t a praise-singing exercise for the APC either.

The book begins grimly, in the presidential villa immediately the presidency realized that the election had been lost. The drama was an extension of the story Segun Adeniyi had told of the advice to the president to concede. However, it goes a lot further. It explores the multitude of advice that also came for the president to not concede either, with the players and the actions they advanced.

Few would realize it, but the country came very close to full blown chaos with that loss by the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. Bolaji Abdulahi goes deep into the minutiae of this near escape, without holding back, naming the perpetrators, and describing their actions. The villains haven’t got the condemnation they deserve, and neither have the heroes got as much credit as they should have. Osita Chidoka, and Bello Mohammed Adoke, both come in for deserved mention in the narrative.

Rumours of a plot by Security chiefs also abounded around 2015, especially on social media, and we the watchers were treated to different conspiracy theories that seemed, in the cold analysis of reality after the dust had settled, very fanciful, like our collective minds had taken flights of fancy in the frenzy of elections. However, Abdullahi shows us, in the book, that it wasn’t as much a fanciful notion, as we thought. As clichéd as it sounds, there really was fire behind this smoke. Plenty of fire. Apparently, the conspiracy theorists weren’t raving mad.

And the inevitable question, ‘How much was Jonathan aware of?’ 

The two most used buzz words in describing Jonathan during his administration are ‘clueless’ and ‘weak’. How valid are these descriptions? Bolaji dismantles the latter, and reinforces the former. For a president whose Security Chiefs ran rings around him with the insurgency fight, arms procurement, and most importantly, the alleged plot to seize power in the  aftermath of the defeat by the APC, few could argue about the cluelessness of Jonathan (insert President Buhari’s awareness level joke here if you like). I have however always thought that his supporter’s willingness to accept this moniker is to perhaps shield him as much as is possible from being responsible for actions that he should be held accountable for (but that is another story).

On a Platter of Gold deals extensively with the different shenanigans run in and around the president, including and not limited to the Sure-P programme, and the exit of Christopher Kolade, and the credibility his exit took away from the programme.
As to the weakness appellation, credited to Jonathan, this book deconstructs it. Very often Jonathan made some head scratching decisions, firing some who most people expected him to keep, and keeping people he was expected to fire, despite being under immense pressure.

Jonathan’s stubbornly poor handling of the of the breakaway faction of the PDP governors, and his refusal to back down on the Onyinlola as secretary general issue point to a wilfulness rather than a lack of, as well as his decision to heed the less strident calls of advice to call the President-elect to concede rather than leave ambiguities that would create platforms for post-election conflicts, all point to strength and sureness of purpose, rather than weakness. However, it almost seemed like the wrong decisions every time he made them.

To paraphrase the author in the book, Jonathan was weak when he needed to be strong and strong when he needed to appear meek.

How did the 2011 elections affect that of 2015? How quickly did someone lose so much goodwill barely four years after winning very convincingly at the previous polls? The ‘gentleman agreement’ pre 2011 to only serve one term? Or his performance in the years succeeding the 2011 victory? Which one was more instrumental? Where does the author lean? The author makes a very persuasive argument that, contrary to perceptions held by a large number of the Nigerian population, the 2011 elections wasn’t really a North vs South elections. It was more a ‘Split North vs a united South.’ And a ‘North’ whose power brokers didn’t rally around their own challenger, Buhari.

What changed pre 2015? What permutations decided the swing, from hero, popular president, to villain, whose biggest praise in the aftermath of the elections, was for his honourable concession phone call?

Like militant herdsmen, like Boko Haram. Boko Haram was clearly a defining factor in the Jonathan presidency, as the militant herdsmen seems to be one for the Buhari Presidency. It is said that the group’s strengthening during his time may have been responsible for his supporter’s disenchantment. This much is unarguable, however, how much of it was inevitable, and how much did Jonathan bring to hasten? This is also something that Bolaji Abdullahi treats in depth in the book. Aside giving the readers a quick run of history, with the formation of the group and how they became militant, Abdullahi also attempts to chronicle the Jonathan government’s bungling of the war against insurgency. Fairly, he does point out areas where the Jonathan government’s hands were tied, especially with the blockading of arms purchase by the United States government.

Nonetheless, there were many times that the former president displayed disdain for optics and played right into the hands of opposition. One of the most unbelievable series of actions, aside the albatross, Chibok was the rally in Kaduna after the bomb blast in Nyanya.

“However, perhaps more than the bomb blasts, what would outrage Nigerians even more, were the images of President Jonathan at a political rally in Kano the very next day. Words like “Insensitive”, “irresponsible” and “wicked” were freely hurled at him as Nigerians watched the president dancing to the music of popular Local Singer, Sani Danja, even as emergency workers were still picking up body parts at the scene of the Nyanya Blast” pg 202

Bolaji doesn’t exactly absolve the opposition for their actions in the lead up to the elections as well. He subtly points out their complicity in the subsidy removal saga which, as with all things in life, was the singular action that made a previously respected finance minister to become a sort of pariah amongst her previous idolizers. The vociferousness of the opposition, served as a really strong bulwark against constructive and forward looking conversations on the subsidy removal in 2012. The government, as expected, backed down from that process, and rather than the right thing being done, merely postponed the inevitable and kicked the ball down the road for his successor

Review: On Platter of Gold, A Book By Bolaji Abdullahi
“They pointed out that the 2012 budget had allocated N1billion for feeding the president and the vice president in the year. This inspired some placards, which asked whether the president ate Louis Vuitton rice or Gucci beans. And when on 3rd January a protester was shot and killed in Ilorin, this image went viral on various social media platforms, further fuelling the smoking rage all over the country. Seeing the anger that was provoked by the death of one protester, others began to post images of other ‘casualties’ that were not even related to the protests. This further enraged the protesters and portrayed the government as repressive” pg 117

The 2015 election was very divisive, and the dirtiest of slurs were used in the lead up to the polls. Contrary to what a number of people have said today as regards our unity and the current president, evidence points to the 2015 elections as being responsible for the current level of division in the country, especially along ethnic and religious lines. This is what happens when politics is played with desperation. And the book attempts to paint this picture without being exceedingly dramatic, and is convincing enough to ensure that the reader isn’t scoffing at the postulations contained.

Exceedingly well researched, original and precise, Bolaji Abdullahi writes with really good diction; elevated, yet very relatable. This ensures that the book will be enjoyed by the historian, political pundit and the literary purist as well.

Like the Macbeth quote in reference to Jonathan – “If Chance may have me King, why, chance may crown me without stir”, On a Platter of Gold doesn’t need much embellishment to convince that it deserves its place on the shelves of Nigeria’s better political chronicles. It’s already headed there.

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