Two things can make a man to be forgetful – senility and desperation. In the case of our President Goodluck Jonathan, it is the latter. Starting his re-election campaign last Thursday in Lagos, the President had said the Oct. 1, 2010 bombing while he was making his Independence Day speech at the Eagle Square was meant to kill him. He accused the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), led by Henry Okah, of having been “procured to assassinate me”. Okah is serving a long jail term in South Africa where he fled to after the Abuja bomb attack.
Flash back to October, 2010. Even though MEND had claimed responsibility for the bombing that year, President Jonathan had said the group did not do it. Indeed, MEND had warned of the attack few days earlier, but the President was adamant in his denial the group’s claim.
So, why would the President change the narrative now, five years on? The reason is desperation. Suddenly, he has realized how far his campaign has fallen behind that of the presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, whom he beat rather controversially in 2011. The Jonathan administration is increasingly being seen to be incompetent by most Nigerians. The ‘incompetence’ tag is like a noose tightening round the President’s neck. At the Lagos rally he was visibly uncomfortable and spent considerable time defending his record.
There are reports that the President feels a bit let down by his ministers because they “are not defending issues brought up for public discourse by the opposition. As a result, he has decided to blow his own trumpet. There has also been talk of an impending “minor” cabinet reshuffle that “will see a minister posted to take care of information and national Orientation to fill in gaps during the ongoing campaign”.
Certainly, desperation on the part of the President to catch up with Buhari’s runaway campaign is responsible for the assassination gaffe he made in Lagos last Thursday. He felt it would reconnect him to his country men and women now worriedly disenchanted with his “clueless” government. He thought linking MEND with a plot to “assassinate” him would give his campaign the “cutting edge” over Buhari. President Jonathan has cause to agonize over MEND which only recently endorsed the candidacy of Buhari, now making his fourth and probably last attempt at being elected president.
However, that wild swing at MEND will appear to have failed in its purpose. It portrays the President to the Nigerian voter as a leader not only in retreat, but also one that is inconsistent. His memory lapse on Thursday may have hurt his campaign irredeemably. Last year, many had thought this year’s presidential election, scheduled for February 14, was Jonathan’s to lose. He may have started out on that losing journey.