President Jonathan, the SSS, and El-Rufai — The tail that wags the dog

Posted by Emeka Ugwuonye | 26 January 2014 | 4,651 times

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President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria faces now the most testing 12 months of his political career. By this time next year, it will be all but certain the outcome of his yet undeclared bid to rule Nigeria for another four years.

Keen political observers within and outside Nigeria are watching events unfold in Nigeria. The period would be marked for history either by Jonathan’s political mistakes and miscalculations or his political sagacity and prescience. One must not expect any single dramatic event that controls the ultimate outcome. Rather, the end result shall be determined by the cumulative effect of incremental consequences. It is either the little errors that will derail his political project or the little acts of discernment and deft moves that would stand him in good stead. An appraisal of Jonathan’s performance henceforth shall therefore be the detailed analysis of each little event that cumulates toward the end result.

Every serious player has predicted that 2015 would be a strategic inflection point for Nigerian politics. Things would not be the same for the country. It is going to be Nigeria’s second October 1, 1960. That history point thus carries with it all the uncertainties and anxieties that there could be. The calculation of Jonathan’s every little step has begun. As one expects, it is indeed a mixed bag.

While his recent appointment of General Aliyu Gusau, though not considered brave or strategic, was definitely a brilliant tactical and pragmatic move for him, the recent arrest or near arrest of Mr. Nasir El-Rufai for yet unknown reason is a blunder. And that is what is to be discussed in this piece. Given the manner of the arrest or near arrest of El-Rufai, particularly in light of the comments of the spokesperson of the State Security Service (SSS), it is clear that this is a wrong move for Jonathan. Whether the President ordered El-Rufai’s arrest or not, the President would be held responsible for that. And that is due to the precise nature of the period – every act of government agency that touches on the political conflicts would be blamed on him, and rightly so.

Given the clumsy manner in which the SSS went after El Rufai, that move helps El-Rufai immensely politically and it hurts the President badly. Every objective assessment shows this to be the case. First, it presents El-Rufai as the personification of his party opposition to the Government, making him within his party to look like the bearer of the cross of his party. It is the kind of thing that would enhance his status in his party. His confrontation with the SSS is the kind of thing any brilliant politician would pray for. At the same time, the whole incident depicts Jonathan as having lost his cool or patience and having become increasingly agitated and insecure.

Another aspect of this El-Rufai’s problem that puts the Government in poor light is the fact that the SSS does not seem to have any good cause against El-Rufai. The statement that people suspect is the reason for his arrest or near arrest is no way as incendiary or as inciting as the statements made many times by Asari Dokubo in support of the President. And yet, Asari was encouraged by the Government in his own remarks.

Nigerians would be quick to recognise the differential in the manner the Government reacts to El-Rufai and Dokubo, and they would rightly perceive the Government as not being an honest or even-handed player. This causes sympathy to sway in favor El-Rufai both within his party and outside of it. The clumsy performance of the SSS also helps El-Rufai and undermines the President. It makes El-Rufai appear brave, daring, and much smarter than his opponents.

The SSS sent him what they called “a friendly invitation”. Nigerians laugh as such bizarre characterisation of the encounter. SSS trivialises something that ought to be serious. If you suspect that a person has committed an offence, why call him your friend and send him a “friendly invitation”? So if he had honoured that invitation, what would you have said to him? You would offer him tea or coffee as your friend and let him go?

El-Rufai is smart in playing the whole nonsense up. He realised that SSS is a law enforcement agency and that the law requires them to have an arrest warrant compelling him. That was bait and surprisingly the SSS swallowed it. The SSS probably obtained a defective and fraudulent warrant, which amounts to corruption and proceeding to effect what would be known as a political arrest and political detention, all to the ultimate advantage of El-Rufai. Arrest him and detain him, and you make him a hero and the symbol of opposition.

Any smart law enforcement should know that arresting a key opposition party figure close to the election time when you do not have sufficient evidence to prosecute him successfully merely turns him into a political prisoner and a revolutionary figure. Indeed, the SSS must be working for El-Rufai and not for the administration. It is a very wrong move indeed for President Jonathan.

The situation with El Rufai would be further dramatic in the light of what one expects him to do next. He will continue to avoid the SSS. His lawyers will head to court on Monday and obtain an order quashing or recalling the arrest warrant and restraining the SSS from arresting him on the authority of that defective warrant. That places every other judge on notice that the SSS effort to arrest El-Rufai would be subject to similar review. Ultimately, El-Rufai triumphs over the SSS, which would be exploited by his party as a triumph over the ruling party. This is thus a false move or miscalculation that does the President no good.

•Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, lawyer and activist, whose photo appears alongside this piece, writes from Maryland, USA.

Source: News Express

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