"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 04/16/10

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing!

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan shouldn’t have come to America. OK, I take that back. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan shouldn’t have come to America without preparation. His speeches and press interviews have sadly inflicted enormous reputational violence on his person—and on Nigeria. They were, to use the weakest expression I can summon to capture my deep disappointment, a pain to watch.

I had never heard Jonathan speak before. I’d just assumed that being a Ph.D. and a former lecturer, articulateness in speech would be the least of his problems. How wrong I had been. His performance at the (American) Council on Foreign Relations was a disaster of epic proportions. Let’s not even talk about his CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour. That was a dismal fizzle! No Nigerian who wants to retain his national self-esteem should watch it. What the eyes do not see, they say, the heart does not grieve over.

On Wednesday, I visited the NigeriaVillageSquare.com, like I always do, and saw a video of Goodluck Jonathan’s Q & A session at the Council on Foreign Relations posted on the site’s front page. I left everything aside and decided to watch it. I’d just finished arguing with a group of Nigerians who thought Jonathan wasn’t presidential in his carriage.

They said he looked intimidated and unsure of himself before Obama. But I thought otherwise. The pictures of him I saw looked to me dignified, presidential, and admirably self-assured. I managed to convince some of my online interlocutors that they were mistaken in their assessment of the acting president’s composure and mien throughout his U.S. visit.

So, when I saw the video, I looked forward to watching it with a lot of enthusiasm. I had an expectation that I would listen to a clear-headed, intelligent, confident exposition on Nigeria from Jonathan. But less than five minutes into the video I felt so embarrassed for the man—and for Nigeria—that my teeth itched. Just then a colleague of mine strolled into my office. I instinctively and furtively stopped the video and minimized the window with the anxiety, alacrity, guilt, and embarrassment that a self-respecting family man caught watching dirty porn would evince.

And that was precisely what my colleague thought I was doing. So she apologized and left immediately, half-embarrassed too. I was so thoroughly mortified by Jonathan’s performance that I didn’t want anybody else, not least a non-Nigerian, to watch it.

What did he say in the Q & A session that was so atrocious? Well, you will have to watch the video—or read the transcript— yourself. No second-hand recapitulation will do justice to the abysmal emptiness it betrays. But a few things stood out in bold relief from watching that video. First, this man is clearly thoroughly provincial. He does not know the ways of the world and is not emotionally and socially prepared for the job of a president—yet.

After former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Mr. Howard Jeter introduced him to the audience with lavishly laudatory prefatory remarks, he didn’t even acknowledge the remarks. He didn’t say a word about the introduction. Jeter described him as “a man of uncommon loyalty, impeccable integrity, and an immense commitment to Nigeria and to the welfare of the Nigerian people.”

 That’s some pretty strong praise. But that’s not the reason why he should have acknowledged Jeter’s remarks. Protocol requires that he does so even if the praise weren’t this flattering. That he didn’t say “thank you Ambassador Jeter for that warm introduction” or something to that effect was just socially awkward.

But I forgave him that gaucherie. I chalked it up to the fact that he was probably too intimidated to have the presence of mind to observe commonplace conversational niceties. Who wouldn’t be? America can intimidate the hell out of even the most self-assured person, especially from the Third World.

Then came his speech. It was unbelievably dull, colorless, and uninspiring. Whoever wrote that speech for him needs some basic training in speech writing. Although he could have enlivened the drab, rhetorically impoverished, error-laden, cliché-ridden speech with an artful delivery, I didn’t blame him for it. I held out hope that he would prove his intellectual verve in the Q & A session.

How wrong was I again! His performance in the Q & A session was worse than the speech he’d read. He couldn’t articulate a coherent thought, hardly made a complete sentence, went off on inconsequential and puerile tangents, murdered basic grammar with reckless abandon, repeated trifles ad nauseam, was embarrassingly stilted, and generally looked and talked like a timid high school student struggling to remember his memorized lines in a school debate. It was obvious that even Ambassador Jeter was embarrassed.

The point at which I stopped watching the video was when he started answering a question about Nigeria’s foreign policy. This man had no clue what Nigeria’s foreign policy is! I felt deep pity for the acting president and for Nigeria. But why didn’t his assistants prepare him to answer a question as basic as Nigeria’s foreign policy? How could he accept an invitation to speak at the Council on FOREIGN Relations and not give a thought to Nigeria’s foreign policy?

This was a painful piece to write. Our acting president came across as someone who is barely literate. His grammar was awful. He doesn’t seem to be aware that there is something called subject-verb agreement, as evidenced in statements like, “I wish to thank the esteemed members of the Council on Foreign Relations for its continued interest in Nigerian affairs,” “issues of corruption bothers us,” etc. And “Muslim faithfuls”? Well, there is no word like “faithfuls” in the English language, Mr. Acting President. And by “sectoral crisis between Muslims” did he mean “sectarian crisis between Muslims”? Hmm.

 He also came across as thoroughly insular and unsophisticated. How else could he promise an American audience that he would make “50, 60, 70 percent” progress on his promises? Those are failing grades in America, Mr. Acting President! Doesn’t he have advisers who went to school in America? In America, 50 percent is “F,” 60 percent is “D,” and 70 percent is “C” minus.

Finally, he came across as unfathomably clueless. Just look at this statement as an example: “Muslims and Christians are not at war and they will never be at war as far as my own circumstances.” Seriously? Enough said.