If Jonathan Has A Drinking Problem…

The Presidency is not going to confirm whether President Goodluck Jonathan is a tippler or not; this is never going to happen. What is sure is this: the President’s aides will shrilly deny that their boss takes more than a glass of red wine, now and then.


This week, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, launched a visceral attack against purveyors of Jonathan’s alleged habit. It was his second strike. The first time, Abati practically swore that all the intoxicants in Aso Rock were “Red Wine”. This instance, in response to a media report that posited that Jonathan’s recent ill-health in London was the end-stage of a binge indulged in during his 56th birthday bash, Abati fired off an unnecessary diatribe, even threatening legal action.

By now, Abati should know that if one does not wish to be ever carpeted, the solution is to aspire to nothingness. One should never do two things: Never, ever write and do not be President. Insults –public and private — roll with such undertakings. The earlier one shrugs it off with the classic speck-on-my-shoulder pose, and faces the job one is assigned by the public to do, the better for everyone.

Abati’s response was too much Turenchi; enough to make one wonder if there was no truth to the report in the first place.  The Yoruba say when an elder repeatedly states, “it does not matter,” it means there is a matter somewhere.

The matter of Jonathan’s tippling habit did not start via reports of a “Jonathan-hating” media. I have interacted with associates that have also interacted with Jonathan at close range and they say, indeed, he has a blooming relationship with a certain brand of wine. The point, however, must be made that what constitutes overdrinking, is to an extent, subjective, especially when ethnic stereotyping impacts the manner we sum certain predilections executed by people who have been marked with such a behaviour.

Stereotypes are part of every cultural fabric that we cannot easily do away with. This makes determined habits take on a higher resonance when carried out by a member of a group we associate with particular labels. For instance, an Akwa Ibom/Cross River woman has to contend with the clichéd musings of indomitable coital dexterity in a way a Yoruba woman would not. An average Igbo man bears the burden of an image of an inordinate capitalist, driven to accumulate material wealth by any means necessary. The Yoruba is considered slick while the northerner (all grouped into the “Aboki” trope) is an oaf, a terrorist or a sick mind that covets prepubescent girls.

Please note, stereotypes are not always devoid of reality but the problem is that they turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. They lock a people into defined cultural traits without considering individual divergences. Anyone who does not conform to stereotypes is not seen for their humanity but as acting out of type.

In the case of Jonathan, a man from the Niger Delta, he is easily tagged a tippler because that is part of the stereotype of folk from riverine homelands. But do they actually drink more than the rest of Nigeria? We can ask breweries to give us consumption data but that will not go far enough. The issue is not so much about how they drink but what they are said to drink. Moonshines — a.k.a. Ogogoro, Sapele Water, Wuru — is the stimulant associated with them. The crudeness of this local brew — with its high ethanol concentration — is superimposed on Niger Deltans to give a distorted picture of a crude classless people who not only lack the refinement of high culture but are, also, on a self-destruct mission.

At the outset of Jonathan’s Presidency, his opponent evoked this ethnic slurring when they called him the “son of a drunken fisherman.”

The question, for me, is if Jonathan’s “Red Wine” weakness –if he truly has one — is a problem. One side of it is that it is a character flaw that reminds us that even presidents are human. Boris Yeltsin was a notorious drunk yet, as a president, the sum total of his presidency cannot be summed-up as failed. A little off-centre on the intoxication prism is the 35th president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula left office with the highest rating of any political leader, ever.

Before Abati picks up his pen — again, he should be glad that it is not a charge of mental illness that was levelled against his principal. Both the 16th and 35th presidents of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who were famously celebrated last week, had bouts of manic depression. Same obtained for the United Kingdom’s war time prime minister, Winston Churchill.

If Jonathan has a drinking problem, he would not be the first – or last — president in the world to battle the bottle. Aso Rock’s huff-and-puff is uncalled for because it only fuels the open-ended rumour. It’s one of those stories –like Sani Abacha’s death by Indian prostitutes or, Umaru Yar’Adua’s failed kidneys — that no official rebuttal can ever displace.

The flip side of any president’s drinking problem is that it would affect his handling of state issues. Yeltsin, when inebriated to his eyeballs, was a one-man comedy troupe. Come to think of it, a man who primes his own body to self-destruct could eventually put the country on auto-destruct in a fit of bacchanal orgy. It would have been a whole different story if Jonathan’s administration is not as rudderless as it appears now. That is the part of the tippling tales that concerns me.

If he has a drinking problem, then, we need to know how it affects his judgment on national issues. Is his indecisiveness on the question of corruption, for instance, a problem of an ethanol-addled mind? When he said he was not going to mention the names of those who are corrupt because he does not want to be attacked, was it him talking or it was a bottle’d inspiration? Besides, if we separated the drink from the man, are we going to have a better person and a leader? In other words, can alcoholism actually be blamed for the Jonathan administration’s shortcomings? And if abstinence won’t make him a more effective leader, why are we even talking about it at all?
Source: Punch Nigeria


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