With the multi-million naira presidential declaration at the Eagle Square in Abuja yesterday; with the crowd of hundreds of thousands of persons from all over Nigeria who created an unforgettable traffic snarl in the Federal Capital Territory; and with the deafening noise that tore through the serenity of Abuja from Friday night through yesterday afternoon, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, crossed the proverbial Rubicon to join the 2011 Presidential race. The meaning of the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” seems to be lost in overuse, but it simply means the taking of a step by which one is committed to a hazardous enterprise.
Is Jonathan’s decision to join the 2011 presidential race hazardous? It may not be literarily hazardous, but it could be politically. Against the provisions of Section 7(2)C of the party’s constitution over the zoning of positions in the PDP which zones the presidency to the North, President Jonathan has entered the race. The provision says: “In pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.”
In spite of the argument that the president finds liberty to contest under the provisions of the 1999 constitution, several interest groups in the North, especially the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), have not given up on their demand that the Presidency in 2011 under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), belongs to the North.
NO DEAL BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH-SOUTH
As at last Friday, the group wrote to the PDP National Chairman, Dr Okwesilizie Nwodo, insisting on the presidency. In the letter, the leaders of the NPLF argued thus: “To us, Yar’adua was nominated to fulfil the rotation of power to the North. The fact that he died midway did not in any way terminate the total number of uninterrupted years which the North is entitled to enjoy, nor did it obfuscate the right of the North to field a replacement.
“To our shock and dismay, although there are some individuals from the North aspiring to earn the nomination of our party to complete the second term of the Northern ticket, the intention of President Goodluck Jonathan to wrongly use the power of incumbency, to arm-twist party members, usurp, misappropriate and confiscate this Northern ticket, has now been confirmed by his plan to declare interest to run for president. We fear that if President Jonathan’s plot succeeds, it will divide and dislocate our beloved party. It will also cause irreparable damage to the peace and oneness of our country. It will constitute an assault on reason and a gross injustice to the North.”
However, Nigerians who support the president’s aspiration argue that with his candidature, the minority groups in all parts of Nigeria would be given a sense of belonging, as it would be the first time that the major ethnic groups would cede the Number One position to a minority group. Others have argued that because government is a continuum, President Jonathan would be running on the crest of the Yar’adua/Jonathan ticket of 2007. If Yar’adua were alive, he would have contested a second term with Jonathan. Apart from these sophistry, assorted appeals to sentiments have not been spared. They include, Jonathan is one of the highly educated Nigerians to aspire to that position (with a Ph.D). Others say it is time to do away with the retired generals whose names top the list of northern aspirants. Yet, there is the superstitious perspective that the man had always been lucky and his good luck could rob off on the country. Without much effort, Jonathan became Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State and later became governor. Without dreaming of it, he was appointed Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP in 2007 and won. Without bargaining for it, elected President Umaru Musa Yar’adua died in May, 2010, paving the way for Jonathan to become president.
The president and his strategists did not fold their arms while the debate on whether or not he should contest lasted. From high-wire political horse-trading, to the use of anti-corruption agencies to intimidate perceived opponents, to the use of state media outfits, President Jonathan did not hide his desire to aspire to continue in Aso Rock in 2011. Malam Shehu Sani, president of the Nigeria Civil Rights Congress, observed that Jonathan was increasingly becoming desperate in his quest to perpetuate himself, hence adopting and applying all the negative strategy of the Obasanjo administration but in a subtle way-disguised persecution.
He recalled the forceful removal of Vincent Ogbulafor, the targeted persecution of critics by the anti-graft agency were all Obasanjo’s mode of operation. Sani regretted that Jonathan, who is a product and beneficiary of zoning, violated it by to deciding to contest, adding that, “Nigeria politics will never be the same if he wins or loses” According to him, Jonathan’s inability distance himself and his government from the intimidation and threats made by militants against Nigerians exercising their democratic and constitutional rights, is dishonest and trickish..
“Militants were threatening to break Nigeria or intimidate individuals who differ from the ideas of Jonathan. A responsible and responsive president must not have taken a neutral position. He should not be silent. He should speak out. If the militants are not working for him, we need to know.
He believes that with the zoning issue unresolved, the 2011 elections will produce a divisive president, no matter who emerges winner. “If Jonathan losses, the South-South will feel there was a gang up and if he wins the North will see his government as a stolen presidency”
He also lamented that, “under Jonathan presidency, Nigeria has become more divided than it had ever been. The Edwin Clarks have become a state and insecurity is becoming prevalent.”
On what should be the way forward, he said if the PDP failed to purge itself, Nigerians will do so. “I believe in the forthcoming elections, Nigerians as a whole and not just the organized Civil Society have a role to play.”
“First, we must keep the governments on their toes by continuous agitation for good governance and non interference in the activities of INEC. Secondly, they must keep vigil to support and protect Jega to succeed. Cont’d from page 4
“Third, we must encourage and at the same time, keep vigil on the governors not to buckle or succumb to pressure or blackmail. Fourth, we must impress it upon the opposition political parties to wake up and live up to their responsibilities while Nigerians must be ready for elections and mass protests, when the former fails, the later is recommended.”
IBB, ATIKU FOCUSED
In spite of the development, Malam Garba Shehu, the spokesman of the Atiku Abubakar campaign organization, said the former Vice-President is not shaken. He told Sunday Trust that “Atiku is focused and has always done what he should do despite the long-drawn question of waiver. He declared his intention to contest for president on the 15th of last month. On September 15, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) endorsed his waiver to contest. That is one full month after he formally declared interest in the Presidency under the PDP. That is how focused we are. We had always known that we would get the waiver if the PDP should tread the path of fairness and social justice.
Shehu added further that, “Some people did all they could do to try and hold us down. They were people who didn’t feel comfortable with us, but we were not perturbed. Now that the controversy over waiver is gone, you should expect much progress. We are already getting much attention from home and abroad. Activities towards the presidential primaries slated for between October 18 and 20 are picking up and the tempo of activities for us will rise steadily as we approach the election period. We are constantly meeting all who are concerned and we are travelling to consult with stakeholders.
According to him, “we would go to every state in the campaign for the primaries. We will reach out to the people where they live. We understand that some people are afraid about going to campaign in certain states. I want to say with emphasis that Atiku will go everywhere. It is only aspirants who have offended some people who are afraid of going to such people. Atiku has not offended anyone. He is therefore not afraid of going anywhere.”
In a related development, Prince Kassim Afegbua of the General Ibrahim Babangida campaign organization, said the fact that President Jonathan is an incumbent president does not give him an upper hand. He said, “incumbency will not help Jonathan. There are many things they wanted to do which they couldn’t do. They wanted to order the course of the primaries to raise their chances; they didn’t succeed. They wanted e-registration so they could manipulate the process. It didn’t happen. There is a collective resolve among us to champion the culture of getting the right thing done all the time. We have our supporters nationwide and we are going to be busy at elections. We would monitor every aspect of every election. Anywhere we see any foul play, we will shout foul. We will shout to the roof top. We will not be silent in the face of tyranny; no way. We will insist that the right thing be done.
In his view, “the EFCC should be conscious of the timing of what it does. Elections are approaching and you are running after governors. Even if what you are doing is genuine, it would be interpreted differently. Governors have immunity. You should not run round them by haunting down the people who work with or for the governor. If you have any reason to go for him, why not wait till he is out of Government House? EFCC should not be seen as something that the president uses to force people to his side.”
Speaking on what he called the use of militants to intimidate the rest of the nation, Afegbua said, “For militants threatening Nigerians with a fight, it is unnecessary. They want a president. They have one now. Today, we have a South South person as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What else do they want? General Abdulsalami Abubakar was head of state for just one year (June 9, 1998 – May 29, 1999). Today, his record speaks for him. So, what are we talking about? What is he (Jonathan) doing now that he is there? What is he doing with his opportunity? These are the sort of questions we should be asking. What progressive direction is he showing the nation? He should make people buy into his aspiration by doing well as a president.”
MILITANTS AND JONATHAN’S AMBITION
Although the ex-militants have not been bellicose since President Jonathan, himself of Ijaw extraction, as many of them became the helmsman in Aso Rock, it is feared that they may unleash mayhem in the region if his bid to succeed himself is truncated. The ex-militants, some analysts believe are on the payroll of the presidency and they will want to justify the lifeline amnesty has given them in the past few months.
On a personal note, some of the ex-militants, particularly those who were allied to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), are known to have a phobia for the North. On several occasions they have blamed the woes of the region on the usurpation of oil resources by the Northern oligarchy. The passion with which MEND combated the Nigerian Army in 2008 and the kind of language it used to describe the Northerners is a reflection of the deep seated animosity that they harbour against Northerners.
Although their previous hatred for the North is on record when our correspondent sought the views of the most liberal ones among them, he got little or no response. Those who volunteered to say a few words extracted a pledge of anonymity from him before divulging some things. One of them from Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa, opined that it will be suicidal for any of them to openly criticise the idea of Jonathan’s ambition. “He is the Commander-in-Chief. He’s got the army and other ancillary security operatives under his control. We have accepted amnesty, so if you come out against him, you are signing your death warrant”, the ex-militant leader confided.
He explained that the immunity they enjoy now will terminate the minute they decide to oppose the president. According to him, all the allowances they use to get will be frozen and the government will issue a manhunt on anyone of them whose loyalty is in doubt. This is what he said some of them are afraid of.
Another ex-militant leader said he thought the role Jonathan will play in the present political situation the country found itself in would have been to offer himself as a messiah who will clean the Augean stable and retire home to national applause and global recognition like his god-father, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did wayback in 1979. The ex-MEND cell leader in Bayelsa who did not want to be mentioned, insisted that Jonathan can still redeeem his image by being an unbiased umpire. “He should withdraw from the race and let Nigerians participate in a free and fair election”, he advised.
If the ex-miltants were cautious of their identity some other activists in the region are not that scared that their lives are at stake. Mbang Rex David, convener of Atiku Woniye (Atiku is our own in Ijaw dialect) is of the opinion that if Jonathan is given the ticket to run, the North will avoid zoning perpetually. He argued that if this scenario plays out, then the South cannot match the North in terms of numbers. “Democratically speaking, that sounds a death knell for any future southern aspirant”, David emphasized
“Zoning helped us produce someone like Jonathan. Without it, Bayelsa with the lowest population in the country, cannot produce a president. The South-South accepted zoning when it was inserted in the constitution. They also accepted it in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Were they stupid when they did?,” he asked rhetorically.
Offering people of the region the option of judging their leaders by their credibility, David observed that “we say Jonathan is gentle, but he is not. He sacked service chiefs. He also sacked Ogbulafor. He is playing politics. I don’t think that he wants to help us”.
Gani Topbe, an activist from the volatile Ogoni axis of Rivers state, who is also a staunch supporter of an Atiku presidency, supports zoning in favour of the North and condemns South-South leaders like Edwin Clarke who are clamouring for a Jonathan presidency. He chastised Clarke and his cohorts as being selfish. “When Saro-Wiwa was staring at the hangman’s noose, Clarke kept mute. Now, his kinsman is seeking the presidency and he is shouting himself hoarse. We will not listen to him”, he said.
The fact that the president has declared intention to run for the presidency is the beginning of the 2011 intrigues. Can the president overrun the combined forces of General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar? Can he tear through the maze of supporters which General Muhammadu Buhari is building with his newly registered Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)? Can he persuade the governors to support him in spite of the alliance between them and the Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki who has, since 2007, been the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum? With the order of the PDP’s primary elections in which the gubernatorial primaries will hold before the presidential primaries, it will become difficult for Jonathan to bank on the support of the governors, even those who declared their states’ support for him, unless his luck goes ahead of him to neutralize the plot to stop his ambition.