By Jide Ajani
Make no bones: No President needs to be subjected to the walkout that was choreographed by five state governors and their delegates as was the case penultimate Saturday.
But it is simply straightforward: The scattered clouds of presidential ambition are creating serious turbulence in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The hoopla about internal democracy, threats of suspension and suspension of leaders of the party, the audacious walkout at the special convention, the panic mode that was engaged thereafter, the staccato cameo appearances of First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan on the political scene and the surfeit of fence-mending meetings are all denominated by the contestation and contest for the presidential seat.
All these are happening, not necessarily because Nigeria has a gentleman President in Goodluck Jonathan, but because pursuit of political ambition in Nigeria does not brook decency. This is a political space that does not also suffer gentility. This would not be the first time. In 1998/1999, 2002/2003, 2006/2007 and as recently as 2010/2011, the tug and push that attended the contest almost always tried to bring down the roof on the country.
With the nature, content and context of political configuration in this part of the world, who should the President be afraid of? This is a question only Jonathan can answer because he is the President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria.
Mind you, those who appear to be aghast at the opposition stacked against Jonathan in his quest for a second term of office only miss the point because they miss the historical antecedents of second term pursuit in Nigeria. Even the Second Republic had its own fair share of polity overheat because of Shehu Shagari’s second term quest, eliciting this statement from a National Party of Nigerian, NPN, leader, that “Nigeria’s presidency is not for sale” – this was a lampoon by Umaru Dikko, then a serving minister in Shagari’s government, against Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, after the latter lost the presidential primaries of the party. The intrigues and wicked politics that attended that period of the primaries created so much bad blood that Abiola stepped aside from politics. Indeed, there are those who believe that this event of 1983 was part of the reasons the military took over in December of that same year.
Therefore, whatever Jonathan is going through is not new.
What appears to be new is the desperation, despotism, audacity and shamelessness that have crept in on all sides! Not that there was none of these in those other years, the level has been upped in such a manner that everything including the kitchen elements are being thrown in. For instance, in 1998/1999, the outgoing military government left no one in doubt that it wanted to hand over power to Olusegun Obasanjo, one of its own – money, influence peddling, logistics support, security, rule-bending and everything imaginable were deployed to ensure that Obasanjo defeated his closest rival, Alex Ekwueme.
In 2002/2003, Obasanjo himself deployed native intelligence, massive acquiescence and the strategy of stooping to conquer to get his ticket. In 2007, the selfsame Obasanjo, after losing out on an attempt to elongate his tenure beyond what the Constitution guaranteed, imposed Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on the PDP – this, after elbowing the likes of Peter Odili, Mohammed Makarfi and a host of others out of the contest. In 2010/2011, another need for rule-bending, ethno-religious sentiments, fully backed by state funds and the craving for a ‘breaths of fresh air’ all came together to ensure that Jonathan emerged as the PDP candidate and eventually as Nigeria’s President.
So, what is so different now?
Well, to be fair, no nation can endure, for too long, the rambunctious approach of Obasanjo. Neither can any nation suffer the go-slow approach of an ailing late President Yar’Adua. However, the gentleman approach of Jonathan may be his greatest undoing for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the hubris about his demure demeanour as an amour of defence, which opposition elements under-estimate its potency at their peril, may have launched a voyage towards unraveling. The paradigmatic engagement by subtlety has become all too familiar just as the last-minute sacrificial mentality has created its own problem for this administration.
Secondly, and because perception is everything in politics, a few political neophytes, who appear to have hijacked the Presidency, continue to pour cold water on whatever genuine reconciliatory engagements of President Jonathan, thereby, re-enforcing the belief, rightly or wrongly, that a cabal has been substituted for another cabal.
In addition, because there is a growing belief that those who are benefitting from the Jonathan Presidency would do anything, just about anything – including lying to him and deceiving him – there is an urgent need for Mr. President to sift reasoned, dispassionate counsel from sycophancy as is currently being served to him by a few of his coterie of ministers, advisers, his tribesmen and, importantly, a key member of his nuclear family.
Lastly, why would a President allow some leaders in his political party to carry on as if he does not exist? An example is the case of the suspension of Governor Wamako of Sokoto State. Sunday Vanguard gathered authoritatively that the suspension of Wamako by the party some months ago was never at the instance of President Jonathan – he read about the suspension like any other Nigerian on the street. At least that was what he reportedly admitted before some politicians.
All said, those who appear to be bullying Jonathan today should learn from the errors of those who made Obasanjo condescend before he could get his second term of office. The viciousness with which Obasanjo took them on remains unrivaled.
Yet, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria remains very clear that the only basis upon which any individual can be disqualified from seeking election as President and Commander-in-Chief is only if such an individual had sought the office twice before – Jonathan has sought the office only once before.
No matter. Democracy is not an issue of what you like or what catches your fancy. It is about choices as stipulated by law. Whatever arrangement or agreement that a Jonathan may have allegedly entered into with whoever cannot stand before the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Still, it should be pointed out that it is bad manners to walk out on a President. But it should also be acknowledged that the walkout, which was meant to project before the whole world that the PDP had become factionalised, is going to form the pole on which would be hoisted the decampment of legislators who would want to dump the PDP for other political parties. Bad manners or not, this is political strategy per pragmatism and not demagogy.
The hot air that Bamangar Tukur is blowing, about the possibility of expelling and declaring vacant seats of legislators who have endorsed the New PDP amounts to nothing more than what it is: hot air.
Mercifully, there are still some war horses around President Jonathan, like Tony Anenih, David Mark, Anyim Pius – just to mention a few – who can genuinely counsel him and muster their political goodwill for his good. Because, even after the threat of impeachment, Obasanjo still got his second term ticket.
It is only in Nigeria that a sitting President would be told by his party leaders to forget his ambition that is constitutionally guaranteed – not minding the message that sends.
But all these can happen because Nigeria has a gentleman President.
Therefore, will Jonathan continue to be the gentleman on who rough shod is ridden?
Or will he stand up and do the right and legitimate thing to secure what is constitutionally guaranteed for him?
Read our special report on the PDP crisis titled “Divided We Stand“.