By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
‘Democracy is too good to share with just anybody’. – Nigel Rees. BUCKLE up. President Jonathan is going for broke. These are no times for the timid. The next few weeks will be full of sound and fury. What they signify, however, cannot be entirely foretold.
If the tough guy posture of the President is borne out of an assessment of his strength in relation to his adversaries’ weaknesses, he may be on his way to breaking a world record for turning the tables against all odds.
If, however, it is a gamble, he could come unstuck in more ways than he imagines. Either way, President Goodluck
Jonathan has just adjusted his position right back to a place where his future could substantially determine the fate of the nation.
For a man who had attempted to keep alive the fiction that the law does not allow him to state whether he is a candidate for another term, his reaction to the successful assault on a weak and feeble challenge over the PDP flag for 2015 will enrich his record on inconsistencies.
How anyone will believe that Governor Sule Lamido could stand up and stare into Jonathan’s eyes beats the imagination. If the billions being spent on advertising the candidature of an undeclared Jonathan have not convinced Lamido that he is not a David against this Goliath, the vast arsenal of the PDP in arm-twisting tactics was enough to do the trick. Only a few skeletons needed to be flashed, and assurances that do not necessary carry self- actualising capacities given, for Sule Lamido’s pathetic bravado to fall flat.
The icing on the cake was the enlisting of the custodian of Jonathan’s one-term-only documented pledge, Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu to complete the public humbling of Sule Lamido.
It is likely that Governor Lamido has a good face-saving story to tell his people whose hopes he had raised by his threat to enter the ring with Jonathan, or turn Jigawa State into a miniature Bayelsa as an option. A powerful team followed him home to make sure he got the message.
Jonathan’s hat has been in the ring all this while. The ritual of chorused endorsement merely says it is the only one. Jonathan now walks with a swagger and confidence of a victor.
He is told he has vanquished all Northern PDP protests at the illegitimacy of his ambition, as all his opposition from the region has either defected or been cowed into humiliating acquiescence. The PDP will field only Jonathan whether party loyalist from all over the country think he represents a liability or an asset.
It will be uncharitable to assume that PDP has not set aside a princely sum to seek legal advice over his eligibility, and to fight, using every means, to overcome potential legal hurdles. It is, in fact, quite conceivable that Jonathan and the PDP see this potential hurdle as a done deal, considering the leaky nature of our judicial system.
Perhaps it is the sense of accomplishment in winning a predictable battle that gives the President his current disposition on many issues.
You see this in the manner he side-steps a raging insurgency and the global outrage over the Chibok girls and headed for the UN Security Council, a place where he was bound to run into a storm of protests and hostility.
People claiming to be sympathetic to his version of the fight against the insurgency say the US government is actively frustrating his efforts to buy weapons in the open market, hence the recourse to his underhand cash-for-weapons attempt in South Africa which blew up in the nation’s face.
He is unlikely to have been warmly hugged by South African diplomats representing a nation seething with anger at the response of the Nigerian government to demands for full information regarding the death of many South Africans in a church in Lagos.
If South African diplomats did not return Jonathan’s greetings, it is possibly because they had read that he had visited the crashed church building, with more sympathy for the priests than the victims, and had said little beyond promising to investigate.
There could have been other leaders at the UN who would have read diplomatic briefs on the collapsed church building and the embarrassing seizure of a Nigerian plane which the government admits went with its $10m in cash to pay for weapons in South Africa.
They would know that President Jonathan had not visited the parents of the abducted Chibok girls, but had visited and commiserated with the owner of a church whose collapsed building is being investigated.
While he mingled with leaders who would stare at a President seemingly at ease even as abducted girls were rumoured to have been freed one moment, and still missing the next, President Jonathan would have put up a brave face while reading prepared speeches warning the world on the dangers of terror. Many in his audience have serious reservations regarding his will and capacity to fight Nigeria’s version of terror.
President Jonathan’s mien will not show evidence of deeper humility with his endorsement as the only Nigerian fit to fly the PDP flag.
He will embark on an aggressive campaign blaming the opposition and terror for gaping deficits in his administration. These deficits will have to be exposed by an opposition that itself could think going for broke is the way to go. The APC’s many options do not have time to incubate and respond appropriately to PDP’s big, if predictable, gamble.
The cat-and-mouse between Jonathan and Buhari is practically over. The world knows that Jonathan is now PDP’s candidate.
Those in the thinking circles of the two parties will now be firming up scenarios. Many in the APC think the biggest blunder the PDP has made is to field Jonathan. Many in PDP have prayed fervently that APC should field Buhari. Both think these candidates represent each other’s biggest liabilities. Now that Jonathan is set to fly PDP’s flag, will APC go for broke and field Buhari?
Can APC afford not to field Buhari? If it can, what does it have in store to minimise the potential damage in fielding another candidate? Can it afford an all-out scramble for the flag, and risking the type of damage that will literally hand Jonathan another four years in the Villa? Can it also gamble, with, say, a Northern Christian or Southern candidate?
What would it take to get another flag bearer, and convince Buhari to endorse him? How will APC handle fallouts from the selection of flag bearers at state and national levels?
The most serious aspect of the gamble of the PDP is that it could be infectious. It could create stronger resistance against Jonathan and his party in places which think another four years of his administration will compound every ill and problem which exist today.
It could deepen support in those places which think even a poor Jonathan leadership is preferable to an APC presidency. If it results in a Jonathan-Buhari contest, it will test the nation’s fragile democratic system to its limit, or even risk destroying it altogether.
The PDP leaders and President Jonathan have just raised the stakes higher than they have ever been. If they have taken an audatious gamble in clothing a president many think has run his race in the image of the untouchable, they may rue their decisions if and / or when the general elections are held in 2015.
Unless, of course, they bank on a game plan for deepening the intense, conflicting passions which Jonathan’s Presidency generates, with all its dangerous ramifications. Some may see a victory for Jonathan well outside the framework of a free and fair election next year. The biggest gamble of all will be one that assumes that leaders will emerge in defiance of the will of the Nigerian people.