By Bisi Lawrence
President GoodluckÂ Ebele Jonathan is free to contest the presidential election next year. The Peoples Democratic Party, his party, announced the decision in tandem with the affirmation that its â€œzoningâ€ policy remains intact.
Since that policy would have routinely thrown President Jonathan out of the race, it would appear that it is being deliberately waived on this occasion as a special favour to the president. He does not hail from the zone – that is, the North – which is making a claim for the presidential spot as its prerogative at this juncture.
One cannot but wonder how serious the party is because, on the face of it and without the explicit riderÂ that it is aÂ special concession, itÂ takes on the form of doublespeak.
The Constitution empowers every eligible citizen to vote and be voted for in a national election, and the offered explanation that Jonathan may contest the election againstÂ the principle ofÂ theÂ PDPÂ zoning system only begs the question.
The issue has been a thorny one, and more clarification would not have been amiss. But the fact that the party seems to have been remiss on that score may have sprung from the hubristic tendencies of a political party that is fully relaxed in the overbearing confidence that the country is in its hands.
On the other hand, it may be a clever way of clearing the way for the president himself to step down gracefully for some acclaimed â€œpatrioticâ€ reason. And that would indeed have a portion of patriotism in it.
And so, while all indications may appear to point to a natural desire for the president to contest, that may be no more than on a general assumption. The gentleman is yet to favour us with a definite pronouncement on his decision, though we are being assured that it will come â€œat the appropriate time.â€ What time can be more appropriate than now?
The election is so near one could almost smell it – that is, according to the schedule that has been going round.
Even if that schedule has now been subjected to a stringentÂ review, because of the delay in the clarification of constitutional implications accompanied by the habitual, or traditional, tardiness in response to financial necessities, (to the obvious discomfiture ofÂ INEC executives who have boldly, wisely, indicated as much) the presidential election should hold in the first half of next year.
What then is causing the â€œhold-upâ€ on the route of Jonathanâ€™s way to a timely declaration ofÂ his intent to contest, orÂ not to contest? The imperatives ofÂ husting operations demand considerable time.
Already, the former Vice-President, AtikuÂ Abubakar, has been going around and declaring his interest. He intends to stand on the ticket ofÂ his erstwhile party, the PDP, but is finding it not as easy to renew his membership as it was to dump it. The issue impinges on the point at which he may be re-admitted into the party, and he is doing his utmostÂ to have his way.
But he is encountering a dourÂ opposition, whichÂ mayÂ demand some effort to unravel, from Governor Murtala Nyako ofÂ Adamawa.
Former President Ibrahim Babangida is over and beyond that kind of hurdle. He also has now announced his candidacy officially, and the former level ofÂ the din against his desire to return as a civilian president seems to have become somewhat stalled.
Not surprisingly though, because it would have been near-impossible to maintain that tempo of sheer animosity which mostly substitutedÂ prejudiceÂ forÂ moral judgment, and mistookÂ sentiment for objectivity.
Of course, if I may be permitted to repeat myself, the Constitution empowers every eligible citizen to vote and be voted for in a national election. I personally canâ€™t help feeling that IBB still appears to have more to deliver in service to this nation, by way of experience, statecraft, and sense of direction.
When he was described as the cause, a while ago, this page attracted some resentment.
But it wasÂ a conclusion arrived at from a candid standpoint. I mentioned at that time that, in a season of clamorous demands for a fair and free election, we may do worse than totally disregard someone who was able to achieve it. But swift as an arrow came the rejoinder that he also annulled it.
He has explained that it involved much more than a personal decision, but has accepted his responsibility as a worthwhile leader would.
Drop that consideration for a moment; but has it impacted on your consciousness – if I may so put it that the issue about which all the other parties, apart from the PDP, are now belabouring themselves -and about which they are grouping and re-grouping themselves – was what the two-party system introduced by BabangidaÂ had already resolved before it was discontinued?
We cannot entirely forget the past. That is not what we are saying here. â€œThe past is prologue,â€ says Shakespeare. â€œStudy the past.â€ But progressive thinking informs us that politics is about the future.
And so we find that, ironically, IBB is in fact, the first man to actually abrogate the opportunity for a one-party system … which, by the way, is not the same thing with founding a â€œmega-partyâ€ that practically approximates what it proposes to destroy.
Prejudice and moral judgment
You might have heard about the furore over the proposal to build a mosque near the site of the national disaster in the United States, now known from the date of its occurrence as â€œ9/11â€. It occurred on the Ninth ofÂ November, 2001.
In broad daylight, two planes deliberately crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Building in Manhattan, New York. The upper floors of the buildings toppled to the ground with a mass ofÂ humanity. Fire sprouted up and engulfed the entire area. It was horrendous.
The AI-Queda, a Middle East organization headed by Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the dastardly act, and America went to war in revenge. That war is still raging in Afghanistan. The area of the destroyed twin-towers has been left undeveloped – a wide expanse of naked real estate known asâ€Ground Zero.â€
Though I am proudly Nigerian, I do share the grief ofÂ the bereaved Americans who lost their dear ones in 9/11. The video footage of the airplanes as they crashed into the buildings was shown over and over again on television, as that tale ofÂ woe was recounted time and again for weeks in the news.
I could only bear it for a little while. After that, I would quickly turn to another channel, or switch the set off entirely. As it happened, I had actually witnessed the event on the television as it occurred, and at first mistaken it for the clip ofÂ a fiction drama.
Only minutes later did its reality hit me, and I screamed in horror.
Thousands of souls had perished on that day, removed from earthly existence in all their innocence, and leaving other thousands of relatives joined by a whole nation, in deep mourning. The wounds have not yet healed. It may not for another decade. To forgive willÂ definitely take longer – maybe never.
AI Queda identifies itself as an Islamic organization, fighting for an Islamic cause. But not all Muslims agree with its methods of fighting for the cause. Such people, especially in the United States, would be expected to sympathize, and shareÂ aÂ senseÂ ofÂ loss with the bereaved.
A monument is being considered to be built in honour ofÂ the victims, but several people would rather leave the open expanse of ground, bare and untouched, as a memorial fitting enough for the grief of 9/11.
Now, would you believe that some people are proposing to build aÂ mosque almostÂ withinÂ a stoneâ€™s throw of â€œGround Zeroâ€? Yes, a mosque. Naturally, the proposal raised an outburst of emotions. â€œHow insensitive!â€ a distraughtÂ nation-wide public asked.
â€œAre the Muslims trying to raise their own monument to the success of inordinate terrorism? Several people felt it should never have occurred to anyone to attempt a venture like that which, to them, was so contemptible, to say the least.
All this is happening against the background of an election year in which all politicians, high and low, are very careful about what they say. An unguarded statement may be followed by dire consequences, like the loss of political gains. And so it was no surprise that PresidentÂ Barak Obama seemed to hesitate to take any position on the matter.
But eventually, he did… and I was shocked. So, of course were many of his countrymen. His popularity ratings took a steep dive at a period when even many other politicians depended on his support to promote their own fortunes. Obama obviously was aware of all that when he said what he said.
President Barak Obama blandly asserted that every American had the right to freedom ofÂ worship, and also the right to erect a structure on private land. Period. He earned a spontaneous outburst of applause from the audience at the occasion where he spoke, but left many people across America aghast with what was widely assessed to be an unguarded statement – to put it mildly.
But how could he? I wondered. The issue was not the right to the freedom of worship of anyone at all, but the wisdom to put up a structureÂ thatÂ would be offensive to many because of the siteâ€™s recent history. But Barak Obama boldly embraced the larger picture which frames the rights guaranteedÂ byÂ the American Constitution for everyone of its citizens.
And, surprise, surprise, no one less than the Mayor ofÂ New York sharedÂ his view. But, even more surprise, surprise, several members ofÂ the opposition party, including a former member of President Bushâ€™s cabinet, concurred. â€œYes,â€ they declared, â€œthe President is right.â€â€™How could theyÂ Â align themselves with the President?â€, I said to myself.
However, it later came back to me. The resentment over the siting of the proposed Mosque in Manhattan was fuelled by sentiment and propelled by prejudice. It does not affect the right of any citizen under the law. It has broken no statute.
The proposed location has only hurt other peopleâ€™s feelings, an unpleasant thing to do – but that is probably what characterizes those people. What typify America are the over-riding principles of her nationhood.
And if we, as a people, must progress and leave an abidingÂ heritage forÂ posterity to cherish and uphold, weÂ canÂ no longer afford to replace moral judgment with sentiment, and present prejudice as a substitute for objectivity.