By Donu Kogbara
DURING a press conference that took place in Pretoria earlier on this week, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (retired), the former military administrator of Lagos State and our current High Commissioner to South Africa, told journalists that he could show them the results of a recent opinion poll that proves that most Nigerians are not bothered about zoning issues and are more interested in leaders who can deliver than in where they come from.

According to Marwa, when the individuals who participated in the above poll were asked what qualities they would most value in a President, they mentioned fear of God, experience, generosity, honesty and past performance.

Marwa, a Northerner, went on to make it clear that he is part of this detribalised group by saying that he is a staunch supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger Deltan, because he’s convinced that Jonathan is a “breath of fresh air” who is smart and robust enough to be the kind of leader we need.

I would like to think that the views that Marwa and the poll respondents have expressed are accurate reflections of the national mood. It will be laudable if the majority of Nigerians have really matured – politically, morally, intellectually and psychologically – to the point where they would rather support a man because of his character and track record than because of his ethnic origins.

Regular readers of this column will recall that I am usually unapologetically partisan where Jonathan is concerned and have frequently thrown what little weight I have behind him on the grounds that he represents my zone – which had never produced a single President until a few months ago…even though the South-South is the main source of Nigeria’s wealth and has suffered most from pollution and other problems created by oil exploration activities.

But even I have to admit that it would be very wrong of me to back Jonathan purely because I think that it’s about time someone from my backyard was in charge.

And I want it on record that I have searched my conscience and have concluded that I’d have been a passionate advocate of Jonathan’s right to rule beyond 2011, even if I WASN’T from the South-South…not just because I subscribe to the notion that justice demands that all zones be treated equally but because I also believe that Jonathan is a fundamentally decent man.

In other words, if I felt that Jonathan was dubious, nasty or incompetent, I swear that I would flatly refuse to back him…even if he was my blood brother.

At any rate, it is a complete mystery to me why certain elements in the North, which have enjoyed several presidential stints for 38 out of the 50 years that have elapsed since Independence, should be making so much noise about zoning and insisting that it is their turn yet again.

I would have been more tolerant of their arrogant agitations if the Northerners who have steered the ship of state to date had displayed special leadership skills. But we all know that they didn’t!

I hope that these unrepentant sectionalists will eventually calm down and be fair and take heed of the poll results and take a leaf out of Marwa’s book and stop trying to prevent Jonathan from continuing – if he wishes to continue.

…An opposite viewpoint

A YORUBA friend just told me that he is extremely sceptical about the poll results. He thinks that if Jonathan decides to run, most Nigerians will reject him because of where he comes from, even if he has performed magnificently.

According to my friend: “It is not just Northern supremacists who are trying to use zoning as an excuse for blocking Jonathan. Almost everyone who isn’t from an oil-producing area is secretly panicking about what will happen if you Niger Deltans are allowed to have oil and political power for four whole years…

“…You will own the country in every sense of the word and become a law unto yourselves; and since the rest of us are not suicidal or stupid, I would strongly advise Jonathan against presenting himself as a candidate in 2011 because he will embarrass himself by becoming the first incumbent to lose an election”.

When I protested and pointed out that Jonathan is too responsible and unconfrontational by nature to govern Nigeria in a manner that will make folks who don’t hail from his zone feel excluded and oppressed, my friend laughed and assured me that very few of the Yorubas, Igbos and Northerners he knew were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt…“because all human beings have faults and nobody can be sure how he will behave if his position is secured.”

So what is the truth? Is my friend being misguided or realistic when he says that the poll respondents’ opinions should be taken with a pinch of salt?

If Jonathan performs well – or adequately, at least – and decides to run, will the majority of Nigerians gang up against him because of where he comes from or forget about where he comes from and vote for him on the basis of merit?

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