By Hugo Odiogor, Deputy Politics Editor
TOMORROW, Saturday 18 September, 2011 will mark another watershed in Nigeria’s political development when Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikwe Jonathan formally declares his intention to contest for the Peoples Democratic Party presidential ticket for the 2011 general election. The declaration will lay to rest the endless speculations on the political future of the president, whose rise in politics has been by default.
For the first time in his political career, Dr. Jonathan is plunging into the power game at the highest level amid controversies on whether he should run for the office of the president in fulfilment of his inalienable rights as a Nigerian citizen, or contend himself with upholding the principles of zoning.
The argument of pro-zoning camp is that Nigeria must toe the line of ethno-religious power trajectory in which the North must take back the presidency, which slipped off its hands by the sudden death of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, but other liberal minded Nigerians believe that Dr. Jonathan has the inalienable right to aspire to become the president on his own terms as the co-pilot of the statecraft.
But these arguments have been put to the coolers with Jonathan’s declaration of intention to run for the office of the President in 2011. What is left now is how to strategies and evolve time tested methods to outwit the likes of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) and Dr. Bukola Saraki, who are bonafide members of PDP. There are other aspirants like General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekerau. Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa, Malam Nuhu Ribadu and Otunba Dele Momodu. Even with all the hullabaloo about zoning and 2011 general elections, the entrance of Jonathan into the race is a game changer.
Power game and PDP leadership
The path to Jonathan’s declaration has been strewn with high profile intrigues, politicking and blackmail within the ruling party and among the geopolitical zones in their attempts to maximize their positions. There were various camps and interest groups who were either routing for Dr. Jonathan or opposed to his emergence.
Before May 5, 2010, the Turai cabal held the nation to ransom as they threw up allow manner of tricks to stall the emergence of Dr. Jonathan as the President and Commander-in-Chief. It took also the outburst of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo on January 27,2010, and the adoption of the Doctrine of Necessity by the National Assembly in February this year, to see Dr. Jonathan’s elevation to the position of an Acting President.
The national and international shame was further heightened with the manner in which the whole issue of the late president’s health was politicized and handled by his family and political stooges. Even before the demise of the former President, there were a long list of casualties arising from those who were opposed to the events unfolding today.
The likes of Mr. Michael Aondoaaka, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, former Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party; General Godwin Abbe, the former Minister of Defence and leader of the G-12 members of the Federal Executive Council. The first move to grappling with challenges of was the appointment of the Gen. T.Y. Danjuma-led Presidential Advisory Committee, followed by the appointment of Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as the National Security Adviser.
This was seen by political observers, as the subtle manipulation of both Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Obasanjo in their plan to gain greater influence of the then acting president. The sacking of the Service Chiefs who were appointed by the former president joined the former appointees of the former president. Also caught in the web of anti-corruption war is the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori who fled to Dubai, to escape from the clutches of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The politics of winning the support of the governors became a dicey affair as some of the governors, especially those from the North insisted on zoning, those from the South East remained cocky while the South-South governors sang different tones. But by that arrangement, the governors of PDP would be compelled to work for the success of the party’s presidential flag bearer before their own elections. They would have pledged their loyalty and allegiance at the stage of the primaries to guarantee a second term ticket for the new governor.
At first, Dr. Jonathan played the mugu by allowing his opponents play out their card. At the well televised interview with the American Cable News (CNN), the then Acting President told the imitable Christinne Amanpour that he would allow his performance as the acting president to determine whether he would run for the office of the president. He made electricity, arresting the scourge of corruption and fixing the decadent electoral system his three point agenda.
Although he has not delivered on the three areas as was diverted from his duties by the politics of succession. Dr. Jonathan has told the world that he would ensure that Nigeria conducts a free, fair and credible election, based on the dictates of Electoral Reforms. Nigerians have not seen the details of those electoral reforms and understand how it would ensure the integrity of the votes and ensure voters sovereignty.
Dr. Jonathan could not have done otherwise given the level of confidence that he has gained in control of the apparatus of power and state. While the debate on zoning lasted, the process of consultation was spiced with other subtle maneuvers like the quiet indigenization policy of additional name tags which was meant to expand his geo-ethnic constituency, space, acceptance and support from wider ethnic base.
Signs and wonders
Even without saying it, the president’s declaration two weeks ago, that the power supply problem in the country would be fixed in 2012, left no one in doubt that Dr. Jonathan was set to respond to the call of over 1500 groups and associations, urging him to run for the office.
The controversy on his political ambition was finally rested when the National Executive Committee, the highest decision making body of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), endorsed him for next year’s presidential elections. National Chairman of the Party Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo said last week that “Today, Dr Goodluck Jonathan by the dictates of our constitution is exercising the term of a joint mandate giving by the people of our great country. If our late president were alive today, we wouldn’t be contesting his right to run for a second term under our national constitution, it was his entitlement. But Dr Jonathan, who is a part and parcel of that mandate, has a right to contest the remaining of that joint ticket in 2011.”
The confidence factor
The declaration of Dr. Jonathan could not have come at a better time than where he is assured of support by some elders of South Eastern States. Although, some of these endorsement have become a cash and carry affair. It is important to state that it is a big boost when First Republic Minister, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, said that the endorsement of Jonathan is due to marginalization of the South East and South South since independence 50 years ago.
“That given the fact that what is now known as Bayelsa State used to be Brass District of Eastern Region, and that the Eastern and Midwestern regions have been marginalized in the presidency of Nigeria. We have come to the conclusion that Dr. Jonathan should be allowed to aspire to the office of the president of Nigeria. Consequently, the summit has decided to endorse the presidential aspiration of Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.”
According to Chief Amechi “the South-South that produced 90 percent of the nation’s wealth should be given a chance to produce the next president”. The South West and the Middle Belt regions equally shares similar sentiment and have equally given the president similar endorsements. They have resolved to mobilize support for Jonathan in order to win the 2011 presidential elections.
The Obasanjo factor
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has been a stabilizing factor and the power behind the politics of Dr. Jonathan’s political advancement. The likes of Alhaji Arisekola may have their grouse on this, but Obasanjo remains the political godfather who propped Dr. Jonathan from his humble position as University lecturer in Port Harcourt to the politics of Bayelsa and Aso Rock. As the Chairman of the Board of Trustee of the PDP, Obasanjo has given unflinching support to Dr. Jonathan. He has provided the protection and support to the President. Chief Obasanjo has done everything within his power to neutralize internal party squabbles. So far, Obasanjo seems to have bullied and cajoled political opponents to submission, but the battle has just began.
There are many well wishers of Dr. Jonathan who want to see the goodluck factor stretched to its elasticity. It is only the element of luck that has seen a man who has not won an election rise to the highest political office in his country. Only former President Gerald Ford of the United States attained that position in 1974 when his boss Richard Nixion resigned in September of that year. There are many Nigerians who believe the element of luck that has shaped the life and career of the President could rob of on the country that has not been lucky with the type of leaders that the country has produced in the past 50 years.
Nigerians in this shade of opinion, want the leadership of men with the highest form of academic exposure to steer the ship of state. For this group of persons, Dr. Jonathan represents a new beginning and they have been calling for his emergence as Presidential candidate and possibly go on to win the election next year.
These optimistic expectations are not without their draw backs as can be seen in the flare of tempers in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State where the president hails from. The struggle to gain a foot hold in Bayelsa State politics and set up his own political structures have been stoutly resisted by local political leaders who believe that this would diminish them politically. Many political analyst argued that this may have exposed Mr. President’s under belly and constitutes Dr. Jonathan’s Achilles hills given the high political intrigues surrounding his presidential ambition in 2011.
The touching of houses in Yenogoa including the President’s own house can be said to be a poor piece of public relation and solidarity by his Ijaw kinsmen and may seriously rubbish his credentials as a strong president who can maintain law and order. The touching of his house in Yenogoa is the second time within a space of nine months as political actors loyal to the governor and the president engage themselves in violent confrontation. A frontline senator in the state, Chief Amange Nini Barigha, however told Vanguard that the disagreement in the president’s backyard would not diminish his national stature and international relevance.
The Clark factor
The National leader of the Ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, may mean well for his kinsman in Aaso Rock but there are people like Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Chief Humphrey Iwereiebor, Professor B.I. C Ijeoma who believe that the struggle to ensure equitable distribution of political power should be based on principles that respect the rights of other ethnic groups to actualize their political aspiration.
While Chief Clark may not be said to be averse to these goals, his approach to educating the north on the need for Dr. Jonathan to be a continuation of the ticket he won jointly with late Yar’ Adua missed the point. He took the zoning debate as a do or die battle and was anxious to tackle the likes of Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, the North and anyone who shared a contrary view. The Clark factor may have its relevance in tension diplomacy, the fact remains that Dr. Jonathan is aspiring to be a national leader and would need the support of other Nigerians outside the Ijawland.
The Arewa angst
Beyond the ethno religious trajectory of power acquisition and manipulation to the advantage of its few elites, the Northern political apparatchiks have failed to convince Nigerians of its argument that zoning should mean another northerner coming out to continue from where Alhaji Yar’Adua left off. Its concept of power shit rejects the exercise of political power by persons outside the Hausa- Fulani ethnic stock and by persons outside the Islamic religious faith. Yet the idea of a monolithic north does not exist.
The argument that ensured the appointment of Governor Yakowa to replace Engr. Namadi Sambo in Kaduna State helped to redefine the thinking of many power blocs in the upper River Niger and this has been to the advantage of Dr. Jonathan.
The diplomatic factor
So far, Dr. Jonathan has enjoyed the acceptance of the international community ass can been seen in his diplomatic gains in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other major trading partners. Before now he has used every opportunity of overseas tour to brief the world of the political development, his political agenda and future after 2011. The President has not disappointed as he has demonstrated what it means to have a leader with sound educational background, political sagacity, mental and physical presence.
There were other issues that border on combating global terrorism, economic cooperation between Nigeria and the United States and climate change Dr. Jonathan restated his commitment to enthrone a transparent on the process of advancement of democracy and good governance through enthronement of a credible electoral process where the result of election will count.
The battle ahead
Now that Dr. Jonathan has joined the fray, his campaign managers such concentrate on issues and craft creative messages that will connect with Nigerians. The President has crossed the Rubicon and he can no longer seek protection of an innocent bystander. The age of innocence is over, he should be ready to receive criticism and deal with them wisely. He cannot win the battle by sending security agents against his opponents or heckle media men who say uncomplimentary things about him or his abrasive wife.
They may have been in power but they have not faced the bruising battle of fighting for public office. The likes of General Buhari and Gen. Babangida did theirs, though the barrel of the gun, Alhaji Tofa has gone through it one, Alhaji Shekerau has done his in s highly sensitive polity of Kano. It is a fact that Dr. Jonathan and the likes of Dele Momodu, Nuhu Ribadu are the neophytes in this race, they need a lot of caution and wisdom to scale through.