By Douglass Anele
Before we begin our inquiry proper, it must be observed that most Nigerians, including myself, do not know the presidential candidates personally on a one-on-one basis.
Rather what we know about them is based on information obtained through the print and electronic media.
Obviously that is a limitation, but we are not totally helpless as a result. Media practitioners over the years have improved their information-gathering and investigative capabilities using available technology, to the extent that one can have enough reliable information about prominent individuals (without necessarily meeting them face-to-face) which otherwise would not have been possible.
Again, the presidential candidates we are evaluating have served previously either as military dictators or as a civilian governor, in the case of Jonathan.
Therefore, we have firsthand knowledge of their performance on the basis of which we can objectively appraise their suitability regarding the office of President.
Having noted, and disposed of, the mild constraint to our analysis, we begin our appraisal of the three most prominent presidential hopefuls, and it is fitting that we consider Goodluck Jonathan first, because he is the incumbent President.
A lot has been said and written about Jonathan’s meteoric rise to the governorship of his home state, Bayelsa, and to the presidency of the country. While some prominent Nigerians, especially the “executive beggars” who rely on government’s patronage to survive, see this as part of a divine plan intended “to save our tottering country from collapse,” critics of Jonathan’s presidential ambition for 2011 argue that Mr. President is an unintended beneficiary of the warped and shambolic socio-economic and political environment in which Nigeria finds itself today.
Judging from his visage, body language and carriage, Mr. President appears to be a humble man really interested in providing purposeful leadership for the country. Some people have applauded what they consider the mature manner in which he handled pressures from different quarters for succession due to the incapacitation of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. But on the basis of the four criteria we enumerated earlier, is Jonathan’s desire to continue in office beyond May 29, 2011 justified? Does he deserve our support despite the hot air generated by the controversy surrounding zoning the presidency?
To answer those questions adequately, we must first deodorise some of the intellectual miasma generated by that very ambition. Goodluck Jonathan has the constitutional right to contest for any political position, if he so desires. That, definitely, should be clear to everyone. In this particular instance, however, the problem is the zoning formula of his party, the PDP.
I have always believed that the zoning principle is a means to an end, not an end in itself, as some people tend to argue. If the formula is applied intelligently and fairly in the wider context of national interest, it can lead to the emergence of an effective President and, over time, correct the inequalities in the balance of presidential power between the North and the South.
There are potential world-class leaders in all parts of the country. The major impediment is that the political environment is so polluted and the electoral process so distorted that it is easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle than for any of such individuals to emerge as President.
As we said earlier, one of the hurdles before Jonathan stems from the controversy about zoning, particularly because in the ensuing debates parochial selfish and ethnic interests have outweighed more important issues such as merit and what we might call “the general good” or “national interest.”
Clearly, if we are serious about making the elusive “dividends of democracy” a reality merit, excellence, and continuity should not be compromised because of rigid dogmatic adherence to the principle of zoning. Therefore, if Jonathan is doing well now, it would be stupid to stop him because of zoning. After all zoning is made for Nigerians, not Nigerians for zoning.
Now, on the basis of the first criterion, Jonathan has not made his manifesto public so that Nigerians can dissect and evaluate it. When he does that, we will beam our searchlight on it. On the fourth criterion, that is, on the issue of physical and mental state of a presidential aspirant, Jonathan is on solid ground.
Apparently he is in good mental and physical health, notwithstanding the fact that appearances can be deceptive. It is with regard to questions concerning track record of performance and morality that one can legitimately entertain doubts about Jonathan’s suitability to continue as President beyond May 29 next year.
As governor of Bayelsa State, although for a short period, his performance was lukewarm. Now that he is President, his responsibilities and expectations from Nigerians are at least 36 times greater than what he dealt with when he was governor.
Consequently, Mr. President needs a big quantum leap in his performance level to convince Nigerians, particularly objective and serious–minded critics, that he is the primus inter pares, the person to beat, in next year’s presidential contest. Perhaps President Jonathan is trying his best, given his persona and the economic and political environment within which he is doing his job.
However, personally as a citizen of Nigeria who wishes his country well and as one of the millions of Nigerians that have been carrying the increasingly heavy hunchback placed on us by silly, corrupt and wicked rulers, both military and civilian, I am not satisfied with the performance of President Jonathan thus far.
He can easily be faulted on at least three counts: his failure to give bite and fresh impetus to the war against corruption which he inherited from his late predecessor, Umar Yar’ Adua; his inability to curb profligacy and wasteful spending by the federal government; and, finally, his inability to initiate concrete moves and policies that would enhance the quality of federalism practiced in the country.
Most Nigerians will concur that since Jonathan became President no fundamental improvement has been recorded in the fight against what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti called “authority stealing.”
Of course, those in charge of EFCC and the ICPC have been telling Nigerians the number of pending and successful prosecutions they have recorded since the two anti-corruption agencies were established, and the judicial obstacles they have been facing from wealthy and well-connected accused persons.
Yet, there is a general feeling nationwide that the President does not have the political will to go after former leaders and other “sacred cows” because of his own vulnerabilities and dependence on these same people to enhance his own political ambitions. If that is the case, and there are indications that it is, then the fight against corruption cannot succeed under his watch.
TO BE CONTINUED.