The countdown to the 2011 poll has set in with presidential aspirants gradually emerging. At the centre of the contest is the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who is yet to make up his mind on the presidential race. But his lips are shaking.
In this piece, Yusuf Alli of THE NATION examines the odds against Jonathan if he decides to give the race a trial.
The race towards 2011 poll has started in earnest with two gladiators-Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and ex-President Ibrahim Babangida expressing their interest. While Babangida seized the opportunity of a memorial session in Asaba for his deceased wife to break silence on his rumoured ambition, Jonathan was still taciturn by merely declaring that the law allows him to contest for the office if he wants to. In a move showing that he is learning the rope and living up to his new mentors and strategists in the US , Jonathan said: “There are options for me, if I want to contest election. I can re-contest as a Vice-President to anybody. I can contest as a President because the law allows me but that is not my own priority now. My priority now is to see how within this little period left, what impact can we make.”
Since the neither here nor there declaration of Jonathan, most politicians have returned to the drawing board. They were faster enough to read the lips of the Acting President and digest his comments between the lines.
HOW THE JOURNEY INTO THE DEBATE STARTED
In the last one month, Jonathan and his loyalists have been testing the waters. What stirred the hornet’s nest was a secret meeting between the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Ijaw elders. Till date there had been anxiety in the North that the session had to do with substantive presidency for acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and 2011 presidential ticket for him.
About 27 prominent Ijaw leaders, led by Dr. Atuboyedia Obianime, had met with ACF team in Kaduna to open a new window of rapprochement in the country.
Although the leader of the delegation told newsmen that they decided to reach out to various power blocs to stabilize the polity, it was regarded as a smokescreen. Obianime had said: “But we felt that years of separation and years of distance and non-dialogue must have led to years of distrust and mistrust.
“It is within that context that we felt that in the new world view of non-violence, maybe if we begin to reach out to the various power blocks in the country, if we begin to talk to everybody and everybody talks to everybody, the politics will be more stabilized and there will be less heat in the polity.”
A loyalist of President Umaru Yar’Adua had said: “The idea they are trying to sell to the North is that if Jonathan is allowed to become the President in 2011, the South-South would have had two terms in office. They are saying that the North can then go for fresh two terms from 2015.
“But we felt as Northern leaders, it will be foolish of us to fall to that bait because the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
Politics of portfolio in the new cabinet.
For almost one week after the confirmation of 38 ministerial nominees, it was difficult for Jonathan to assign portfolios to new Ministers. It was gathered that 2011 factor was put into consideration. A source said: “Some loyalists of Jonathan did not help the situation as they had eyed strategic portfolios ahead of likely emergence of the Acting President as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).These loyalists were also strategizing for 2011 poll in case Jonathan secures presidential ticket. They wanted to be at advantage to give patronages to seek assistance for presidential race.” And with his foot-soldiers in charge of key Ministries like Petroleum Resources, Finance, Niger Delta Affairs, FCT, Works, Aviation, and Agriculture, their performance could change political calculation for 2011. It was also learnt that sourcing funds through proxy contractors for campaign, as the case in the past, might be an easy ride for Jonathan team.
The US trip factor.
Ordinarily, there is tendency to write-off Jonathan as a neophyte in politics. But with the US trip, it is apparent that his political doggedness is beginning to manifest. For a nation that is not nuclear energy inclined, the invitation of the Acting President to the nuclear summit by President Barrack Obama was more than meet the eye. A source said: “I think Jonathan’s trip to the US was well-structured to achieve a political purpose. One of the gains of the visit was to prove a point to the US and Western nations that the Acting President is a youthful leader that they could ‘trust’ and support in 2011.
“The other side is launching Nigeria back into global reckoning and restoration of an era of vibrant diplomacy.” With his latest romance with the US, Jonathan is likely to enjoy better rating and enhanced perception in the international community than Babangida, who had a golden opportunity to restore true democracy in the country and frittered it by annulling June12, 1993 presidential election.
Pressure from associates. Jonathan had hardly survived the battle for Acting Presidency when his associates came up with permutations for 2011. A source privy to the plot said: “The associates believe that for good governance and continuity, it will be in the best interest of the nation for Jonathan to vie for Presidency in 2011.
“But they are banking on performance, concrete developments, especially stable electricity supply, as the selling points for Jonathan.” Investigation revealed that in one of the pressure mounting shuttles, some of the associates had asked three times if Jonathan would participate in the 2011 presidential poll. The Acting President was reported to have said: “I have not made up my mind; God will direct me as he has always done in my life.”
WINDS AGAINST HIS POLITICAL SOUL
But in a politically volatile society like Nigeria with more than 65 per cent illiterate voting population and ethnic prejudice, it might not be smooth for Jonathan in 2011 as being plotted by his henchmen.
The North factor.
Going by the comments of a member of the Kaduna Mafia and respected elder statesman, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, it will not be an easy ride. Not giving to frivolities, Ciroma, who is a committed party man since his days in the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic told Jonathan and his henchmen that they cannot change the rule of the game at the last minute. He said as far as the PDP is concerned, the presidential ticket in 2011 belongs to the North. He said: “if Yar’Adua does not contest, the North should be allowed to produce the next President.” Although Jonathan loyalists were quick to dismiss Ciroma’s comments as ‘induced’, they echoed the passionate feeling or thirst of the North for power next year. A veteran of presidential primaries since 1978 when he stepped down for ex-President Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the ageing Ciroma and the surviving members of the Kaduna Mafia know when to pull the strings. But a source said Ciroma’s political influence has waned since 1999 as the opposition party has been controlling his state (Yobe). The source added that he has only been “enjoying political rehabilitation under PDP in the last 11 years.”
Investigation showed that if Jonathan rigmaroles his way, through arm-twisting tactics to get the ticket, the North may come up with Plan B which includes massive voting for any opposition party to prove a point that it s large voting population determines the political direction of Nigeria. With the covert resentment against him over the manner in which he has handled Yar’Adua’s ill-health and the reconstitution of the Executive Council of the Federation in favour of the South, the battle certainly will be between the Acting President and the North in 2011 even if Jonathan withdraws from the race at the last minute.
According to findings, Jonathan’s team sees this emerging battle ahead and it decided to bring in the ‘games master’, ex-vice-President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar against the wish of his political benefactor, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, to help solve the Northern equation.
PDP platform as albatross.
A major hindrance to Jonathan Presidency or Vice-Presidency in 2011 is lack of political platform to actualize his dream. In spite of the fact that he is a card-carrying member of the PDP in the last 13 years, Jonathan remains a pedestrian in the party though providence has been smiling on him. Besides the party structure in his home state not being under his influence, the PDP governors are in control of the party’s structure at the National level. As if they saw it coming, the governors, led by Bukola Saraki and Rotimi Amaechi had schemed carefully and shopped for their stooges in 2008 as members of the National Working Committee. Apart from the National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Saraki, put his loyalist, Alhaji Kawu Baraje as the National Secretary.
If the party primaries will be free and fair, the governors will command the votes of most delegates to the National Convention. Yet, the governors are just managing to cope with Jonathan Presidency because their loyalty remains with ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua.
It was learnt that Jonathan’s opportunity to reconcile with Yar’Adua during the recent re-composition of the cabinet was bungled as most candidates of the governors could not make the list. For Nigerian politicians, who hardly forgive, 2011 is pay-back time. Already, the governors had played a fast one on Jonathan by ‘forcing’ Ogbulafor to declare that the party will still zone presidency to the North in 2011.
Although Ogbulafor had gone to the Presidential Villa many times to pledge his loyalty to the Acting President, he remains unforgiving for what the Presidency tagged as “a hasty declaration on 2011 outside the National Executive Council (NEC) of the PDP. It was gathered that there is a plot by Jonathan loyalists to remove Ogbulafor through a back-door approach as it was done to ex-National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh in 2005. But the governors are insisting on due process by claiming that only a mini-National Convention could pass a vote of confidence or no confidence on Ogbulafor’s team. The leadership of the PDP is also perching on the governors’ trees to survive the onslaught from the Presidency. Investigation revealed that Ciroma’s declaration was purportedly engineered by the PDP leadership as a senior aide in the National Secretariat of the party led select journalists to Ciroma to voice out the position of the North.
The dilemma of Jonathan loyalists is how to hijack the PDP structure from the governors. It was learnt that if under-the-table deal does not work, the government might release its corruption fact-sheet on some of the NWC members to underscore why they cannot guarantee a free and fair primaries at all levels for 2011 poll. The presidency is also banking on weapon of blackmail to seize the party structure. So far, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had since 2008 established a prima facie case against Ogbulafor who is yet to be arraigned till date. Also, the Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Haliru Bello was once grilled over Siemens Scandal but the outcome of the probe is unknown till date. Above all, checks confirmed that the NWC members committed tactical blunder in 2009 by accepting to serve as chairmen of some parastatals. A Senator said: “All it takes the Presidency to make the NWC members to fall in line is to review their performance, especially abuse of procedure in these agencies, and ask anti-corruption agencies to investigate them.
“Already a committee is reviewing over 700 contracts haphazardly executed by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The issue is that there is no morality in politics in Nigeria. You have to use what you have to get what you want.”
The same anti-corruption hounding might be extended to governors not supporting Jonathan’s bid for 2011 Presidency. The recent face-off between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Bayelsa State Government was attributed to a fall-out of the struggle for the actualization of Jonathan’s Acting Presidency and the battle for the control of the party structure in the state by loyalists of Jonathan and Governor Timpre Sylva.
Other governors who are being investigated are Ibrahim Idris of Kogi State and Gabriel Suswam ( Benue State ). The case of Suswam, a die-hard supporter of Yar’Adua is more chronic as 10 chairmen of Local Government Areas in the state had been detained in the last five days by the EFCC over alleged mismanagement of Excess Crude Funds allocated to them. Although the EFCC said the LGA chairmen are under investigation, by extension it is Suswam administration because the state operates Joint Local Government Account.
With renewed searchlight on most governors who have a lot to hide, they might be forced to run to Jonathan camp for reprieve in exchange for presidential ticket as the case during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Yar’Adua loyalists and other forces against Jonathan
If anything, loyalists of Yar’Adua, including members of the cabal and some businessmen, are eagerly awaiting election period to pay back Jonathan in his own coin. The prevention of the Acting President from seeing the President and the psychological warfare embarked upon by the group in the last few weeks signposted that it is lurking in a corner to stop move by Jonathan to change the zoning formula of the PDP. The first taste of muscle flexing will be at the National Assembly over alleged plot to coerce the new EXCOF to invoke Section 144 to declare President Umaru Yar’Adua permanently incapacitated. It was learnt that Jonathan loyalists want to make it a double-edge deal by securing a full presidential status for their man and obtaining a second term ticket to enable him complete his ‘ongoing reforms.’
Section 144 reads:
“The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if (a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the Executive Council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The grouses of Yar’Adua’s loyalists against Jonathan include alleged betrayal of the President, deep-seated anti-North feeling, ploy to hijack the two-term tenure of the North, and what a source described as ‘irritating over-ambition of the Acting President.”
OPTIONS BEFORE JONATHAN/ CALCULATIONS
To overcome presidential hurdles, Jonathan would need to make a difference within the next five months to attract sympathy for his ambition. This reality made him to be in charge of the Ministry of Power following his determination to address the nation’s electricity crisis. But with a slow bureaucratic process, the Acting President and his Ministers would have to transform into ‘miracle workers’ to address the myriad of problems confronting the nation. After a handshake with Obama, it is now time for Jonathan to settle down for work.
The motley crowd in Jonathan’s cabinet may prove a great challenge for his presidential ticket. Overwhelmed by public acclamation that greeted his ascendancy to the Office of the Acting President, investigation indicated that he overstretched himself to please some highly-placed Nigerians in reconstituting the Executive Council of the Federation. Those with conceded Ministerial slots include ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo(a slot in Ogun); President of the Senate(Benue); Speaker of the House of Representatives(Second slot in Ogun); Deputy Senate President(Enugu); Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives(Gombe slot); Senator Jubril Aminu(Adamawa); ex-Senate Leader, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki(Kwara); Governor Alao-Akala/Alhaji Azeez Arisekola-Alao(Oyo); National Security Adviser/Obasanjo(Yar’Adua’s son from Katsina); PDP National Chairman(Imo); Governor Sule Lamido(Jigawa); Acting First Lady( slot given to Josephine Anenih from Anambra); National Interest Group in the Senate(Bauchi slot); Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola(Osun); Governor Segun Oni(Ekiti); National Security Adviser(Zamfara); Sultan (Sokoto); ex-Chief Justice of Nigeria(Kogi’s first slot); and Governor David Jonah Jang(Plateau); PDP’s Board of Trustees Secretary(Nasarawa); and ex-Senate President(Abia) among others.
With this rainbow cabinet preceding an election year, it could be politically positive and disastrous for Jonathan. The godfathers, who are mostly influential, could be political assets to him when in need in 2011. But if the cabinet fails, going by antecedents, the same godfathers might stab him in the back. A source added: “Some of these godfathers are electoral assets but most of them are liabilities and it would be a miscalculation if Jonathan is depending on them.”
The anticipated electoral reforms from Jonathan in May-June may make or mar his career in office. The Acting President rode on the goodwill of a coalition of civil society groups and the opposition to emerge as Nigerian leader. These groups are demanding far-reaching electoral reforms including the removal of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu. In what appeared to be a thaw in the relationship between him and the coalition, Jonathan went to the US to give Iwu a pass mark and claimed in no mistaken terms that the INEC boss is not the issue. An opposition leader said: “There are fears that the presidency might retain Iwu. Once Jonathan does that, he might lose tremendous goodwill including boycott of the 2011 poll.”
A neutral option.
Some loyalists of Jonathan are making a case for his neutrality in 2011 poll. According to checks, they want him to lay the foundation for political and electoral reforms and leave the stage as ex-Head of State, Gen. AbdulSalam Abubakar did in 1999. Those who belong to this school of thought believe it is ‘an honourable path.’ But they are seeking this option with a request for the invocation of Section 144 to make Jonathan a substantive President to prove a point that a South-South candidate can occupy the highest office in the land. This alternative requires deeper understanding and rapprochement from the North. How it plays out, the coming weeks will decide.
Given the political cloud in the country over 2011 poll, history still beckons at Jonathan. Will he be favoured by history as his name(Goodluck)?