2015 and the Dilemma of the South By Abba Mahmood
In the history of Nigeria, there have been two southerners, apart from Dr Goodluck Jonathan, who got elected as president of Nigeria: the late Chief MKO Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo. Abiola came from a private-sector background but he used his money to positively contribute to the development of all the people in Nigeria and beyond. He was rewarded with genuine affection of the people and genuine votes when the time came for him to run for president in 1993. He defeated Bashir Tofa, a Kano man, in Kano. His military friends annulled the election and that was what stopped him from being the president of Nigeria. But, as Mallam Adamu Ciroma said, he won fair and square.
Obasanjo came from a military background. He was military head of state from 1976 to 1979 after a distinguished career in the army. He was the first Nigerian to hand over power voluntarily. Not only that, when he was military head of state, he did very well. He supported agricultural development and most Nigerians were farmers. He initiated the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme which would have ended the almajirai scourge if subsequent governments had sustained it. Above all, like Abiola, he believes in Nigeria and is a pan-African. It was easy for him to win in 1999.
The current president, Dr Jonathan, is also from the south. He took over power with the death of Yar’Adua in May 2010. Before then, he was acting president, courtesy of the overwhelming support of the National Assembly to fill the power vacuum created by ailing YarAdua’s absence. He subsequently contested the 2011 election and won. He is now almost four years in office as president. He’s got a golden opportunity to print his name in gold but he appears to be blowing it.
In the first place, he came to power virtually without being well known. His contacts before becoming president were very limited. He set up a cabinet consisting of people who largely did not have any organic links with the grass roots. It is a cabinet consisting of some arrogant Goldman Sachs middle-level officers, Harvard-trained World Bank executives, and local first-class sycophants who hardly have any input to offer in decision making. To compound matters, he has aides in the Villa who alienate him from the people and insult every critic, however good-intentioned.
The 2011 presidential election was the most divisive in the history of Nigeria. Government ought to have quickly moved to stretch out hands of friendship to the losing side to help quickly heal the wounds, but they were completely ignored. There is need to understand and acknowledge that being a president in a young democracy and fragile society had thrust upon him a near-sacred duty to rise above partisanship and act in a true spirit of statesmanship.
Of the 17 states in the south, nine are not Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors. Much as the south would want to retain the presidency, they are clearly not comfortable with the ongoing ineptitude and incompetence taking place at the centre. That is the dilemma of the south. In the context of such a fluid atmosphere, in which it will take time for a national consensus to be reached, President Jonathan has failed to address the needs, concerns and, above all, fears, of those who did not belong to the PDP or subscribe to his party’s triumphalist agenda. These grave miscalculations, the PDP crisis as well as an economy in decline are creating the cocktail of anger that may see the end of the 16 years of PDP rule in 2015.
Geographically speaking, the south-east is the zone that has occupied the least period in Nigeria’s presidency. But very few of them, such as Sen. Nwobodo and Governor Okorocha, are making any effort to build bridges of understanding across the nation to enable them actualize their dream. If the current unfortunate altercations in the media between some Igbo and some Yoruba on the status of Lagos as well as the unguarded utterances of the chairman of the National Population Commission, Chief Festus Odimegwu, are anything to go by, some are even doing everything to burn these bridges of understanding, which is really unfortunate.
The Igbo control over 35 per cent of all the federal political appointments in this dispensation, such that today no one can clearly differentiate whether this is a south-south or south-east administration. Thus, the ghost of marginalization ought to have been rested by now. Anyway, this is a regime of the former Eastern Region just like the defunct Western Region has had its time. It is not surprising, since President Jonathan has had cause to mention publicly that most of the votes he got in the north and the west were cast by the Igbo. No one knows how he arrived at that clearly untenable conclusion.
Meanwhile, there are constitutional, legal and moral impediments to the aspirations of President Jonathan to run for the office of president again in 2015. Section 137(1) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, clearly states that a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of president if he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections. President Jonathan was elected with Yar’Adua in 2007 on a joint ticket and that was why there was no new election when he was sworn in as president with the death of Yar’Adua. He was sworn in for the second time on May 29, 2011.
Legally, there are two subsisting Supreme Court judgements that bar the president in 2015. First, when Atiku was elected governor of Adamawa in 1999 but was subsequently elevated to the vice-presidency before he was sworn in as governor, his running mate, Boni Haruna, was sworn in as governor as it was a joint ticket. When Governor Haruna subsequently finished the second term in 2007, he did not say he was going to do another term because the first one was Atiku’s. Again, in Marwa vs Nyako, the Supreme Court passed a judgement that clearly states that one can do two terms of EIGHT years or less than eight years but anything beyond eight years is alien to the constitution. That was why the elections of the five governors affected were immediately conducted based on this. If President Jonathan contests for another term in 2015 he would definitely exceed the eight years stipulated by the constitution.
Morally: President Jonathan clearly stated in Addis Ababa to the Nigerian community when he met them during his 2010 visit there that he would not be contesting for the presidency again in 2015. At the Eagle Square in Abuja too, it was made clear that he was finishing the second term of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan regime. There is the agreement he had with PDP governors on December 16, 2010, to do one term too. Thus, it is very clear that the Supreme Court, which alone has the power to interpret the constitution, will pass its verdict as soon as President Jonathan makes his intention clear. Because it is then that interested parties will have the right to go to court to challenge him.
What is most important now is for the president to make the best use of the remaining period of his tenure to ensure good governance — to fight corruption; to carry everyone, especially the aggrieved sections of the country, along; to make it clear that he is not contesting and is ready to organise a credible, free and fair election; and to define and determine his place in history. That way, the political temperature will go down, and those deceiving him as he saw last Saturday will lose their jobs. God save Nigeria.
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