Jonathan’s 2011 Ambition Debacle

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INDEPENDENT

Fri May, 14 2010

Jonathan’s 2011 Ambition Debacle

By Maxwell Oditta, Asst Politics Editor

President Goodluck Jonathan seems determined to push his luck a little too hard. For a man who rose within five years from being a deputy governor to becoming the country’s number one citizen, many expected that he would reign for one year and quit the office of President, especially knowing that the zoning formula of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has allotted the country’s top seat to the North West geo-political zone for another four years, from 2011. The northern political elite is not known to compromise its interests.

An aide to Jonathan affirmed during the week that there was general consensus in support of his boss seeking re-election and that he would likely do so on the ruling party’s ticket.

Special Assistant to the President On National Assembly Matters, Cairo Ojuogboh, told journalists that he believed Jonathan would stand in presidential polls due by April next year.

“I believe that Jonathan is contesting and is running for the presidency. He is a member of the PDP and he will run on that platform,” Ojuogboh said, adding the consensus is for him to contest.”

The Constitution and manifesto of the PDP both refer to “geo-political balancing” as a fundamental principle, but there is no reference in Nigeria’s Constitution to the idea of the presidency rotating between North and South or between the geo-political zones. Jonathan himself has not ruled out running for the office of President, though he said last month he wanted at least three months to see how reforms enacted so far took hold.

“There is a general debate currently whether or not he should run and those of us who work with him have the right to join the general debate. Jonathan running in 2011 will change Nigeria,” Ojougboh said.

But Jonathan’s media aide, Ima Niboro, said Ojuogboh, was in no position to make any declaration on the President’s plans.

Jonathan’s interest in the presidency has elicited adverse reaction from the camps of former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Atiku, in particular, warned Jonathan of the dire consequences of upsetting the present zoning arrangement in the PDP.

Similarly, National Coordinator of IBB Democratic Coalition, Danladi Pasali, called on the PDP and its founding fathers to stick to the zoning formula of the party ahead of 2011. Pasali, a PDP chieftain in Plateau State said it is still the turn of the North to produce the PDP presidential candidate in 2011.

“The zoning arrangement between the North and the South as designed by the PDP founding fathers was responsible for the emergence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as his running mate in that order.”

Pasali, who is also the national financial secretary of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association (IPMAN), noted that despite all the scheming that is going on, Babangida is going to contest the party primaries and eventually win it, to run for the presidential election in 2011.

“With the Asaba declaration, there is the assurance that Ibrahim Babangida would contest for the presidential race in 2011, and the 50 groups who had been in existence since 2003 and had recently met in Minna are working assiduously to ensure he succeeds. His chances are very bright,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ojuogboh, a former House of Representatives member for Ika Federal Constituency, somersaulted six hours after his earlier comment to state categorically that he did not have the mandate of Jonathan to make such comments. He said there was no time he made a definite statement that Jonathan would run for presidency in the 2011 polls.

He recalled himself to have only said the President was free to run for office if he so desired, adding that he only expressed his private sentiment as part of the exercise of his “freedom of expression.”

“For the avoidance of doubt, I said the President could run if he so decides and that it will be unfair to ask him not to run. If he decides to run, I will vote for him. All what I said is my personal belief as a private citizen with the right to freedom of expression.

“Jonathan contesting and winning the election, in fact, what I will call it is a renewal of mandate. It will deepen the peace in the Niger Delta. It will also serve to deepen our democracy. If you look generally, almost all the people across the South and the North of the country have been contributing freely on the issue and the general consensus is that he should contest.

“In fact, the nation’s Constitution also allows him to contest. Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution also helps him because there must be justice and equity, there is no reason for which you can ask him not to contest. There is no moral reason, which you can give for him not to contest. He will contest and he should contest, and personally, I will vote for him,” said Ojougboh.

Ojougboh’s double-talk reflected the state of mind of Jonathan himself. He certainly always wanted to contest but didn’t think he could open up yet, but the handwriting was on the wall. His decision to sack Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Maurice Iwu and appoint one of the INEC national commissioners, Solomon Soyebi as INEC boss on acting basis, coupled with the exposure of the PDP National Chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, to public prosecution and possible imprisonment, and Ogbulafor’s exit from the PDP top seat, all indicate Jonathan’s interest to contest.

Before now, Jonathan’s decision to run for the 2011 polls were unknown, especially during the period his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua was ill of heart disease to the time he died on Wednesday last week.

The President’s office had earlier denied sponsoring posters that showcased Jonathan’s 2011 presidential ambition.

But Jonathan is contending with a growing opposition within the PDP, which is in danger of derailing ahead of the 2011 elections.

Ogbulafor had made several public statements to undermine Jonathan’s chances of contesting on the party’s platform in 2011 and was reportedly one of the people behind efforts to bring forward next year’s presidential elections. He was once quoted as saying that the ruling party would only support a northerner in the 2011 election, effectively discouraging any ideas that Jonathan had of contesting.

“We felt that the zoning of the presidency of the party as enshrined in the party’s constitution should be maintained and therefore the zoning arrangement in the constitution should hold for the next four years. The South has had it for eight years and therefore the North should also hold it for eight years so that we take care of the restiveness in the nation. Goodluck Jonathan is steering the ship of the nation very well. He is not an ambitious person,” Ogbulafor said, rather ironically.

This far, Jonathan is winning. The new INEC helmsman, Soyebi is a relation of perhaps Jonathan’s greatest supporter, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. If Soyebi is not confirmed next week, then Jonathan might be preserving for himself the prerogative of appointing someone else with whom he is more comfortable, for the substantive position. PDP governors of the South East states of Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo – respectively, Governors Martin Elechi, Sullivan Chime and Ikedi Ohakim – had called on Ogbulafor to resign during the week.

Saturday Independent gathered that Ogbulafor’s schoolmate and close pal of nearly four decades, Okwesilieze Nwodo, is being considered above all other interested persons to replace Ogbulafor. But it is doubtful if Jonathan would allow the Nwodo seed to sprout. The old Enugu State governor’s chairmanship of the PDP might just turn out to be very favourable to Atiku, who like Nwodo returned from a spell in the opposition Action Congress (AC).

Aso Rock is better disposed to the national chairmanship of Ogbulafor’s kinsman, Benjamin Apugo, who is reputed as incorruptible and firm on national issues. Not even Apugo’s comment in support of the zoning arrangement in the party, which he said was made even before Obasanjo was granted state pardon in 1998, has served to dissuade Apugo’s supporters at the Presidency and in the National Assembly. But sources say that the Ochiaha of Ibeku, as a founding father of the party, might prefer the quiet and highly respectable position of Deputy Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) of the PDP. That position was once occupied by former Finance Minister, Adamu Ciroma.

After Apugo had expressed himself on the zoning of the presidency, Second Republic Vice President Alex Ekwueme also came out to condemn Obasanjo’s comment that the presidency was never zoned by the party. He held, like Apugo did, that the presidency has always been zoned and that Obasanjo benefited from the initial zoning. It has been alleged elsewhere that those who are now averse to rotation of the presidency have anti-Igbo agenda. They don’t want the presidency of the country to shift to the Igbo South East within the next 21 years as guaranteed by zoning.

Jonathan certainly has his own supporters. And a curious one is his predecessor in Bayelsa State, former governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who said Jonathan has no choice but to contest the 2011 presidential election. There is no doubt that not only is the Niger Delta region savouring the socio-political delicacies of a Nigerian President of South South extraction, the people of the region already relish the prospect of Jonathan governing for nine whole years, going by comments attributed to Alamieyeseigha and Governor Timiepre Silva of Bayelsa State.

“He was divinely prepared” for the role he is playing in Nigeria now, Alamieyeseigha said, adding that by choosing the President as his running mate in the 1999 elections. Somebody must be a forerunner. I was only used as an instrument to bring him to power. He was divinely prepared. I was only used as an instrument to bring him up. I am glad the choice was perfect by God’s grace.

“We thank God he was able to identify the problems of Nigeria clearly. So, we should just support him to achieve those noble objectives. He is an embodiment of leadership qualities. He is unassuming. He combines intellect with wisdom. So this country has made a good choice. But I tell you, I am glad to be part of it, I am fulfilled,” Alamieyeseigha said.

As required by Section 146 of the Constitution, Jonathan has chosen a Vice President. He is Nemadi Sambo, the governor of Kaduna State in North Western Nigeria. Sambo may have a lot of roles to play in the near future if Jonathan keeps to the understanding of PDP leaders on zoning. Otherwise, Sambo’s presence at the federal seat of government would only be a blessing to geo-political balancing. He might soon become frustrated if he finds himself occupying an empty office, a spare tyre of Jonathan’s nine years at the echelon of power.

But should Jonathan encourage and empower Sambo to vie for the Presidency next year, he would also have to help him secure the party ticket in a contest of heavyweights, which include not only Babangida and Atiku but the likes of his predecessor in Kaduna State, Ahmed Makarfi and former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Adamu Aliero, who has the backing of the Yar’Adua family.

In that case, Sambo would do a one term of four years and support Jonathan’s aspiration to return to the Presidential Villa in 2015, when it would be the turn of either the South South or the South East to produce the chief executive of the whole country.

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