By CHIDI AMUTA
In this place, the only realm of activity that seems to be thriving is the political industry. It employs many either directly or collaterally. It empowers a few, converting a handful of thugs into instant millionaires while migrating millions of the so-called electorate into worsening poverty at a rate in inverse proportion to available national wealth. Therefore convoluted conjectures and permutations about the next election assume the status of a national obsession. The absence of a credible national football league has worsened the matter. You are either a fan of one of the major European league teams or you are betting on the chances of your countryman in the next round of elections. Tragically, our political speculations are almost always about who and not what will come next.
Perhaps our collective affliction with the politics of who can be excused by our history. We are coming from politics dominated by African big men towards one where anonymous quantities are beginning to ascend to incredible political heights. The democratization of semi feudal societies begins only when political warlords begin to die out and children of no one in particular begin to come to power. We are approaching that point where every civic class is literally in turmoil. Our children can hardly recall the names of those who rule over them. I can only recall the names of about half a dozen state governors. I fare worse with ministers. The majority has no pedigree, no tutelage, and no surnames that ring a bell and, embarrassingly sometimes, no track record in managing anything. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that those democratic outcomes are no longer predictable by sheer name recognition. Bad, because the lack of attention to tutelage and experience has produced disastrous governance in most of our polity.
But even then, our political parties or political class has not managed to find time to articulate any known set of ideas on which they want their actions in government to be judged. Many in the wider informed civil society have decried the absence of ideological clarity in a good deal of what goes on in the name of politics and governance in our country. It baffles many how sensible adults will vie for public office and come to power believing in nothing in particular. But to our utter consternation, the less our politicians know about the finer points of ideology and political systems, the more resoundingly they win at these elections.
Some, including the incumbent president, have said openly that they do not want to make any promises only for the simple naïve reason that in the past politicians have made promises and failed the people. So, it is safer not to make any promises, not to take any positions on national issues; in short, so the illogic of this position goes, it is better not to be held responsible for anything.
But let all that pass quickly. We seem to be squarely in the terrain of succession politics already. Following the just concluded PDP convention; the media is aglow with speculations about what President Goodluck Jonathan may have up the sleeves of his political jumper. Some say the election (selection?) of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur is the president’s short hand for announcing his political flight plan. Others see in Tukur’s emergence the footprints of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s determined plot to stop former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar from insisting on furthering his presidential dreams. Some even see the emergence of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola as PDP National Secretary as carrying the imprints of Ibrahim Babangida’s rapprochement with Obasanjo, a move designed to ensure that the two wily old foxes collaborate in deciding Jonathan’s successor even without the neophyte of Otuoke knowing what is about to hit him.
The more curious speculation that is gathering traction has to do with whether Jonathan should present himself for a second term in office. To date, I am not aware that President Jonathan has said he does not want to run in 2015. Nor is there anything in the political horizon or in the law books that should dissuade him from aspiring and in fact contesting for a second term in office. The president is relatively young, and I imagine in fairly good health. Therefore, the current wave of speculations and pocket book calculations are based on naïve assumptions and sentimental nonsense.
These assumptions include that he has taken the oath of office of president twice already. The other more laughable assumption is that the original understanding of a North-south oscillation of presidential power places a moral burden on the president not to contest the 2015 elections. This latter assumption expects that the contest for the presidency in 2015 is a straight Northern race since presidential power will have been domiciled in the South for Obasanjo’s eight years and Jonathan’s five years! In the spirit of ‘neighbour to neighbour’, it is only fair that a Northern candidate be given a chance to succeed Jonathan.
The PDP as a party holds the mangled key to this matter. When it was convenient during the run up to the last presidential election, the party jettisoned the zoning formula in its constitution only to revert to it in the filling of party offices up to the last convention some days ago. No one knows exactly what the party will pull in the 2015 presidential election.
But going by the letter and spirit of the constitution, there is nothing that should stop Jonathan from contesting for a second term in office. If his party believes that its hold on power is better guaranteed by re-presenting Jonathan for a second four-year term, that would be it. It would be left to the generality of the Nigerian electorate to accept or reject him at the poll. Somehow though, the future of the PDP as a party and indeed Nigerian democracy will depend largely on what the party does with the clear and present possibility of a Jonathan second term.
I would support Jonathan to run in 2015 for two different sets of contradictory reasons. First, if we are to build a nation ruled by law and not by silly sentiments, then we should abide by the provisions of the constitution. The PDP if it decides to field Jonathan would be abiding by the constitution. This does not however preclude other parties from fielding other presidential candidates based on a different set of criteria or calculations.
Adherence to the constitutional provision assures us that the sourcing of the president should not be based on whimsical sentiments about geo-politics. Nigerians have found a new unity in the identity of their material circumstances. We are united by whether or not we have access to affordable gasoline, affordable healthcare, affordable and meaningful education and shelter etc. The deprivations that keep us awake at night speak no particular ethnic language. The faith that binds us together as one people defies mode and day of worship just as the threats that weakened our nation emanate from disastrous governance and epic greed.
This is not to say however that we should remain oblivious of the need for compromise and balancing in the circumstances compelled by our history. The onset of the Jonathan presidency questioned the strategic balance of power and culture that lies at the root of our national stability. I do not know whether our current national security challenges have anything to do with the disruption of the extant North-south equilibrium of political convenience under Jonathan. I am not sure that Boko Haram is a home grown political headache or merely a spill over of fundamentalist rascality from the desert to the Maghreb and beyond. But it has scored a direct hit by undermining the political stake of the Northern political elite. We shall return to this next week.
In aligning with the provisions of the constitution on the matter of presidential terms, one is not unmindful of the fact that it is the track record of the candidate that ought to earn them the popular mandate for a second term. To date, Jonathan has been far from a glowing president. His performance on the job has raised worrying questions about his very preparedness and appropriateness for the role profile of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our people are poorer today and are getting poorer by the day than when Jonathan ascended the presidency. Our power supply situation remains abysmal. National security has taken a tragic nose-dive as bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and casual executions have assumed epidemic proportions. Similarly, youth unemployment and aged uncertainly are here to stay.
Clearly, these problems require a re-think of our choice of national leadership. All political parties including the PDP need to lead this re-think. If the PDP re-think endorses Jonathan, so be it. But I think a Jonathan second term may hold the key to the future of partisan democracy in Nigeria. First, if he delivers on his campaign promises and lifts the veil of tragedy that hovers over us all, his re-election would be a popular endorsement of positive governance. If he and his party manage to rig the popular mandate in his favour against the overwhelming tide of his growing unpopularity, then the skirmishes around the fuel subsidy removal all over Nigeria would be a joke compared to the fire next time.
On the contrary, if we step outside the PDP for a moment to contemplate the possibility of an opposition grand alliance, then we may be heading for a political breakthrough.
Here is a subversive proposition. I would urge the PDP to re-present Jonathan if he continues with his present uninspiring leadership. That would be the best way for the party to ironically break its stranglehold on Nigeria. Any party that re-presents Jonathan in his present sorry format qualifies to be thrown out at the polls. And that possibility is clear and present. All it requires is for the ACN, ANPP, CPC, Labour and APGA to forge an electoral alliance early enough with clear alternative social democratic agenda. Roughly, that alliance will split the nation down the middle with a possible 16-18 states in its favour and a smattering of support all over the nation. But in order to achieve that, there are pre-requisites. The most important is the sacrifice of the ambitions of the overbearing chieftains of the key parties.
Whether or not Jonathan wins a second term in office, his presidency will bring us closer to the emergence of a two party democracy. The forces that will oppose him will mass up around a common banner. Similarly, the forces that could oust him would also aggregate around a common non-PDP banner.