I find it strange that Nigerians are squirming over the new year day campaign posters announcing President Goodluck Jonathan`s interest in the 2015 presidential elections. I feel this way for two major reasons. One is that Jonathan is eminently qualified and has the right to aspire once again to the office of President which he is already occupying. This being the case, we need not lose sleep over the prospects of the President’s possible come-back in 2015. The other reason is that Nigerians should, by now, be used to situations like this.
It is customary for Nigeria’s Heads of State or Presidents to deny ever having interest in the office they occupy beyond the material tenure which they are already enjoying. General Sani Abacha did that as Head of State. Even when the five fingers of a leprous hand (as Bola Ige called the political parties of the era) adopted him as their consensus candidate, the man did not bat an eyelid. Yet there was every indication that he was set to transmute from military head of state to civilian President. The same thing is true of Olusegun Obasanjo as President of Nigeria.
While his tenure elongation project was known to even the uninitiated, Obasanjo was busy dismissing it as unknown to him. In the light of our recent experiences along this line, my expectation is that Nigerians should only wink and smile wryly when similar or familiar situations present themselves. In the present circumstance, we need not quarrel with Jonathan or bother about the source of the campaign posters. We should rather remind ourselves that it is an all-too-familiar road. A beaten track. A road well travelled. But when we howl and go into frenzy as we are doing now, we give the impression that what is happening is new.
We give ourselves away as having learnt nothing from our recent political experiences. Having chided ourselves enough for jeering and howling over the new year day posters, we should then pause for a moment and spare a thought on the real issues surrounding the 2015 presidency. Until this moment, Jonathan has managed to keep Nigerians guessing. He has asked them to wait till next year to know the way his mind is working on the issue. But for analysts in our midst, we do not need to wait for anything. If the president were not interested in 2015, he would have said so long before now.
The fact that he has asked us to wait means that he is busy with the idea. He is perfecting his plans. He is laying out his strategies. He is supremely interested. But then, it will be naïve for us to expect the president to brush aside all the big issues troubling his presidency and begin to make early declarations. It will be most impolitic for him to do so. If he does that, Nigerians will latch on his inadequacies and upbraid him mercilessly for having the audacity to talk about 2015 when Boko Haram has wrestled the country to the ground. They will jibe at him for looking at 2015 when electric power has proved to be hydra -headed.
He will be maligned in so many other ways because the problems of the country seem to be taking a more serious dimension under his reign. Given this scenario, President Jonathan has to tread cautiously. That is what he is doing. He is moving with care. His postponement of the day or year for his declaration is part of this care. He has to do this to be on the right side of public opinion. But he will deliver the punch at a very auspicious moment, and by that time, we will be caught so off-guard that our defence (if any) will be faint- hearted and weak. The other way to look at the 2015 permutations is to say that Nigerians do not believe in real elections. They are more interested in situations that we used to call “army arrangement”.
The people’s disposition is such that they do not want an incumbent, especially at the presidential level, to be interested in a return. They want the incumbent to throw in the towel after one tenure so that others can step forward and try their luck. The assumption here is that an incumbent president must necessarily succeed in his return bid. The only way to get rid of him therefore is to discourage him from running for a second term. That is the fear building around Jonathan’s possible candidacy. If it were not so, Nigerians would not be shouting themselves hoarse over the possibility of a Jonathan 2015 presidential ambition.
If it was not so, they would have granted Jonathan the chance to run if he so wishes and have his fate at the polls decided by the people. But there are no people here. Rather, the land is peopled by proles. We have a surfeit of upside-down fellows who do not know where right ends and where wrong begins. Consequently, the people accept any action foisted on them without question. If ours were a system that admits of right and wrong, we will recognise and appreciate the fact that incumbency is not the same thing as automatic return to office. But in Nigeria, it is because we live in a permissive environment that makes such possible.
It is unfortunate that Nigerians are fixated over situations like this. If we are a people that make allowance for higher realm of societal growth and maturation, we could, for instance, be bold enough to put the factor of incumbency to test. Since the north is particularly incensed over suggestions that Jonathan would stay beyond 2015, Nigeria could use the election of that year to test the strength of the competing tendencies. It would have been interesting to see the north form a formidable mass of opposition that can dethrone Jonathan. Since the north claims to have more population than the south, it could rely on its numerical strength to defeat the southern incumbent. It would have been interesting to see how this can play out.
Then again, since a good many Nigerians talk as if Jonathan is badly disliked by them, it would have been interesting to see the president lose grounds in both the north and south at the polls. Should this happen, Nigerians could begin to see themselves as a people who do not necessarily vote according to north-south divide, but people driven by a pan- Nigerian spirit. The 2015 presidential contest could have resolved all this and more were we not the way we are. In the light of our peculiar political character and characteristic, we should not continue to foul the air over the new year day campaign posters.
They are in line with the nature of Nigerian politics. Those who are even more worried that the people behind the posters are faceless should look beyond the presidency and try to recall scenarios similar to those that played out during the ill -fated Third Republic. We have not forgotten Arthur Nzeribe’s “Association for Better Nigeria”, an organization that played a major role in the scuttling of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
We must also remember Daniel Kanu’s “Youths Earnestly Ask For Abacha” that organised the two million man march in support of Abacha’s civilian presidency flirtations. With all this behind us, we must appreciate the fact that Jonathan’s case is still at its embryonic stage. It may not mature to the level of absurdity if Jonathan speaks out soon. But it could become a macabre dance of the ridiculous if Jonathan continues to play the waiting game. But no matter what we say, I do not think that anything new is happening. We are only treading a familiar path.