Former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, is unwittingly in the eye of the storm. As the process for the selection of political parties’ candidates for next year’s election gets to the crescendo, his name keeps coming up as someone interested or being persuaded by people to seek the same office he vacated seven years ago, following his loss of the presidential election as an incumbent President. The speculation is that the former President may seek the presidential ticket of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). And he has left everybody guessing and expectant, having told a pressure group that he was consulting.
Regarding next year’s presidential election, what makes the Jonathan case more interesting is that there are thorny issues around it. First, there is controversy as to whether Jonathan is eligible to seek the office of President, going by a constitutional provision that any former Vice-President who completes the tenure of an elected President, in the case of the latter’s death, resignation or removal, shall only be elected President once. Secondly, the fact that Jonathan could seek election on the platform of the APC, a political party that not only got him out of office but also presented him as incompetent and leading a corrupt government, is something many Nigerians cannot come to terms with. Third, the fact that a coalition of northern groups purchased the presidential expression of interest and nomination forms in the name of Jonathan has caused revulsion in the South, where he comes from.
When there is a question of eligibility to run for an election, a big fuss about the political party to use to run for election and issues about people or groups of people committing their money to purchase forms for an aspirant, there are surely going to be heated discussions. It is, therefore, not surprising that many Nigerians and non-Nigerians have shown interest in the Jonathan political saga, waiting to see what the former President would do regarding the 2023 presidential election. Without pre-empting Jonathan, I have wondered why he would want to get involved in a controversy relating to an election he should actually ignore. The questions that have been agitating my mind are: Assuming he contests and wins the 2023 presidential election, is Jonathan ready to be a President that would be on the edge until the Supreme Court decides his eligibility? Will Jonathan be satisfied and pleased with himself if he wins the election only to be declared ineligible by the Supreme Court and, therefore, vacate office for the second-placed in the election to take over office? How will Jonathan face Nigerians, especially those who believe in his consistency, if he runs for presidency on the ticket of the APC?
The issues relating to Jonathan’s eligibility are delicate. Whatever assumption therein is a gamble. Some lawyers have said that the former President is eligible to present himself for election, despite being elected President once, in 2011, after completing the tenure of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office. Other lawyers are of the opinion that he is constitutionally barred from contesting, having been elected once, after completing Yar’Adua’s tenure, based on Constitution alterations signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari after Jonathan left office. These two positions are backed by legal citations. What this means is that, when the courts eventually decide, it could go either way. Why would Jonathan run for an election when he is not sure whether he is qualified for it or not? It certainly would not make much sense.
In the face of all these, the pertinent question would be: Should Jonathan contest next year’s presidential election? Should he not contest the election? Irrespective of whatever good intentions Jonathan may have or whatever good works he thinks he would do, if he returns to power, it is my considered opinion that he should ignore calls to contest the 2023 election, let alone running on the platform of the APC. He should tell those persuading him to run, “Go behind me, Satan.” He should repeatedly say the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Do not lead me into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” No election or office is worth the rubbishing of the status Jonathan is enjoying at present.
As it stands, Jonathan has become a statesman, by whatever standard. When he left office in 2015, it was with his head high. Even when the result of the 2015 presidential election was still in dispute, Jonathan threw in the towel. Without consulting his supporters or campaign office, he made a call to the candidate of the APC, now President Buhari, congratulating him and conceding defeat. Despite being the loser in that election, he became the hero by the singular act of taking an action that engendered peace in the country. Out of office, he has served as peace and diplomatic envoy for Nigeria and world bodies. He commands respect globally. A man who has attained this height should not diminish himself by contesting an election he could actually lose. No matter the assurances those egging Jonathan on to contest next year’s presidential election have given, the chances of him losing the election are very high. When he loses the election, whatever respect Nigerians have for him would be eroded.
It would be bad enough for Jonathan to dabble into the 2023 presidential election. It would be worse for him to contest for the presidency on the platform of the APC. Jonathan defecting to the APC and contesting for the presidency on its platform would be the worst betrayal ever by a politician who was once a symbol of his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and who led people to make enemies of political opponents in the APC. Such an action would make nonsense of whatever Jonathan ever stood for. It would mean that the sacrifices of those who trusted and supported Jonathan were in vain. It would also mean that those who must have died supporting him lost their lives for nothing.
No matter how juicy the offer of joining the APC and running for President in the political party is, Jonathan should not accept it. Succumbing to this temptation will leave Jonathan as a desperate politician who is only interested in political office without any atom of principle. The APC demonised Jonathan. Many Nigerians defended him. The APC demonised the government that Jonathan headed. Many Nigerians also defended the Jonathan government. The APC continues to say that the Jonathan government caused the problems of Nigeria. Discerning Nigerians are not sold to this narrative. The APC painted a messianic picture when campaigning against Jonathan, but the majority of the promises made during the 2015 election have remained unfulfilled. The APC has sunk Nigeria deeper into a mess, with the condition and standard of living of Nigerians getting worse. Jonathan becoming a member of the APC, for whatever purpose, therefore, would be a direct and indirect confirmation of all the allegations against him.
If I were Jonathan, there is nothing to think about regarding the offer for him to contest next year’s presidential election in APC. This offer is poison served in a golden goblet. It is capable of killing the Jonathan personality. Jonathan should reject it. He should learn from the mistakes of John Mahama, former President of Ghana, who shares the same history as him.
Mahama was Vice-President of Ghana at the same time Jonathan was Vice-President of Nigeria. He became President of Ghana after the death in office of John Evan Atta Mills, just as Jonathan became President after the death of Yar’Adua. Prior to this, Mahama had served as a parliamentarian, Deputy Minister of Communication and Minister of Communication. After completing what was left of the tenure of the late President Mills (six months), he contested the Ghanaian presidential election and was elected President in December 2012. He served for four years, after which he sought re-election but lost in 2016. Out of office, Mahama served in diplomatic missions, including the Economic Community of West African States mediation team that resolved the political impasse in The Gambia, following the defeat of then incumbent President, Yahya Jammeh. He contested for the office of Ghana’s President again in 2020 and lost, again, to the current President, Nana Akufo-Addo.
Jonathan and Mahama share the same political trajectory. Mahama had a rising political profile even when he left office, despite losing election as an incumbent President. He succumbed to the pressure of political elements and sought to return to the office of President. His second defeat by the same person has indeed caused a dent on his profile. It was avoidable, but he fell into the trap.
Jonathan should avoid this costly mistake. No matter how plausible the calculation that he could win next year’s election is, he should not dare. I believe that those luring him have motives not in his interest. He should not demystify himself by agreeing to contest next year’s election. He should not be a tool in the hands of those who want to not only make a mockery of him but also use him to deny Southern Nigeria its due share in power control, should power shift to the South after President Buhari. Being constitutionally restricted, it will be a disincentive to the South if Jonathan were to return as President only to serve for four years, when another Southerner could have served for eight years, all things being equal. He should not think only about himself but about the collective.