The Jonathan Presidency (10)

ON Saturday, September 18, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan formally declared his interest in the 2011 Presidential race on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. The event which was held at the Eagle Square, Abuja, was attended by a cross section of Nigerians including politicians, students, teachers, Niger Delta youths, market women, "Naija Artistes for Jonathan" - actors (Stephanie Okereke, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Francis Duru etc.), comedians (Ali Baba..), and musicians (Onyeka Onwenu, Weird MC, Sammy Okposo, D'Banj etc.); 52 out of the 62 registered political parties in the country were also represented, 30 of the 36 state Governors were in attendance.

Obviously, the intention was to project Goodluck Jonathan as a popular President. His declaration was a bold move to remind the pro-zoning Northern establishment that the Presidency is good also for a minority citizen, and a loud comment on the character of Nigerian politicians as many of them spoke enthusiastically at the occasion. Former PDP Board of Trustees Chairman, Chief Anthony Anenih told the audience: "We did it in 2003 and 2007." What did the PDP do in 2003 and 2007? Anenih is popularly known among his critics as "Mr-Fix-It" and so when he refers to what the PDP did in 2003 and 2007, the cynics would only think of how the PFDP fixed the elections. However, Anenih immediately clarified his statement: "I have never seen anything like this before. I encourage Nigerians who are sitting on the fence to join the train because it is moving." The crowd was large indeed, and there were many Nigerians willing to join the "train," particularly state Governors who became emergency musicians. The Rivers state Governor, Rotimi Amaechi sang in pidgin English: "no yawa for the matter".

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Cross River Governor, Liyel Imoke said: "Na di Jonathan ticket go unite Nigeria. South South 100 per cent, Nigeria, 100 per cent." Delta Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan told the people to "register and vote for Jonathan". Theodore Orji, the Governor of Abia state sang: "Jonathan is a winner man". Oyo state Governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala led a chorus: "If you know you are happy and you know, say JEGA" (JEGA- Jonathan Ebele Goodluck Azikiwe). One of the early strategies that the Jonathan camp adopted was to exhume the President's Igbo names and advertise them as a way of broadening his appeal in the Southern part of the country. Names are not mere labels among Africans; they are very strong signifiers which attract specific emotions depending on the circumstances. Azikiwe is the name of the foremost Nigerian statesman and politician -Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who at the height of his political career was an adopted role model even for unborn generations.
But the more interesting development was the presence of Northern Governors: With the exception of Bukola Saraki, Modu Sheriff (ANPP-Borno) and Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP-Kano), all the pro-zoning Northern Governors attended the Jonathan event. In July, the Northern Governors had voted 10 for zoning, eight against and one abstention. There had been fears however that even the Governors who agreed that Jonathan was free to run would prefer to work for the Northern interest. Their presence, with the Chief Servant, Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Babangida Aliyu addressing the rally was an early indication that Jonathan could well divide the votes in the North eventually. The Nassarawa Governor, Aliyu Akwe-Doma told the rally: "we are for good luck, not bad luck." Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) said "Goodluck to all of us." Danjuma Goje (Gombe) said "support Jonathan, support progress".
The Niger State Governor talked about his people's willingness to "negotiate". Benue Governor Gabriel Suswam said "the people of Benue state have mandated me to endorse Jonathan 100 per cent." In July, Suswam and Doma had opposed the idea of zoning. Goje, Lamido, and Babangida Aliyu supported the zoning of the Presidency to the North at the time; by September, however, they were very conspicuous at Jonathan's declaration. The North obviously was either divided or confused. But if the Governors seemed ambivalent, the Arewa Consultative Forum was inconsolable. It condemned the Jonathan declaration and accused the President of using the EFCC to blackmail all state Governors to support him by force. Indeed, seven of the 10 Governors who insisted on the presidency being zoned to the North in July had been visited by the EFCC by September 2! (see Reuben Abati, EFCC: The "Onslaught" Against Ten Governors, The Guardian, September 5, 2010).
Six youth groups from the North also threatened mayhem. Similarly, the "consensus candidate" of the PDP presidential candidates of the North, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku seemed determined to run a robust campaign ahead of the PDP Presidential primaries. The focus on winning the PDP presidential nomination would prove to be a major source of distraction for the Jonathan Presidency, not a few Nigerians were convinced that the 2011 elections became more of a priority to President Jonathan than the daily grind of governance. With the Atiku group, and the ACF trying to stop Jonathan, the campaign soon became abusive on both sides. In the primaries of the ruling PDP held in January 2011, there were three candidates: Jonathan, Atiku and Sarah Jibril, but the run up to that occasion witnessed a lot of mudslinging between the Jonathan and the Atiku forces. Atiku talked about experience, Jonathan talked about his achievements. The Atiku group claimed that the other camp had perfected a rigging manual, the Jonathan group warned Nigerians about the desperation of the other group. Even serving Ministers who ordinarily should focus on their assignments got into the fray as the Ministry of Finance felt obliged to tell Atiku that he knew nothing about the economy. The quality of debate in Nigerian politics often leaves much to be desired. The pre-2011 general elections campaigns were driven mainly by ego, opportunism and febrile ethnic sentiments.

For the most part, President Jonathan and his team concentrated on his achievements, with promises of greater things to come. The first seven paragraphs of the Jonathan declaration speech focused, for example, on one, how the administration had taken on the challenges of "national security with patriotism and care." The President was apparently referring to the Farouk Abudmutallab incident of December 2009, sectarian violence in Jos, the Boko Haram uprising in parts of the North, and the spate of kidnappings across the country. By October 2010, however, just how serious the country's security challenge was would be further advertised when bombs exploded in Abuja on the occasion of the country's golden jubilee anniversary celebrations. In December 2010, in the last week of the year, there were more bomb explosions around the country, underscoring how limited the antidote of "patriotism and care" could be in the face of such challenges. Two, the President said "all our refineries are working, saving us huge amounts of funds spent on importation of petroleum products."

In December 2010, public attention would be drawn to how for the first time in almost a decade, there was no fuel scarcity in the country during the yuletide season. Nonetheless, the country continued to spend heavily on petroleum importation. Three, he also talked about power sector reform and the involvement of the private sector in power generation and distribution, noting that "power generation has significantly improved." The truth is that by December 2010, the country still generated less than 3, 000 MW of electricity, although in August, the Presidential Power Sector Reform Task Force had launched a power sector reform road map including plans to sell 16 PHCN subsidiaries to private sector investors.

In January 2011, the Government would announce the test running of three power plants in Sapele, Alaoje and Olorunsogo. The President also referred to the Local Content Bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill as part of on-going reforms in the extractive industry. He added that "normalcy" had begun to return to the Niger Delta. The reality on this score is that kidnappings, bombings and violence in that region have continued unabated. He also cited achievements in form of "monumental projects": road infrastructure, water projects (a road map for water supply will be launched in January 2011), investments in the educational system "to return quality and competitiveness to them." (this is doubtful); and self-sufficiency in food production. He then declared:

"I set the stage for free and fair elections by constituting an electoral commission comprising of Nigerians with impeccable credentials for firmness and incorruptibility. I charged our anti corruption agencies to speed up the war against corruption and respect no sacred cows in the process. In the management of the economy, I advocated a more transparent banking industry, price stability, low inflation, and aggregate increase in productivity as a way to drive us to a more prosperous economy. In international relations, I advanced the respectability accorded our country by effective engagement in global fora." Indeed the stage had been set for the 2011 elections with the appointment of a new electoral commission, but the new INEC was full of complaints and excuses about funding and timing, raising anxieties about its preparedness for the task ahead.

The initial time-table for the elections had to be changed, and the Constitution had to be amended to accommodate the new schedule as Nigerians found themselves at the last minute without a credible voters' register or strong electoral institutions. In the banking sector, a number of bank chiefs were indicted for corrupt practices and made to face the wrath of the law. Without doubt, the Jonathan Presidency had helped to re-establish Nigeria's international presence. Dr Jonathan also brought fresh energy and vitality to the office after months of anxieties about Presidential illness. With the launch of his Facebook page, he also became Nigeria's first true computer-age President.

By December 2010, over 340, 000 persons had visited the Jonathan page, with an average of about 1, 000 – 2000 responses per day, and it was here again that the President talked about more achievements in office: the re-opening of three textile mills in Kaduna (ironically, the same government lifted the ban on importation of textiles in November 2010); four airlines now offering direct flights to the United States (except that only one is Nigerian). President Jonathan had also shown a readiness to allow a level playing political field, with his refusal to help impose the PDP will in all the court ordered re-run and by-elections, particularly in Edo, Osun, Ekiti and Delta states and the gubernatorial election in Anambra state. When the PDP lost the Governorship in Ekiti state, Governor Gbenga Daniel (PDP-Ogun) protested openly that this was "bad" for the Jonathan campaign. Ordinarily, an incumbent President in Nigeria would be expected to impose his party at all levels on the electorate using the machinery of the state. In his speech, Jonathan had highlighted his "dream for Nigeria", the substance of which he described as "a new era of transformation of our country." He concluded: "Goodluck has come to transform Nigeria and I will never let you down."

By January 2011, reactions to the Jonathan Presidency were mixed, a combination of the shortness of time, and over-arching obsession with politics, and the administration's failure to "hit the ground running" as promised, presented the Jonathan Presidency at best, as a developing story with enormous potentials. The real test of Jonathan's popularity was perhaps the PDP Presidential primaries held on January 13, 2011. What transpired? And what lessons if any, have Nigerians learnt as they prepare for their fourth general elections since the exit of the military in 1999?


• To be concluded on Sunday