There are growing but disingenuous calls on President Goodluck Jonathan to clarify whether or not he plans to contest the 2015 presidential election. The calls are absolutely unnecessary. The debate is pointless for a number of reasons. First, the 2015 presidential election should not be a national priority at this moment. The president’s political ambition should not take precedence over more important problems of national significance. Second, Jonathan promised during the heated presidential election campaign last year that he would not seek re-election. Any attempt to renege on that pledge would have cataclysmic effect on Jonathan’s integrity and on the rest of his term.
With the 2015 presidential election not due till three years’ time, it seems odd that a group of politicians with self-serving interests should start a campaign to pester Jonathan to say whether he would contest the next presidential election. Jonathan has not said categorically that he would contest the next election. It is inappropriate now to talk about the 2015 presidential election. Jonathan was elected only last year. He has not even served for one year. Rather than dwell on an election that is still far away, national pressure should be placed on Jonathan to fulfil his election promises.
How can a man who has not accomplished his election promises, a man who is still grappling with national security problems in his first term, be distracted with calls for a declaration on his future political ambition. The premature debate over Jonathan’s political future is fundamentally flawed because it is a fuzzy exercise in deductive reasoning. Jonathan, as the subject of the debate, is not keen to address the query. It seems to me the question has been raised by people who are pushing their political interests from one entrenched position. These are politicians who want Jonathan to relinquish his crown so the coast would be clear for them to represent their geopolitical region. Although Jonathan has not clarified his position, he can argue quite vigorously that there is nothing in our constitution that precludes him from contesting the presidential election in 2015, just like he used the same argument to justify his decision to contest the 2011 election.
During heated arguments over Jonathan’s presidential ambition just ahead of the 2011 election, Alex Akinyele, a former minister of information, said categorically that Jonathan should not contest the presidential election. He said: “You see, Nigerians are fond of tempting their leaders to do things against their conscience and when there is a problem, they will back out. He should shun all temptations. I am aware of the fact that the pressure of the temptation might be too much for him to bear but he should remain steadfast in his rejection of the move to lure him to contest.” That advice was rejected.
The longer Jonathan remains silent over his presidential ambition in 2015, the more politicians and the media will speculate about his future. Some of the speculations might be hurtful or truthful. Rumour thrives when official sources of information are blocked. Although Nigerians are entitled to speculate on Jonathan’s political future, I would argue it is too early to do so now. Even if we do not speculate about the president’s ambition, we are at liberty to scrutinise the man, his achievements and failures, whether he is a good or bad role model for other politicians, and whether he is an effective or ineffective president.
The problem with the suggestion that Jonathan should vacate the presidency at the end of his current tenure is that, even within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), opinions are sharply divided about the region that should produce the next presidential candidate in the spirit of the vexatious zoning agreement. The growing confusion over the PDP’s zoning deal might play into the hands of Jonathan. The longer the PDP leaders continue to dispute the zoning arrangement, the longer the topic will continue to destabilise the party’s esprit de corps.
Whichever way the argument goes, both sides of the debate will be compounding Jonathan’s leadership headaches. The man is struggling to focus his mind to overcome serious national problems such as worsening instability in the power sector, decaying public infrastructure and institutions, crumbling hospital system and poor healthcare services, and widespread insecurity spawned by indiscriminate bomb explosions by agents of Boko Haram. The challenges before Jonathan are daunting.
We will be getting our priorities wrong if we start now to debate Jonathan’s political future, ahead of other more important national issues. The focus should be on Jonathan’s performance or lack of performance, not on insignificant issues that revolve around the president’s plans for 2015. Jonathan must be held accountable for his performance as president. We elected a president but we must also grant him the space and peace to perform or get out. How do we judge Jonathan’s credibility as an effective or ineffective president if we do not use his election promises as a benchmark to assess him?
To evaluate Jonathan’s performance, we need to see the man serve at least two years (half his term) to establish valid arguments about whether he is taking the nation forward or backward. If Jonathan fails to establish verifiable evidence of achievement after two years, and he goes ahead to campaign for re-election in 2015, Nigerian voters would be in a strong position to tell the president, in a gentle and respectable manner, that he should drag his political ambition no further than his current term because of his mediocre performance.
In many democratic countries, citizens do not hound their presidents or prime ministers with unjustified questions about their future political plans when the incumbent has not served half their term. It is all too easy for anyone to jump into the bandwagon of the people calling on Jonathan to speak now about his future political ambition or forever remain silent. Rather than ask Jonathan questions about his ambition in 2015, we should ask him how his government plans to deal with two major scandals of extraordinary proportions that ought to be handled decisively and timely, namely the police pension fund scam and the national disgrace called the oil subsidy fraud. These are serious matters that touch on executive integrity, as well as national accountability and transparency.
The oil subsidy fraud and the police pension fund scandal will test Jonathan’s mantra about his government’s commitment to end the endemic corruption in our system. In my judgment, if Jonathan fails to act on these two problems with the seriousness and swiftness they deserve, he would have carved out an ugly name as the gutless president who watched helplessly as the nation was consumed by a monster called corruption.
The amount of money embezzled in the police pension fund and in the oil subsidy by a group of public officials, politicians, as well as businessmen and women is simply dizzying and unimaginable. The police pension fund scam in particular epitomises the disregard we have for retired policemen and women who spent a greater part of their lives fighting criminals, exposing their lives to harm, and ensuring that our streets are liberated from the siege of armed gangs and bandits. I would like to believe that Jonathan understands the weight of the responsibilities on his shoulders. The scandals have done incalculable damage to our national image and our international reputation.
Jonathan was elected to serve the nation, not to play political games or shield anyone indicted in the police pension fund scam and the oil subsidy fraud. He has no option but to direct the prosecution of all those involved in the two scandals. At times like this, you wish the nation can conjure, through some kind of magic, a pragmatic president who is short on words but tall on implementation of national economic development objectives.