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JONATHAN: SHOULD HE; OR SHOULD HE NOT?

By NBF News

As a consequence, everything in Nigeria is bizarre. Therefore, sad as it is, the question of a Jonathan candidacy in 2011 is a national project to which every Nigerian must subscribe. Worthy of note are arguments of those who say that the issue of Jonathan's candidacy is a political party affair and should not therefore be elevated to the level of a national debate. This argument is useful only where the political party, as an institution, is given its due recognition. In Nigeria one of the major defects of our political system is the dangerous reversal of roles between institutions and individuals. In this case between the political party and the political office holder. Perhaps because of the nature of its emergence (which was tentative, unsure,and insecure) the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to which the president belongs, is a cauldron of oddities that came together as an emergency contraption, without any kind of binding

ideology.  Where reward and punishment are effected by those who can give or withhold juicy political appointments and contracts. As a result the party has been unable to assert its authority over its members. Instead party officials from the national to the ward level, willy-nilly, make themselves subservient to whoever happens to be the chief executive at any given level. The wish of the president, governor or council chairman becomes the command of the party chairman at these levels.

Under this self-evident anomaly, it would amount to an abdication of duty, if not downright irresponsibility, to argue that Nigerians should detach themselves from the happenings within the ruling party. In actual fact it is at the party level that the first phase of rigging election commences. In any case why is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is a public, non-partisan institution, at least by definition, mandated to supervise and endorse the election of party officials? Those who advance the 'It's a party affair argument' obviously do so for personal convenience only. Either that or they have a very shallow understanding of thepolitical events within the last decade.

Rather than becoming detached, Nigerians should in fact get more involved with the PDP, and where possible even register as card-carrying members of the party for the sole aim of helping to strengthen the internal democracy within the party. This may sound like an extreme or desperate option; but when a people find themselves in political captivity, such as we are, every road to freedom is an option. Civil society groups and political commentators that are beginning to sound like campaign managers of vested interests should be prepared to make more sacrifices and explore unorthodox methods of helping to free the country from the stranglehold of a political party everybody admits has not lived up to expectations.

Now to the question of whether Jonathan should contest the 2011 presidential election or not. The debate of course hinges upon the issue of the zoning formula of the PDP which stipulates that certain positions should be zoned among the six geo-political zones of the country.

This formula was developed and worked smoothly in 1999 and was largely adhered to in 2003 and 2007. But with the sudden death of the former president, Malam Umaru Musa Yar'Adua last May, and the ascension to power of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, an unexpected opportunity has presented itself and naturally every one that fancies his chances is angling to take advantage of it. At the top of the ladder of those who stand to gain most from this 'window of opportunity' is the president himself, who is now completing the joint ticket he shared with the late president. Statistically, the odds are stacked against Jonathan, as an incumbent president, quietly handing over power to another mortal and walking away. In the 50 years of Nigeria's independence, only two people had managed to achieve that feat out of the 13 people that have so far ruled the country. Five had died in office while the remaining six were driven out. How would Jonathan fare? Barring

any Divine intervention, which we pray would not visit any tragedy on the president or the nation, Mr. Jonathan holds the key to how he fares.  The general perception that Jonathan is but a mere puppet of former president Olusegun Obasanjo is exactly what it is: a perception, which, if properly challenged could turn out to be incorrect.

It is true that the former president does have a lot of influence on Jonathan; but if that influence is as pervasive as is perceived, there is no way in the world that General T. Y. Danjuma, a no-nonsense, down to earth sworn antagonist of Obasanjo could have been the head of Jonathan's Presidential Advisory Committee, which Jonathan has given almost the same powers as the National Council of State.

This means that at the very least, the president knows that he could be—and is in fact capable of being—independent. And because these two famous Generals stand on the opposite sides of the great question of whether Jonathan should contest in 2011 or not; deferring to them both at the same time also means that he could defy Obasanjo and respect the zoning arrangement of his party; or he could shun Danjuma and go ahead to contest the presidency in 2011. Fortunately there is no middle ground on this one, and very little time for stalling. It is a decision he must make sooner than later.

And then of course he would have to be ready to bear the enormous consequences that would definitely follow. The main issues surrounding the controversy are very clear. Although in his maiden media chat a few weeks ago Jonathan used a very derogatory term to describe the zoning issue by calling it 'the purported zoning arrangement', every available documentary, historical and oral evidence show that there was indeed such agreement in the PDP and one of its biggest beneficiaries is Dr. Jonathan himself. The only issue that remains to be resolved is whether the president would respect it or not.

Those who are urging, cajoling, begging and even harassing Jonathan to ignore the agreement and run in 2011 anchor their argument around the principle of democracy, civil liberty and the fundamental rights of the individual to decide what to do with his life within the limits set by law. They also point out, correctly, that nothing in the Nigerian constitution stops Jonathan from contesting the presidency in 2011.

These arguments are valid except that in this case the proponents are applying them upside down. How can the winning strategy of a political party (which is what zoning is all about) be said to limit the democratic choices of its members or the entire electorate? In the first place, Jonathan never denied that he walked into the PDP willingly and has had at least ten years within which to decide whether he wanted to remain there or not. During this period, many people have walked in and out of the PDP at will, but Jonathan is not one of them. In what way then are his democratic choices or human rights infringed?

The Jonathan-must-run advocates also try to argue that zoning contravenes the constitution of the country. This, to say the least, is an outrageous suggestion. Which constitution, by the way, are they referring to? The Nigerian constitution or the PDP's? If those people would have the courage to shed whatever is preventing them from thinking straight and position these concepts of democracy and fundamental human rights correctly rather than upside down, they will see that members of a political party, coming together freely and willingly and deciding on a code of behavior for themselves is the ultimate freedom that anybody can have.

A few weeks ago the National Geographic channel ran a documentary on a particular Christian sect that worships in the nude. Their argument was that they feel it is pretentious to wear clothes in the Church when God who created them and who they worship knows everything about their bodies. Abhorrently warped as the arguments of these worshippers are, they tend to be more credible than those who are standing truth on its head all in an effort to defend what are clearly their self interests.

It has to be admitted also that should President Jonathan allow himself to be swayed by those who are urging him to contest, he would not be breaking any law of the land. But then he would be carrying a moral baggage for the rest of his life. Even if in the past the likes of the late Abubakar Rimi and Barnabas Gemade had attempted to challenge the zoning agreement of the party, is it proper for the president to copy their example; or set a better one for others to follow? And for God's sake what would President Jonathan say if we ask him this question:

'IF YOU ARE FICKLE ENOUGH TO GO BACK ON AN AGGREEMENT TO WHICH YOU ARE A PARTY IN YOUR OWN POLITICAL PARTY, WHY SHOULD WE TRUST YOU TO FULFILL ANY PROMISSES YOU HAVE MADE TO US, SUCH AS CONDUCTING A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION IN WHICH YOU ARE A CANDIDATE?'

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