2011: THE DIE IS CAST
For obvious reasons, the battle for the nation's presidential seat ahead of 2011 general election started last week with the declaration of ambition by two major actors in the race, President Goodluck Jonathan and former Head of State, Gen Ibrahim Babangida.
Both Babangida and Jonathan declared intention to contest election for the plum position on Wednesday, September 15 and yesterday, September 18 respectively. In the nation's fluid political waters, Babangida and Jonathan are undoubtedly the two big fish.
Both aspirants declared their intention at the Eagle square, and Abuja, the nation's capital was a beehive of activities with hotels including the unpopular ones booked to the brim. Expectedly, the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of the nation's political class literally relocated to the federal capital even as the 2011 general election became the only issue of public discourse.
Traffic was reportedly hectic and security was beefed up at strategic points in the capital city.
With what transpired last week, it became obvious that the predictably tortuous race to 'Aso Villa' is between Babangida and Jonathan. While many insist that the former military leader remains a man to beat in any election in Nigeria, others argue that Jonathan would swim to victory because of the inherent advantages of an incumbent president.
Though the field is already littered with an array of presidential aspirants, the odds seem to favour Babangida and Jonathan who are both seeking to realize their ambition on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
With the declaration, the chances of the two top contenders have continued to agitate the minds of critical observers.
One of the factors that would determine the direction of the tide is the generational gap between the two contending forces. While Babangida is claiming that he can fix Nigeria because of his age and experience, those in Jonathan's camp (mostly of the younger generation) believe that the old generation of leaders has failed Nigeria. The argument among people in this school of thought is that had the older generation succeeded, the nation could have long taken its pride of place in the comity of nations. But what were the issues in Babangida and Jonathan's declaration?
'Today, Nigeria faces a qualitatively different challenge. The reality in our country is that of an abysmal lack of governance. The state has virtually become overwhelmed by multi-dimensional crises constraining its ability to minister to the needs of the citizenry'.
The above captures the mindset of the former Head of State ahead of the forthcoming presidential election and was part of his declaration speech.
At the event, Babangida who was flanked by his eldest daughter said he decided to seek the PDP ticket because according to him, Nigeria is in a deep crisis. Babangida whose speech is titled, 'Together we will build a productive economy and a caring society', said the question as to why he is seeking to return to the challenges of leadership after eight previous years as president of the country is fair and expected.
He explained that after almost two decades of serious and deep reflection, increased exposure and review of the past and present, he is today even more convinced and determined to take on fully the challenges ahead of the country. 'Today, the reality of our present circumstance is that our country is in crisis. We cry over the economy and we agonize over the state of our education as well as organized crime', he said.
The former Head of State who promised to have only one term of four years said there is no more debate or doubt about the debilitating role of corrupt practices in governance, public policy design and implementation, and even in the relationship between the public and private sector.
Highlights of the Babangida package include energizing and fortifying the war against corruption, creating two million jobs in two years, implementation of Ledum Mitee report on Niger Delta and ruling for only four years.
Many believe that the former Head of state is the man to beat in the presidential race because of his popularity across the nation. The thinking among people in this school of thought is that he still commands a lot of followership in the country even after leaving office 17 years ago.
However, his albatross is the cancellation of June 12, 1993 presidential election won by M.K.O Abiola. Many also fault the economic policies he initiated while in office and criticize him for human rights abuses.
President Goodluck Jonathan
'If I am elected President in 2011, I will make a covenant with you the Nigerian people to always do right…to tell you the truth at all times, to carry you along and, most importantly, to listen to you, fellow citizens in our communities and also those of you on this page'. The above which is part of President Jonathan's speech on Facebook set a precedent in Nigeria. Before yesterday's event, he made his intention known first to members of Facebook. For followers of events in Nigeria, this is the first time a presidential aspirant declared intention via the social networking platform.
According to him, if elected, his actions would be based on what he described as less promises, more results. He urged Nigerians to work towards a perfect union founded on transparency, equity and justice.
'Dear countrymen and compatriots, four months ago, providence placed me at the leadership of our dear country, following the untimely death of our dear former President, my brother and leader, late Umaru Yar'Adua. It was a solemn and trying moment for me personally and for the country as a whole.
'My immediate task and priority was and still remains to give the nation purposeful leadership and to focus on the priorities of our administration in order to maintain national peace and stability and pursue our key development priorities.
'As president and leader of government, I decided not to place partisan politics above the immediate needs and priorities of our people. I came under intense pressure to make a declaration concerning my political future, but declined to do so because that would have immediately distracted us from all the development initiatives we have accomplished so far.
I therefore told Nigerians to give me time to concentrate on my work and that at the appropriate time, I would make a public statement on my political future after due consultations with all the segments and leaders of our nation', he said.
Since the emergence of the former lecturer in the nation's political landscape, he has cut different images in the minds of people. To his admirers and supporters, he is destined for greatness and nobody can stop him from reaching the mountaintop of his political career. But for critics and political opponents, the President is an opportunist who has perennially reaped where he did not sow. Many in this school of thought believe that he lacks the strength of character to manage a big country like Nigeria.