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For weeks now, Nigerians have been inundated with news about the efforts of certain Northern Nigerian personalities to foist on the nation someone privately chosen by them to run against President Jonathan in the forthcoming 2011 presidential elections. In recent days, we have also learned that former Vice President Atiku is the person Adamu Ciroma and others involved in these murky backroom manoeuvres have tipped to try to derail Jonathan’s presidential bid. But this is totally wrong.

It is wrong because the presidency is Nigeria’s pinnacle public office. As such, it should never be the product of private horse-trading far out of the public view. It diminishes the status of the presidency for a cabal to impose their handpicked parochial candidate in preference for an open search for the best available national candidate this country can produce.

It is wrong for other reasons as well. The contention of Ciroma and his group, the so-called G15 (sometimes also called the G17) is that the presidency has been ‘zoned’ to the North through 2015 by the People’s Democratic Party and its constitution. What’s wrong with this is that Ciroma, the one most persistently pressing this view, emphatically rejected presidential zoning in his past political life. It is worth noting, also, that there are highly placed individuals within the party who deny that such a zoning agreement exists. Besides, it is totally wrong-headed and amateurish for anyone to think that a party’s private arrangement should trump Nigeria’s Constitution. What a silly idea!

President Jonathan has done whatever the PDP, in particular, and Nigerians generally have asked of him. He successfully came through his party’s selection process when he ran for the vice presidency with Yar’Adua in 2007, and he pulled us through a national crisis of paralysis during Yar’Adua’s incapacitation. In the process he managed, with the help of the federal legislature and other well-meaning citizens, to bring about a smooth, peaceful and democratic transition and has kept Nigeria on an even keel post-Yar’Adua, so that our nation is now poised to achieve greatness and recognition on the international scene. And they are going to try to ‘consensus’ him out of office? This is not what Nigerians want.

At some point in the coming months, every Nigerian will have to ask what kind of president the nation needs in the present state of affairs. This is important because this election will define the future direction of the nation. As Jonathan himself has said, this election is not about him; it is about the future of Nigeria. It is about how Nigeria can earn global confidence and relevance. This is what Jonathan offers. The election is not, and should not be, about dredging up the failed policies and the very blemished direction of Nigeria’s past—which is what all of the ‘consensus’ candidates can offer. It is time for Nigeria to move forward with a new vision and purpose, not to return to the old days and ways. At a time of increasing globalization, we would be doing ourselves a great disfavour by throwing up candidates some of whom cannot travel abroad without fear of losing their liberty. Jonathan has already shown he has the mettle to be the kind of president that will change the lives of the average Nigerian for the better. And this has only just begun!

The greatest danger beclouding the gang-like scheming to produce a ‘consensus’ candidate is its high potential to cause considerable national dissensus. It is a threat to the unity of the country. Contrary to what the proponents of a Northern consensus candidate tend to believe, the North is not really united on the consensus question. Significant segments of the Northern elite are backing Jonathan. Also, most of the South believes Jonathan is the right national candidate at the right time. What the consensus plotters fail to appreciate is how those zones that have never produced a Nigerian president would react to the brazen attempt to snatch this opportunity from them. The South-South, home of the president and mainstay of the Nigerian economy, would have every reason to push back against the imposition. How long do they have to wait?

What Nigeria needs is a national candidate who emerges from the people’s free democratic choices, not one imposed on our citizens by a group operating in a secretive manner. That is undemocratic.

So, people, let’s focus on the future and leave behind the failed policies of the past. Let’s give Jonathan a chance to move the country forward as he has already begun to do in the brief period he has been in office.

For me, it’s “Forward with Jonathan.” That ought to be the clarion call for all Nigerians.

Professor Jeffrey Ibim is Director, Nigeria’s Renaissance Group.

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