JONATHAN AS NIGERIA'S OBAMA

By NBF News
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Without conscious efforts, deliberate planning and tons of hard work, Nigeria is on the threshold of achieving within 50 years of nationhood, a feat which took America more than 200 years to accomplish. Just like we got independence almost on a platter of gold, we are about forging a concrete national integration without shedding blood.

Just like the emergence of President Barack Obama broke barriers of race and colour, the inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan has rekindled hope in every Nigerian youth that he can indeed dream and aspire to the presidency of Nigeria .

Call it fate, call it goodluck , call it opportunity, it is all the same. God has in His own way solved a complex and challenging situation for Nigeria , which is to ensure that the minorities are exposed to the same privileges which had been the lot of the three majority tribes of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.

That a man from the long neglected Niger Delta is Nigeria 's President today, ought to elicit monumental celebration, the sad circumstances of his emergence notwithstanding.  That is why I am amazed that instead of Nigerians collectively embracing this life time opportunity to consolidate on our national unity and integration, we are dissipating our energy debating the propriety or otherwise of President Jonathan contesting the 2011 general elections. Instead of our evolving more enduring ways to sustain and deepen our democracy which guarantees free choice, we are busy trying to abridge our rights and privileges as endowed to us by our constitution.

Our constitution expressly stated that the office of the president is open to all Nigerians to vie for provided the person is 40 years and above, is not encumbered by any criminal record and has obtained a minimum educational qualification of WASC or its equivalent. In other words, in no part of the constitution is it stated that a president would emerge through a zoning process. Whereas federal character is enshrined in the constitution, zoning is not.

However, while it is conceded that a political party or group can evolve an internal mechanism for the selection of its candidates for local or national elections, such an arrangement remains inferior to the spirit and letter of the 1999 constitution. Any attempt to stop a Nigerian from contesting an election based on such an internal arrangement would be an affront to the nation's constitution.

Honestly, that is where I think that those who are kicking against President Goodluck Jonathan running in 2011 based on a phantom zoning arrangement by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) totally miss the point. In the first place, there is no where it is written in PDP constitution that positions should be zoned. Borrowing from the Nigerian constitution, the PDP constitution only makes reference to balance of power in such a manner as to ensure justice, equity and fairness.

When President Yar'Adua was elected in 2007, it was envisaged that he would serve out his two terms of eight years. Nobody could have predicted or assumed that he would die in office after only three years without even completing one term. It was not also expected that the Vice President who comes from the next zone would become President. But the reality is that this is the situation at hand now. Constitutionally, President Jonathan has taken over to complete the four year tenure of his late boss.

However, it would be unfair to ask Jonathan not to seek election in 2011 which is his legitimate right. Those who believe that the North ought to complete the remaining four years have a point, just like those who believe that it is only fair to allow Jonathan do at least four years of his own since destiny has thrust leadership upon his able shoulders. He has to have those years to be his own man, take responsibilities for his actions and account to Nigerians what he did with this mandate.

Indeed the scenario we have at hand is akin to a tenant whose rent is still running but for inexplicable reasons his landlord no longer wants to see his face not to talk of having him in his house. After a failed peaceful settlement, the landlord forcefully throws him out of the house and installs a new tenant. Naturally the aggrieved tenant heads to court and eventually wins. However seeing the dilemma of the innocent tenant who was not aware of the altercation between the landlord and his former tenant, the court cannot order him to quit the property. What it could do is to award damages to the injured previous occupant of the house.

So, Jonathan is a beneficiary of a situation he did not create. Every Nigerian knows his antecedents as a loyal deputy governor and a loyal Vice President. He is not a power monger who is hell bent on becoming president. But our constitution has conferred the presidency on him, and the best we can do is to support him to succeed in his vision for Nigeria. It would be so unfair to make him a lame duck president who will just sit out the remaining one year of the tenure of his late boss. We should offer him the opportunity to have his own tenure and prove himself.

To my mind, this is the moral burden on Nigerians as far as the Jonathan's presidency is concerned. Two factors account for this. One, Jonathan's background and pedigree coupled with the circumstances of his emergence ordinarily should galvanize Nigerians to give him unqualified support not only to complete the first tenure of his boss, but seek a fresh mandate in 2011. Because nobody prayed for Yar'Adua to die for Jonathan to become president, we ought to be sober and reflective in order to expel from our mindset primordial and base sentiments that can threaten our resolute march towards a sustainable democracy.

The second and most important factor is that Jonathan appears to be the bridge of unity and national integration which has eluded Nigerians for a long time. We were closer to the attainment of that goal in 1993 when Nigerians overwhelmingly voted a muslim-muslim ticket, only for  the military through an ill-advised action,  to annul that election.

The opportunity has presented itself again and history beckons on us to, in the spirit of Nigerian unity to formally elect a man from the minority tribe as our president in 2011. That would not only confirm that we have come of age, we would be giving a practical expression to the letters of the constitution which guarantees us the right to aspire to any position in the country.

Indeed, the Jonathan's presidency is a test case to challenge our patriotism and belief in liberal democracy. Our 11 years of democratic governance is also on trial, including our claim or aspiration of being among the  20 largest economies in the world by the year 2020. And because we are not an island, the international community is keenly watching us on how we manage this present challenge before us. My contention is that Nigeria would have come of age if in 2011, we elect our first president from the minority as a demonstration of our abiding faith in our nation and enduring belief in democratic ethos.

But until zoning becomes part of our constitution, there is nothing barring President Goodluck Jonathan from presenting himself for the 2011 presidential election.

•Mbadiwe, a lawyer was Nigeria 's envoy to Congo.

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