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2011: WHY JONATHAN SHOULDN'T RUN

By NBF News

President Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted as saying to Goodluck Jonathan, 'you must run, you must run, we cannot continue like this, we have to move forward.' Let us look at Obasanjo's antecedents and see what he would have done if he were Jonathan.

Obasanjo came to power the first time in 1976, after the death of his boss, General Murtala Muhammed, who hails from the North-West of Nigeria. He took over to serve out the remaining three years because they promised to hand over power in 1979. Despite the death of his boss, Obasanjo kept faith to their promise and voluntarily handed over power in 1979 to Alhaji Shehu Shagari from the North-west.

He came back in 1999 as a civilian president. Again, he entered into an agreement to hand over power to the North after eight years in 2007. In deference to this agreement, he was compelled by circumstances to hand over power to President Umaru Yar'Adua from the North-West, who was meant to have it for eight years. Unfortunately, he died after three years and President Jonathan came to power to serve out Yar'Adua's remaining one year. It is now safe for us to conclude that if Obasanjo were to be Jonathan, in spite of whatever he is telling Jonathan today, he would have handed over power to North-West in 2011, willingly, after the death of his boss, to honour earlier agreement that North should have power for eight years or he will be compelled by circumstances to do so. History has a way of repeating itself. The question now is, should Jonathan run in 2011?

Zoning and rotation are two words that have been used interchangeably. It is submitted that they are different. As a lawyer, I will attempt to explain the difference, since this goes to the root of our discussion. Zoning is the act of composing a government or any of its agencies, in a manner that reflects the federal character of Nigeria. This act is constitutional (See sec.14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution). Nigeria is a federation made up of six federating units called geo-political zones, namely South-West, South-South, South-East, North-West, North-East and North-Central. There are six principal elective offices in Nigeria, namely the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. The constitution envisages that in order to reflect the federal character of Nigeria, these six elective offices should be shared by the six geo-political zones. This was upheld in 1999, where the President was from the South-West, Vice-President North-East, Senate-President South-East, Speaker North-West and Deputy Speaker South-South. This is zoning and this has been with us from almost independence.

Rotation on the other hand is the act of shifting the six principal elective posts between North and South after a determinable time and in this circumstance eight years. This was upheld in 2007, where all the posts held by southerners in 1999 were shifted to the North, while all the posts held by northerners were shifted to the South. For the avoidance of doubt, in 2007, the President was from the North-West, the Vice-President from the South-South, the Senate President from the North-Central, the Speaker from the South-West and the Deputy Speaker from the North-East. This was the gentleman's agreement reached in 1999, which was cemented in 2007. This arrangement, though not in the constitution, is not unconstitutional, because each party is free by law to make rules that govern its activities. President Yar'Adua confirmed this when he declared that his election had confirmed that power must rotate between North and South after every eight years. Unfortunately, he died after three years and Jonathan is to serve out his remaining one year.

What next in 2011? There have been several arguments. We shall take them one after the other to know whether Jonathan should run or not in 2007. Everybody now agrees that the President has the constitutional right to contest. Some argue that in developed democracies, constitution prevails over every gentleman's agreement in politics. Let us look at America, where we borrowed our democracy, to test the veracity of this statement. In America, every President is entitled to two terms by the constitution. But, by a gentleman's agreement, an incumbent President is given automatic ticket to contest for a second term, irrespective of how unpopular he has become. Note that this arrangement is not in the constitution but it is not unconstitutional as everybody was still qualified to run.

When an incumbent Jimmy Carter wanted a second term in office, Ted Kennedy challenged him for the Democratic Party's ticket against the party's gentleman's agreement. Nobody stopped him because he had the constitutional right. But despite his political pedigree, as a Kennedy, coupled with Carter's unpopularity, the party stuck to its gentleman's agreement and voted for Carter. Ted never truly recovered from this breach of the party's gentleman's agreement, as he never contested for the Presidency anymore. In Nigeria, President Obasanjo wanted to break the gentleman's agreement to hand over power after eight years by seeking a third term. He had the constitutional right to seek the amendment of the constitution, like any other citizen. He failed and has never truly recovered from it. We may now safely conclude that though Jonathan has the constitutional right to contest in 2011, he will be breaking the gentleman's agreement if he does. And if he does, he may fail and may never recover from it politically.

Another argument by some quarters, in support of Jonathan for 2011, is that the North has had power for about 38 out of our 50 years of independence. Their argument seems to be that justice can only be served if South has the power for the next 38 out of the next 50 years of our independence. With due respect, this is like suggesting that the solution to the northern domination of political power in the past is to replace it with southern domination in the future. My policy is that I do not correct a mistake with another mistake. For instance, I will not support that the best solution to redressing educational imbalance between North and South is to halt education in the South in order for the North to catch up.

The best solution to northern domination of political power in the past is no domination at all by any section of Nigeria in future. This is the import of zoning and rotation. Since it was South that was disadvantaged politically in the past and as a result of the criminal annulment of June 12 won by a southerner, it was not surprising that the idea of rotation (power shift) was a southern initiative supported eventually by northerners as the only solution to our political problems. This agreement was not meant to be permanent. But the gentleman's agreement is that the Presidency should be rotated among the six geo-political zones for eight years each initially, after which, the initial suspicions that characterised our politics would have disappeared and everybody would have been given a sense of belonging.

You do not change the goalpost at the middle of the game. In this regard, it is the North-West that has the right to seek for the Presidency in 2011 based on the agreement, because we are talking about finishing a tenure not starting a new one. With due respect, based on this argument, General Ibrahim Babangida (North-central) and Atiku Abubakar (North-East) are not qualified. If the North risks them, they will fail. This is because the quest of the North for 2011 is an equitable right, not a legal right and he that must come to equity must come with clean hands.

At this juncture, let us consider the antecedents of the man Jonathan to know his fitness for 2011. Jonathan is the first person to become President democratically without an election, by an act of God. Earlier, he became Governor of Bayelsa State without election, another act of God. He even became acting President by another act of God called doctrine of necessity by the legislature. Before now, the Judiciary has been credited with this doctrine worldwide but for Jonathan's sake, the Legislature invoked it in Nigeria.

-Kenneth Okonkwo, legal practitioner, is based in Abuja

During all these, he kept mum, yet God honoured him. We can now safely conclude that God has always used Jonathan as a uniting figure, not a divisive one, as a solution to our political problem, not the source of it. Now if he decides to run in 2011, he should ask himself: 'am I really going to be a uniting or divisive figure between the North and South?' I leave the answer to him.

The next important thing is the message of the man Jonathan. He promised a free and fair election. Our election is about six months from now. How fair will an election be if an incumbent, with awesome state apparatus at his disposal, decide to run against others who do not even know the time table of an election? He appointed the INEC chairman. He has the media. He commands the armed forces. He gives out the national awards. He shares the national wealth, in addition to uncountable army of sycophants, who will rig his election, whether he instructs them or not. Their political life depends on it. The mere fact that he is waiting to be as close to the election as possible before declaring his interest to run is simply a strategy to create confusion and weaken the opposition, as nobody will invest in a candidate in an atmosphere of uncertainty. This is laying a good foundation for an unfair election even if it is free.

In US, two years to an election, the candidates and their policies are known. In Nigeria, six months to an election, the President is advising that it is too early to declare. The only solution to give us free and fair election as things stand now is for Jonathan not to contest so that others will have a level playing field.

Another disturbing aspect of Jonathan for 2011 is the possible short changing of the South-South if he decides to run and win. This is because the South-South can only have power for five years instead of eight years. Whereas if South-South forbears to run now and wait for its turn, then the South-South has the opportunity of having power for nine years. The additional one year given to them by an act of God.

The most worrisome thing about Jonathan for 2011 that gives me goose pimples when I consider the consequences is the danger of exploiting the death of a President from a section of Nigeria for the advantage of another section and to the disadvantage of his own people. Every mortal is susceptible to death and this can come anytime. If the South benefits from the death of a northern President, what danger does this pose to a southern President in power, if the North were to benefit from his death? Zoning and rotation in Nigeria were made in such a way that no other section will benefit from the death, resignation or removal from office of an incumbent. This saw the South-East producing five Senate Presidents in eight years, the North-West producing two Speakers in four years, the South-West producing two Speakers in a year and these did not affect our political stability. Indeed, it took the zoning of the President to the South-West to atone for the death of MKO Abiola from the South-West. The best possible solution to the death of Yar'Adua, which will not pose any danger to the person of Jonathan or the political stability of Nigeria, is for the post of the President to be maintained in the North-West for the next four years.

Conclusively, I must admit that I am sold to the idea of zoning and rotation at least until it goes round the six geo-political zones on an equitable and just formula, since one does not change the goal post at the middle of a game. The constitution rightly enumerated the benefits of zoning and rotation to include the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby, ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in Nigeria (Please see sec. 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution). This article therefore, is not making a case for a northern President nor is it making a case against a southern President (God forbid, I am a southerner); it is making a case for the promotion of national unity, commanding of national loyalty and ensuring that there shall be no dominance of political power by any section of Nigeria.