It is no longer news to say that incumbent President of Nigeria Dr Goodluck Jonathan will seek re-election in the forth coming 2011 elections. Even though he has not formally declared his intention to do so, all his body language point clearly in that direction. Many days before he quietly made appointments into his campaign team, Nigerian Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia had alluded to this at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington DC, United States on the 4th of August.

The articulate Nigerian Foreign Minister did a marvelous job of selling a country that British author Richard Dowden referred to as "a punishment posting for diplomats" at an event titled challenges and prospects: Perception and Reality of Nigeria at 50. It was a tough one for him but Odein did his best before a visible interested Nigeria/US audience.

In a very direct question on whether Jonathan will contest the next election the Minister Ajumogobia had this to say, "President Jonathan is seriously considering contesting the next elections. He is currently making consultations. At the end of his consultations he will make his intentions know to the public." One could feel the body language of most participants drawn from high level US diplomats. No one seemed too surprised as the Minister gave his answer.

I attended the session and listened attentively while the Minister spoke. He made copious references to a recent book by Richard Dowden "Africa: altered states, ordinary miracles and so I had to pick up a copy of the book from my shelf when I got home. Sadly the author, a respected international journalist used several uncomplimentary words and phrases to describe Nigeria. But he said some home truths. I do not expect him to write as a Nigerian foreign minister or capture so called national potentials as Ajumogobia. But how come these potentials are now fifty years old and still have not yet been actualized. Odein almost recruited me by his eloquence to join those calling for the head of Mr. Dowden but hang on a minute. That book was frank talk! Flipping through the book, I worried deeply on how, why and where a country so richly blessed as Nigeria got it wrong. But that is by the way.

Back home, in Nigeria the debates on whether Presidency of Africa’s most populous country has been zoned to one section of the country or not. Richard Dowden had in an obvious reference to bad governance in Africa Richard referred to post colonial Africa thus " in these newly independent countries, the easiest way for a would be ruler to gather supporters was to mobilize his own ethnic or religious group against others and impose his will by force in the name of national unity. After fifty years of independence, this is still an unfortunate reality in our dear Nigeria.

As Jonathan Good luck is girding his loins for the road ahead and his loyalists (including sycophants) struggle to persuade the ruling Peoples Democratic party to jettison zoning, the Nigerian political situation calls for some analytical introspection. At least the so-called zoning may not be excised from the PDP constitution at least not this time. Jonathan’s loyalists started, by pleading with him to run for Presidency. Now they are threatening him. Nigeria…my country!

And so even before Jonathan declares, many other candidates have joined the ring for the battle to govern, sorry rule Nigeria. The political arena is already getting filled up with both contenders and pretenders!

But a top contender for the Jonathan’s job is former military President Ibrahim Babangida. Even though IBB as he is popularly called sounds very confident of victory he is notorious for behind the scene scheming and many feel he is the one funding and fuelling the debates on zoning the Presidency to the North. Besides the enormous resources he commands IBB a very heavy political baggage seem to be standing on his way back to the famous Aso rock Villa which he built many years ago. And that is political Achilles hill: the annulment of June 12 1993 presidential elections believed to have been won by Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola who later died in prison custody. MKO Abiola hailed from the South West zone of Nigeria which is made of six out of thirty six states.

The June 12 1993 presidential election is believed to be one of the freest elections ever conducted in the history of Nigeria. The responses and often out bursts from Abiola’s kinsmen from south west zone indicate that they have not forgiven IBB of this political sin and many of them see 2011 as a pay back time. But IBB is a military man and is reputed to dare his political foes. And so he wanted to kick start his campaign in the south west zone despite mounting opposition. But when he saw the handwriting on the wall he retreated back to the drawing table. Another clog in the wheel of IBB political ambition is the platform where he will run.

Before now he has been quoted as saying that he will contest for Presidency in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other platform" IBB is aware that if Jonathan announces his ambition, the game will change. At least in PDP, where the incumbent President, will strive to remain in charge. Again, as far as former President Olusegun Obasanjo believed to be solidly behind Mr. Jonathan continues as the Chair of PDP board of trustees IBB chances remain quite slim despite the touted support from some governors. And so opposition to Babangida’s candidature is mounting (even among Nigerians in diaspora) every day even among those who he has managed to recruit into the zoning debate.

Another contender for the Presidency is former Vice President Atiku Abubabar. Atiku used to be a very influential politician and grassroots man who managed to keep together the political machine of his late political father and elder brother of late former President Umaru Yardua. It was Shehu Yardua/Atiku’s network that Obasanjo rode on to victory at the 1999 elections. However Atiku’s political influence has dwindled considerably. He would have been the natural successor of his former boss Obasanjo but that could not happen. After Obasanjo/Atiku’s first tenure, the Atiku group threatened to pull out of the alliance and suggested the one term Mandela option to his boss Obasanjo urging Atiku to run for presidency.

Former President Obasanjo was said to have broken down at Atiku’s plot and allegedly went on his knees to beg the Turaki of Adamawa and his vast political empire to come back on board. That singular event turned to be an expensive political misadventure on the part of Abubakar Atiku. And so towards the end of the second tenure, the relationship between Obasanjo and his then deputy clearly deteriorated. Former President Obasanjo, an old war horse used every available state machinery and political arsenal to disorganize Atiku’s ambition to succeed him. By the time Atiku fought like a wounded lion and survived all legal fireworks to contest for the Presidency in 2007, Obasanjo had frustrated him out of the party and foisted ailing former governor of Katsina State on the Nigerian public. And since then Atiku has not recuperated politically, at least not in the eyes of many pundits.

The marriage of inconvenience between Atiku and former Lagos State Governor Ahmed Tinubu on the platform of Action Congress in 2007 could not last so long. When Atiku realized that he and Tinubu were strange bed fellows he retreated back to PDP, a party he cofounded but he is finding it increasing difficult to fit in now that his structure have been carefully replaced by his opponents. Will be build another structure and reassemble the Peoples Democratic Movement within PDP in the next few months to get the party’s presidential nomination? Will that happen under the watchful eyes of his former boss Olusegun Obasanjo as Chairman PDP board of trustees? Has the Ota farmer forgiven Atiku as was once rumored in the media?

Also in the Presidential race, there is also former military Head of State Gen Mohamed Buhari rtd. Some political analysts believe that Buhari is just in the race for the sake of building up his credentials as former Presidential aspirant as his chances are even slimmer. Buhari is quite popular among the talakawas (the masses) in home state Katsina and among conservative Muslims in Kano State. He is believed to be a transparent leader who did not steal government resources as is common with many who held such positions. However his popularity is not wide national enough to fetch him presidency from an opposition party.

Indeed, in the opaque and murky waters of Nigerian politics, Gen Buhari’s reputation will constitute political burden and not mileage. Gen Buhari ran for President under the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2007 against his kinsman from Katsina State late President Yardua. He later pulled out of ANPP last year to form a new party the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC). Political analysts believe that Buhari’s CPC may not be able to even open offices in the thirty six states of the federation before the next presidential elections.

Other surprises are also springing up. Former governor of Kano state Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau has joined the ring advocating for transformational politics as against transactional politics. Good talk but how far will he go? Even the former Chairman of Economic and financial Crimes Commission AIG Nuhu Ribadu (rtd), National Security Adviser Aliyu Gusau, former Governor Donald Duke, Governor Adams Oshiomhole and Mr. Dele Momodu have all been rumored to be working their way to the Presidency some level of consultation or another. Could it be that the current over crowding in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will lead to an emergence of a strange horse? How feasible is it to organize a formidable opposition and mass movement against the ruling party now that it few months to the election?

But looking at the stat, even without being a politician one will say without equivocation that a Jonathan Presidency is very likely! This is not because he is a member of the ruling party PDP. This is not because he is from the south and Niger Delta. Of course, not because he has opened a page on the popular facebook, where, he is talking virtually with every Nigeria who is e-compliant. This is not because he has the backing of battle tested politicians like Obasanjo or deep pocketed individuals like Gen Theophilus Danjuma! It is not also because he has a Vice President like Namadi Samdo who will work hard to keep his job for another five years, by breaking the ranks among the apostles of zoning. It was Goodluck Jonathan who through careful contemplative action preserved the unity of Nigeria when our nation almost fell apart as the loyalists of late President Umaru Yardua held our nation to ransom. Many Nigerians would have behaved differently and I believe Rev Fr Matthew Hassan Kukah that Goodluck Jonathan is patient.

A Jonathan Presidency in 2011 will for once give us an opportunity to deepen and consolidate the gains of Yardua/Jonathan administration. Granted the amnesty program has been wobbling but some progress has been made. There is at least relative peace in the Niger Delta region and the rehabilitation of the militants continues. Our crude oil production which at one time was less than a million barrels is now more than two million barrels a day, swelling national income. And so we are hopeful that these can be consolidated upon.

For the first time, Nigerians have an electoral umpire who a majority has confidence that he will deliver a credible election. A tested technocrat like Professor Barth Nnaji is busy with the power sector reforms, Ndutimi Alaibe now has a full grip on the amnesty and Henry Odein Ajumogobia is articulating a responsive diplomacy that could make Nigeria stand tall among the comity of nations. Our international friends have once again started opening up their alliances with us and we can now get invited to G2O meetings. The petroleum industry bill (PIB) is making progress at the national assembly and the financial sector reforms seem to be on course. Granted momentum is needed in the war against corruption generally seen to be ineffective and selective and the recent rising government expenditure profile amidst palpable poverty among citizenry leaves a lot to worry about. Yet President Goodluck Jonathan even before he officially declares stands tall among the lot!

Uche Igwe is a Visiting Scholar at the Africa Program Paul H. Nitze School of International Studies (SAIS), The Johns Hopkins University Washington DC, USA.

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