GOODLUCK'S CHALLENGE: DEMYSTIFYING THE NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE
When Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was first named as the flag-bearer for the Peoples Democratic Party the euphoria with which the news was received by his supporters all over the country soon gave way to apprehension over the likely response in the Northern States.
Certain newspapers and other media organs immediately speculated that there would be an outburst of popular rejection of the result in many of the states in the North-West and North -Eastern political zones. Several weeks later this speculation has been proven wrong. The upheavals of violence and political disenchantment have been minimal.
Except for those unfortunate trends that had been there before in Plateau and Borno States and which remain functionally distinct from the implications of the Jonathan/Sambo presidential ticket the reaction in the Northern states has been surprisingly mild and even extraordinarily supportive, especially in the North-Central geo-political zone. It has even become clear that the most dangerous trends of terrorism and regional chauvinism that have reared their heads in parts of the Northern states are not linked in any way to the most vocal advocates of the zoning principle as it is supposed to favour the North.
This has been one of the most impressive consequences of the debate that arose in the PDP. As soon as the announcement of Dr. Jonathan's victory was made his key opponents within the party especially those from the North scrambled to disassociate themselves not from him but rather from any suggestion that they would encourage dissident action against him. Even the most devastated of them, former Vice President Atiku himself has made it plain that while he continues to be disenchanted both with the process of the party's selection and its outcome he is now prepared to embark on a dialogue for reconciliation rather than to encourage further public dissent.
While some observers might assume that this represents his recognition of the need to preserve a fragment of respectability in his political life we are convinced that Alhaji Atiku's reading of the situation on the ground is based on an undaunted national impulse. It is gradually becoming clear that Dr. Jonathan is not the instrument of a vendetta against any region of the nation. He emerged by grasping an opportunity that was an expression of the commitment to inclusiveness for all sections of the Nigerian populace that the zoning principle is supposed to enshrine in the polity. In the final analysis Dr. Jonathan must lead not only the PDP, but also the entire nation, to an understanding of the true meaning of equity in governance.
Challenges which have been raised against the method by which the PDP conducted its primaries both at the state and the national level do have some basis of veracity. On the other hand it is a fact that many of these challenges are based on disenchantment created by an elective process that has been consolidated by the party over a long time. If the selection of Dr. Jonathan is properly scrutinised however it soon becomes clear that certain elements of this consolidation are being transformed. On this basis Dr. Jonathan might be regarded as being the harbinger of a new order in his party and thus of the entire nation. For the party to select Dr. Jonathan it was forced to re-examine its core principles as far and the designation of offices according to criteria that lay outside of simple choice by ability or merit was concerned. As a sitting President he could claim the right to seek a new term in office on the basis of his performance. The only basis for refusing him that right would have to be the manipulation of constitutional choice using criteria that was imposed by the party's adherence to the zoning principle.
To both those members of his party in the Northern States who support him and those who do not support him these criteria were built on the sand of elitist opportunism and cannot stand in equity. It has emerged in fact that the Jonathan challenge has been given greater resonance, since he clinched the ticket, by growing support in the Northern membership of the PDP. The decision to flag off the national Presidential campaign in the city of Lafia in Nassarawa State has shown what the core process of his campaign will be and whether one likes it or not the Jonathan challenge has become an imperative of nationalist relevance. He represents a new order simply by being in the race. The nature of Dr. Jonathan's challenge might very well have been instrumental in establishing the foundation on which the key challengers from the North have based their choice of running mates.
While this columnist has strenuously sought to warn against it the growth of Christian evangelical fervour as a core element of Dr. Jonathan's support base apparently struck home with the CPC candidate Gen. Muhhamadu Buhari causing him to choose an evangelical preacher as his running mate. We do not want to make too much out of this but it cannot be overlooked and it suggests panic rather than calculated vision on the part of that team. Alhaji Shekarau's choice of John Oyegun, the erudite former Governor of Edo State indicates that they have taken much more effective measure of the political strengths of the Jonathan/Sambo ticket. However both Shekarau and Oyegun will be hard pressed to muster the weight of political validity that Dr. Jonathan's machinery pulled together in order to gain the ruling party's ticket. Nuhu Ribadu's barely concealed problems in seeking to craft a credible challenge to Jonathan suggests that his own campaign will be hamstrung by differences within his party, ACN, as it moves forward. The consequence of all this however is that in the process of confronting the electorate the need to reduce sentiments of regional divisiveness will be at the forefront of everyone's mind.
In the constant turmoil of political campaigning it is easy for those whose main interest is the preservation of privilege rather than of stability to latch on to the vocabulary of regional chauvinism in search of relevance. This is a dangerous tactic and can generate both gains and losses in the process of setting a political agenda for the campaign. In Lafia Solomon Lar touched on a subject of some sensitivity but was hardly noticed when he reminded the crowd that the North-Central zone should also be known as 'The Middle Belt'. Jonathan will be well advised to steer clear of such issues for now as he embarks on his nationwide campaign. Instead as he gathers momentum for the race he will need to soothe and settle feelings that were bruised during the battle over zoning and later in the struggle to ensure that his triumph in the party's contest was not merely decisive but overwhelming.
The final result gave that impression but it is his conduct and that of his supporters in the aftermath that will serve to render his victory at the polls, if he wins, a total vindication of his national credentials. There are those in his campaign team who give the impression that his victory being a foregone conclusion there will be no need for him to reconcile with or offer a hand of fellowship to those who challenged him in the past especially in the North. Nothing could be further from the truth. The maintenance of stability after victory is the most important necessity in the political life of any genuine nationalist.
Only a leader who cares nothing for order in the nation will ignore the bitterness that can emanate from the aftermath of an election tainted by regional suspicion. Dr. Jonathan cannot afford this. Both the conduct of his campaign and the aftermath must serve to demystify the intransigent North-South divide in our beloved nation.