In less than forty-eight hours, Nigerians will go to the polls for the second time in as many weeks in the second of three elections this April to decide on the people who will lead them for the next four years. On April 16, Nigerians will be electing a President who will serve for a minimum period of four years. It will be the fourth such election since 1999 when the military government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar peacefully relinquished power to civilians. Many doubted, given the myriad challenges that Nigeria faces that democracy in Nigeria will survive this long. That it has survived and has actually improved is a tribute to the Nigerian people.

The early days were not easy. They were marred by violent ethnic conflicts and the unfortunate blatant introduction of religion into politics. Thousands died needlessly in several parts of northern Nigeria. Political discourse was dominated by the fervent agitation for a Sovereign National Conference and “true federalism”. In the Niger Delta, criminal elements infiltrated and hijacked the genuine campaign of the people of the region for greater an equitable share of oil revenues. Named “Niger Delta militants” by the international press and Nigeria’s development partners, they held the region and the country hostage for a long while. Kidnapping became the new business model in practically all of the Niger Delta states and some states of the southeast. Lives were lost. Businesses fled. The regional economy contracted with adverse consequential knock-on effects on the aggregate growth rate of the national economy.

In these circumstances, many feared that the military will make an early return to power, that democracy in Nigeria will not survive and that in the extreme, the country will break up. These fears were genuine. That they have not come true is thanks in part to the leadership of the country and to the Nigerian people who recognized that the ties that bind the country together, are much stronger than the centripetal forces that sought to it apart. It is gratifying yet surprising that the echoes of this recent past are very faint in this year’s elections.

There are twenty patriots from among whom Nigerians will choose a President on Saturday April 16th to lead the country for the next four years. Among the candidates is the incumbent, Dr. Goodluck Ebeletimi Jonathan. The President’s closest rivals are former Military Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, former EFCC Chief, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, and current Governor of Kano State, Mallam Shekarau.

Nigerians have had the opportunity to “interview” the candidates over several months. General Buhari has a reputation financial incorruptibility which has earned him the respect and admiration of a sizable number of Nigerians. The General’s party, the CPC, has grow into relevance not because the General has money but because of the principles and convictions that Nigerians associate him with. Further, to many of the poor in the northern parts of the country, he is a hero for having being the only one from among the many leaders from that region who matched to the south in defense of Fulani herdsmen who were not having a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with the southerners over grazing land. Like Mrs. Jonathan Goodluck (Patience), the General proclaimed then to all who cared to listen that “these are my people.”

However, the General comes across as very parochial and narrow in his view of the nation and of the world. He has a troubling – to me - messiah complex as he sees himself as the only one honest, financially incorruptible enough and qualified to lead our country. He insists on being the presidential candidate of any political party that he’s a member of and the head of any alliance into which his party enters. It is unclear how a man incapable of recognizing and respecting the merits of others can be President of this great country.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu rose to fame as the head of the anti-corruption agency, EFCC. Those are his credentials. Many Nigerians were ready to support him. But he has not being convincing during the campaign. In most instances, he has demonstrated very poor judgment: his alignment with Bola Tinubu, his unabashed denial of statements that he is known to have made on record, that he lost the confidence of the Nigerian people. The campaign has revealed him to be totally unprepared – at this time – for the Presidency.

The third serious candidate, Governor Shekarau of Kano State, is a former teacher like Jonathan. He won many Nigerians over during the Presidential debate where he came across as assertive, eloquent and confident. He minds his tenses, syntax and grammar and demonstrates a command of the English language that most of Nigeria's elite would love their President to have. However, he is not secular enough for most Nigerians. He wears the albatross of Hisbah. As Governor of Kano State, it is said that he circumscribed the full citizenship rights of ethnic and religious minorities in the state.

Of the four leading candidates, President Jonathan is my choice. He is to me like Queen Esther, the heroine of the Hebrew Bible Book of Esther. Like Queen Esther, it took courage and boldness for Jonathan to challenge the “big powers” in his own party, the PDP, by assuming the Presidency upon the death of his boss, President Yar’Adua. Like Queen Esther, Jonathan was initially reluctant to tell his party that he will seek the presidency. And like Esther, his reluctance to approach the “kings” of his party was met by stern words from the Mordecais of Nigeria who said to him:

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews (Nigerians) from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

He literally risked his life, the life of his family and our country when he challenged the self-appointed leaders of the North and his party’s zoning policy. Like Queen Esther, he has demonstrated uncommon courage by ensuring that our country conducts a free and fair election, even at the cost of his losing.

Since assuming the Presidency, Dr. Jonathan has never ceased to emphasize that the Nigerian government must get its power from the Nigerian people; that ours must become “a government of the people, for the people and by the people” and that we, the citizens of this great country, must shape our government and its policies. He has ceaselessly advanced the notion, in words and deeds, that Nigeria must become a “nation ruled by laws, not men” and that a credible election, an election where each person’s vote must count, is the first step in that direction. The Federal parliamentary election of 9th April, although imperfect but widely adjudged as free and fair, is unequivocal testimony to his commitment to the idea of a “nation ruled by laws, not men.”

It is for these and other reasons – a rising economy, reactivation/rehabilitation of the railways, firm position that the vote of the Ivorian people must count - that many Nigerians and their political parties (Labour Party and forty-five others) are adopting the President and declaring without equivocation that they are “Jonathanistas”. In so doing they are accepting and propagating the Jonathan doctrine that the Nigerian nation must be ruled by laws, not men and encouraging all who subscribe to this view to vote for the President on Saturday. If, as expected, the aspirations of the majority of the Nigeria people for a country ruled by laws, not men prevails on Saturday, we shall all be on Sunday morning, “Jonathanistas” – followers of President Jonathan.

When that happens, most of the “powers that be” in Nigeria will go to pledge allegiance to him. When they do, they will address him as “Mr. President” and a large number of them will in truth be accepting him as President – not usurper or interloper, names that they have called him - and really mean it for the first time. They have no choice. Jonathan, by his victory, will bear ample witness to the simple but powerful truth that real and genuine power comes from the people, not from a self-appointed few.

We must vote Jonathan/Sambo so that on Sunday morning, we will, to paraphrase the 1961 inaugural address of late US President John F. Kennedy, observe not a victory of a party but a celebration of our freedom to choose who we want to lead us. Jonathan’s victory will symbolize the end of the ethnic-based politics that has so dominated and suffocated our lives. It will, as well, be a new beginning – signifying renewal of our country as well as unequivocal change.

Many doubters of Nigeria will admit after these elections that Nigeria is different now; that it has changed in unrecognizable ways. Many believers in Nigeria will feel vindicated. Those who in 1983 opposed Buhari’s overthrow of the civilian administration Shehu Shagari, arguing that it truncated the natural evolution of the democratic political process will claim that their view that Nigerian democracy will right itself has been proved right. And (again paraphrasing John F. Kennedy) the words will “go forth” from all corners of our great country, “to friends and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of” Nigerians, who have no direct experience of the colonial era and are not burdened by it or by any expectations of loyalty to long since dead independence and or regional leaders, formed by the bitter experience of the civil war, toughened and shaped by the hardship years of military dictatorship, inspired by the vision and un-harvested potential of their country as one of the leading countries of the world, very proud of their Nigerianness- and no longer willing to continue to stand-by and permit the gradual undoing of their hopes, dreams and aspirations by a group of people whose time has long passed.

On Saturday 16 April 2011 Nigerians who believe in a better future for their country should go out and give life to that belief by voting for Jonathan/Sambo. And on Sunday 17 April 2011, we shall all be “Jonathanistas” – Nigerians who believe that our country must be governed by laws, not men and that the first step in that endeavour, above all else, is respect for our votes. By giving us a free and fair Parliamentary election, the President has earned our trust and respect.

Written by Kasirim Nwuke. Email [email protected]

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