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As Jonathan sets benchmark on clean campaigns…

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By Nicholas Ikejiani
Reactions to what was a hugely successful declaration by the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, early in the week, may not come to an end anytime soon.  The President, who was popularly elected by the Nigerian people in April 2011, only on Tuesday, November 11, at the Eagle Square, in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, declared his readiness to accede to the call of his party members in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to run for a second term in office.  At that same venue on September 18, 2010, an innocent and lamb-like Niger Delta 'boy', Jonathan, had captured the minds of Nigerians with his captivating  Nigerian dream  grass to grace life-story. But this time round, the President, still not shorn of any of his trademark humility and provincial innocence, came with a rich and verifiable scorecard for the three and a half years he has been in office as elected Nigerian President.  It was like coming back to the Nigerian people to say: “This is what I have done with the mandate you gave me in 2011 and if you permit, I am ready to serve you for another for years.”

For so many people, their takeaway from the presidential declaration was the remarkable improvement in Jonathan's public presentation skills.  For some others, they are quick to observe that like red wine, the President is getting better and better every day in carrying himself as the President of the most important country in Africa.  For many others as well, it was simply the mammoth crowd, easily the largest ever seen in Abuja since the talk of 2015 general elections began.  Yes, we saw Buhari, the most visible aspirant from the opposition clan at the same venue; we saw the former vice president Atiku Abubakar, at the Yar' Adua Centre; we equally saw the governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, another aspirant from the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the old Parade Ground Abuja. The crowd from all of these APC presidential outings put together does not come close to what happened at the Jonathan Declaration a few days ago.

Even then, the remarkable aspect of the President Jonathan's presidential declaration event has nothing to do with the crowd and attendance.  But it has everything to do with the way and manner Jonathan conducted himself admirably, not just as the PDP candidate but more importantly as the Nigerian President.  His speech was wonderful not because of its literary or poetic richness, how well it was scripted or smoothly delivered.  No. Rather, for the first time in our political history, we are witnessing a revolutionary change in the language of political discourse and electioneering dwelling on development issues – away from infantile personal attacks and cheap blackmail and propaganda.

Has anyone spotted that Jonathan's declaration speech contains as many as 5,049 words encapsulated in 112 paragraphs and from the beginning of that speech to the end, there was no single mention or reference to the opposition party, APC, and its leaders?  Instead, the President started by taking Nigerians on memory lane from how he sought their mandate and got it in 2011 and the promises he made. Yes, he admitted that along the way there have been challenges and obstacles especially of security nature that have bogged down the government and the people.  Yet, in spite of these challenges, Jonathan said his government has stayed forthright to the pact he made with the Nigerian people to serve them.  He dwelt extensively on the projects he has delivered since he was elected in 2011 and how the general life chances of the Nigerian people have improved since then.  Listening to the President reel out the infrastructure transformation that has gone on in the country under his watch, it is amazing what he has achieved in three years in the agriculture, transport (road and rail), power, health and political sectors, for instance.

In offering himself for service to the people for another term in office from 2015, the President did not apportion blames, point fingers of guilt or cast aspersions on the main opposition party, APC, even though there are millions of reasons to do so especially as APC and its leaders are doing so every time.  Again, instead, Jonathan admitted that there are quite a lot more to be done to improve the lives of the people.  He indeed lifted not a few souls by painting the picture of what is possible in our country when citizens come together to build the nation.

Much as no objective person or group of persons can deny that the PDP government under Goodluck Jonathan has performed creditably in the area of infrastructure renewal since 2011, but by far its greatest achievement for which the opposition indeed must be grateful is in the area of political reforms.  Apart from the electoral reforms that have ensured that the votes of the people now count in determining who governs them at all levels, this government has opened wider the democratic space.  Personal freedoms and all kinds of liberty have been taken as given in our country under Jonathan, which allows opposition politicians like Lai Mohammed, Rotimi Amaechi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Nasir el-Rufai and even the former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, to openly denigrate him at will.  It is indeed the dawn of democracy and free speech in our land to hear a Nigerian president declare that thus: “We must continue to sustain the banner of freedom and justice that we have held high in our country.  I am proud to say that there are no political prisoners in Nigeria today.  No Nigerian has been driven to exile and no one will be, under my watch….  Let me re-affirm that under a Jonathan Presidency, your views, no matter how freely expressed, will not send you to prison or into exile”.  Can you compare these lines with the Buhari proclamation of “monkeys and baboons soaking in their own blood” and Bola Tinubu's “rig and roast” declaration?

Let it be known today that President Jonathan has already set the benchmark for clean campaigns in the run-up to 2015 general elections.  Politicians are free to campaign but in the national interest they must learn to stick to issues of development and national unity and refrain from incendiary remarks, personal attacks and the free hurling of abuses and blackmail.  President Jonathan in declaring for second term has reeled out his achievements so far.  What a serious opposition driven by national interest would do is to challenge the veracity of those achievements – not resort to cheap blackmail and propaganda as the Lai Mohammed and his APC have just done.

Ikejiani, a public affairs commentator, contributed this piece from Port Harcourt.

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