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2011: HURDLES BEFORE JONATHAN

By NBF News
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That President Goodluck Jonathan is fully in charge of the ship of state is no more in contention. The cloudy political atmosphere surrounding the presidential seat cleared since Wednesday, May 5 when the former Bayelsa governor was sworn in as successor to late President Umaru Yar'Adua.

That Jonathan will also contest the 2011 presidential election is hardly in doubt. For followers of political events, the utterances of the former lecturer and his body language show that he is surely going to be in the race. On Wednesday, May 12, his Special Assistant on National Assembly matters, Dr Cairo Ojougboh confirmed the ambition of Jonathan.

But even with the reality on ground, what appears to be a mystery is how the seeming gentle President is going to use powers at his disposal to pursue his ambition to remain in Aso Villa beyond May 2011, after the expiration of his tenure.

The questions agitating the minds of political watchers include: Will Jonathan allow a level playing field for all politicians including those who may be in the same race with him in 2011? Is he the long-awaited messiah that would clean the Augean Stable? Or will he toe the line of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who in the estimation of many, adopted arm- twisting tactics to realize his second term ambition in 2003?

According to Niccolo Machiavelli, the renowned Italian writer, Florentine patriot and author of The Prince, men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others.

Already, Politics is gathering momentum and politicians are gradually getting set to play the game they know best. It is a period of late night meetings where all manner of strategies and plots are hatched. According to a renowned author, Ben Okri, 'The magician and the politician have much in common: they both have to draw our attention away from what they are really doing'.

So, those conversant with the trend of politics in the country would expectedly like to see how the former Bayelsa governor would swim through the murky waters of Nigerian politics.

Since the emergence of the former lecturer in the nation's political landscape, he has cut different images in the minds of people. To his admirers and supporters, he is destined for greatness and nobody can stop him from reaching the mountaintop of his political career. But for critics and political opponents, the Acting President is an opportunist who has perennially reaped where he did not sow. Whatever the argument for or against President Jonathan, the truth is that there are hurdles before him ahead of 2011 presidential election. But what are they?

The Northern power bloc
Without sounding patronizing, a major challenge to the perceived ambition of the President is the interest of power brokers from the northern part of the country. In the estimation of many, though the issue of zoning is not part of the constitution, majority of politicians of northern extraction irrespective of party affiliation believe that a northerner should emerge in 2011 for the sake of equity and justice.

Political observers argue that based on the nation's political culture, it will be difficult to sell the candidature of Jonathan to the north considering that late Yar'Adua did not even finish his first term of four years.

For many, the calculation is that if Yar'Adua were to be alive, he would have sought a re-election after his first term in office. Those in this school of thought are in agreement that a northerner should be elected in 2011 to complete the remaining four years which could have been enjoyed by the north if Yar'Adua were to be alive.

The thinking is that the South as represented by former President Olusegun Obasanjo was at the helm of affairs for eight uninterrupted years which means that for the sake of equity, the north should also be in power for the same period. So, in the estimation of critical observers, President Jonathan really needs to work hard to worm his way into the hearts of the electorate and power brokers in that geographical zone of the country.

Hunger for credible election
Not a few believe that it will be difficult, if not impossible for President Jonathan to conduct a credible election if he will be in the presidential race in 2011. Many argue that among all the problems facing the nation, one that should be a priority to every Nigerian is the conduct of a credible election.

So, the issue is-how will he ensure a free and fair poll if he has an interest in the process?

Critical observers are unanimous that a major political variable for Jonathan in the presidential race would be how to convince the electorate and the opposition that he would not cash in on the incumbency factor to compromise the process to his advantage as in the administration of Obasanjo. Many had hoped that if the President actually wants to conduct a free and fair election, he should stay off the next election.

Governors' Forum
Political watchers contend that if Jonathan thinks of succeeding, he must as a matter of expediency, factor in the interest of the forum. Many argue that even though the President should not allow the state Chief executives to dictate to him, it will be like committing political suicide to go into the presidential race without their support.

The calculation among those in this school of thought is that Jonathan can only retain the presidential seat through the existing structure of the governors. So, much as he can call the bluff of the governors, he must continually work hard to maintain rapport with a greater percentage of them for his political interest.

The relevance of the governors became manifest during the 2003 presidential election when former President Obasanjo literally knelt down while begging them to support his re-election bid.

Home base
It is still a subject of contention the level of support Jonathan enjoys in the Niger Delta region, his home base. From his home state of Bayelsa through Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Cross River and River States, there is still a question mark on his popularity and acceptability.

Even though the Niger Delta region is just a fraction of the entire nation but charity, they say, begins at home.

In Bayelsa, it is common knowledge that Jonathan does not enjoy the best of relationships with his governor, Timipre Sylva. The situation is not different in Delta where the immediate past governor, Chief James Ibori has been temporarily sent on political exile. Many believe that Ibori still enjoys the confidence of his successor, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. If that is true, it means that Uduaghan would not be happy with President Jonathan and may be reluctant to help him realise his ambition.

For the governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, speculations are rife that he is eyeing the Vice Presidential seat on the same ticket with former Head of State, Gen Ibrahim Babangida. The recent 'One man, one vote' rally in Edo where Babangida was invited gave weight to the rumour.

Some also believe that the Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi has sympathy for the ambition of Babangida. As it is, the story may not be different in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States where Godswill Akpabio and Liyel Imoke hold sway.

Obasanjo's influence
For critical observers, former President Obasanjo's influence has not only become a thorn in the flesh of Jonathan but his albatross. The perception in several quarters is that the former President still enjoys the confidence of the former Bayelsa State governor and has an overbearing influence on his administration. The thinking is that ahead of 2011, Jonathan is likely to lose the support of many especially people from the northern part of the country if he does not reduce his closeness with Obasanjo.

How he is going to handle it remains a puzzle considering the role the former President played in his emergence as a force to reckon with in the nation's political landscape. Many would think that in the spirit of one good turn deserves another, Jonathan may lack the will to ignore his benefactor.