The frenzy surrounding President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition is needless, writes Vincent Obia
Attention in the country at present is centred on the 2015 presidential election, and President Goodluck Jonathan is at the heart of the frenzied attention. The point at issue is whether Jonathan should contest the next presidential election or not. This debate has raged since after last year’s presidential election won by Jonathan. It has consistently and rapidly increased in tempo and involved an increasingly wider audience. But the general tenor of the debate has been very divisive and politically destructive.
Over the past one year, there have been attempts to downplay the disturbing and unfortunate debate about the president’s second term interest. In practice, the attempt to make Jonathan’s eligibility or interest in another term the main issue in the coming presidential election reveals the extent of intellectual laziness among the political class.
As the country goes towards another presidential election in 2015, regrettably, what has seemed to catch the full attention of the political class across the board has been Jonathan’s body language – not the issues that bother majority of Nigerians.
Some have promised fire and brimstone if Jonathan should seek re-election. Just last week, a Second Republic politician, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, was in the news for his belief that the country risks a constitutional crisis if Jonathan contests the 2015 presidential election. Junaid based his assertion on the fact that Jonathan had taken the oath of office as president twice and could not constitutionally take a third oath to the office of president.
A little known Peoples Democratic Party member, Mr. Cyriacus Njoku, had on March 20 stirred up the hornet’s nest when he filed a suit at an Abuja high court to challenge the aptness of Jonathan’s second term bid in 2015. Citing Section 136 of the 1999 Constitution, which imposes a limit on the number of times a person can take the oath of office and oath of allegiance into some prescribed offices, including that of the president, Njoku held that Jonathan was not qualified to contest again, having being sworn in as president on May 6, 2010 and May 29, 2011.
Besides the legal arguments, some have alleged that it would be morally wrong for the president to seek another term because he had promised to do only one term. Yet, there is a school of thought that believes Jonathan had usurped the “turn” of the North and he should now try to right that alleged wrong by refusing to contest again.
Among politicians across the country, there appears to be a gut feeling that Jonathan holds the key to anybody’s 2015 presidential fate. The tendency then has been to watch and wait on the president’s every move. In the South-east, for instance, many are on standby, waiting to put on hold their presidential ambitions, if Jonathan decides to contest, or declare their interest in the race, if Jonathan elects to stand down. For the most part, the thinking among politicians in the Northern parts of the country seems to be that Jonathan must either be persuaded to shun the 2015 race or be scared away from the contest. Obviously, however, it is the lack of electoral message from the political class that is being obscured by the hue and cry over Jonathan’s 2015 ambition.
The president is, without doubt, enjoying the controversy. During a media chat last Sunday, the question of his second term was one of the major issues addressed. He tried to introduce the suspense that had surrounded his presidential ambition last year, using his catchphrase that discussing his intention now would generate controversy and tension that would “heat up the polity” and, thus, disturb government business. Those were the same lines he had given the country before declaring his intention to run for the presidency via his Facebook page on September 15, 2010.
“Four years is a very short time for someone to make an impact. Immediately you start talking about elections, you will actually be heating up the polity. Before you ask whether Mr. President will re-contest for a second term or not, wait till 2014,” the president said. “If I say that I will not be contesting, some members of my cabinet might resign to go and contest. Of course, most of them are qualified to vie for the position.”
Many of those opposed to Jonathan’s second term quickly and easily list grounds for their position. They customarily refer to his promise to govern for only one term, alleged poor handling of the economy, corruption, and growing insecurity. They also talk about the North-South rotational presidency, even though that is an understanding only within the Peoples Democratic Party.
While it may be correct to contend that Jonathan actually pledged to do just one term, and morally speaking, a president should be a man of his word, nothing in the laws of the country binds him to that promise. But for those opposing his second term bid, the grounds of objection being reeled off should be the means to somehow unlock the imagination.
During the last United States presidential poll, for instance, the slow pace of that country’s economic recovery under Democratic President Barack Obama’s watch was a veritable ammunition for the opposition Republican candidate, former Governor Mitt Romney. The opposition camp made good use of the political weapon, and it almost shot them to victory. Exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses is a valid political strategy in any democratic society.
In sharp contrast, Nigerian opposition politicians have not had the head to reap from the failings of the incumbent. They allege mass discontent against the president, yet lack the will or capacity to exploit such to unseat him. They get cold feet at the sight of the incumbent, even when his inactions should strengthen their messages.
The first casualty of this brand of politics is the wellbeing of the citizenry. Issues that bother the people hardly get attention and politics in the country continues to be stillborn.
As the country marches towards 2015, the political class must begin to find imaginative answers to their long-standing objections to Jonathan’s 2015 presidential ambition. The frenzied discourse on the propriety or impropriety of his second term and the explanation that the incumbent is too powerful to be defeated have become hackneyed. They no longer sparkle. Those opposed to the President Jonathan’s second term ambition should wait for him at the poll.