Sometimes in the life of a person or the history of a nation, a seemingly voluntary and personal choice or decision becomes a duty expected of the person or the nation by those whose lives will be affected regardless of what the decision is. In this piece, I suggest that in the personal life of President Goodluck Jonathan as we currently know it and in the unfolding history of the nation known today as Nigeria, the anxiously awaited decision of the President to run for re-election has assumed the status and stature of a duty to himself and to the nation.
It is important to first visit the historic nature of the Jonathan presidency in order to develop a template for the arguments to follow: (1) He is the first elected President of Nigeria from a reportedly minority group (the Ijaw) in the Southern part of Nigeria, breaking the storied tripod political permutations between the Igbo, the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba. (2) He is the first president to have a terminal degree in his choice of an educational pursuit, breaking the seeming disregard for educational preparation and sophistication in those who have served as heads of state. (3) He is the first elected Vice President (or second in command) to succeed his boss, breaking the retrogressive habit of littering Deputies as spare tires of little or no consequence. (4) He is the first elected Vice President to finish the unexpired term of his boss as a result of the latter dying while in office, affirming the concept of constitutional succession. And (5) he is the first President from an oil-producing state of the country, thus empowering the victims of the environmental and health consequences of oil exploration in Nigeria.
Politics is a team sport that is largely played on the basis of group interests. To bear that in mind is to begin to grasp the realities of the major categories of grouping in Nigeria and how that taxonomy affects the pursuit of political power at all levels. In present-day Nigeria, the major political groupings are (A) Ethnicity, (B) Religion, and (C) Regionalism.
Whatever the strength of our unity now as a nation, the fact remains that Nigerians continue to see themselves in terms of their ethnic identities, a condition that the leaders have enabled and exploited for their own selfish reasons. In this light, President Goodluck Jonathan is considered an Ijaw man, whom some believe has no business occupying the highest office in the land. In the quest to strengthen our current democratic experiment, the forces that threw up a President Jonathan did the nation a favor by establishing that any patriot from any ethnic identity can aspire to lead the nation and be judged by his or her character and preparedness.
Having elected Jonathan in his own rights in 2011, the next test for this democratic principle of freedom to run and compete is to see how the polity will handle the presidential re-election bid of a man from a reportedly minority group – a test that can only take place if Jonathan decides to run. To the extent that such a test, regardless of its outcome, is needed to fortify the immune system of the current democratic experiment, Jonathan has a duty to run.
Religion, as I have argued elsewhere, is the deification of a peoples’ history. For centuries there has been a battle about the place and impact of religion in politics and in the science and art of governance. There is virtually no system of governance that is not somehow rooted in a set of moral codes – codes that are in turn situated in a religion or a religious system. Even the modern concept of secularism is not entirely devoid of the religious underpinnings in whichever nation it prevails or is operational. All over the world, people who have the choice to select their leaders, tend to choose leaders whose religious practices are the same with or are similar to theirs. Even in the United States, whose founders escaped religious persecution in Europe, politicians make it a point to emphasize their religious affiliations and/or beliefs when they seek the peoples’ votes.
Nigeria is reportedly split between Christians and Moslems, with most people on both sides of that divide holding a dual consciousness that includes traditional religious belief systems (even if they don’t openly admit it). It is important to note that neither Christianity nor Islam deifies the histories of Nigeria’s peoples. In the history of Nigeria, most of the heads of the federal government (military and civilian) have been Moslems, with the impression often created that our Moslem brethren feel a sense of obligation to choose a Moslem as head of state and a sense of entitlement to have one and to submit only to one of that faith. The reported election results of 1999, 2003, and 2011, suggest that this impression is a myth because our Moslem brethren voted in significant and consequential numbers for the Christian candidates (Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan) who reportedly prevailed in those contests.
Yet the Boko Haram phenomenon that has made itself out to be a religious rebellion and movement, has acquired its most deadly reputation and success under President Jonathan who is a Christian. In so doing, Boko Haram and its supporters and financiers have raised the stake in what is seen as brazen acts of intimidation of an incumbent Christian President based on religion. Nigerians cannot allow their nation to be seen as a polity in which a President can be chased away or intimidated from running for re-election based solely on his or her religion. To the extent that we as a nation want an opportunity to make this statement to future generations and to the world, then President Jonathan has a duty to run for re-election.
Nigeria currently has six contraptions known as geo-political zones – three in the North (North-Central, North-East, and North-West) and three in the South. Until the last presidential election in 2011 and the upcoming one in 2015, our Northern brethren have generally preferred to stick to and operate with the consciousness of the old configuration of Northern and Southern regions, hence their insistence on presidential power rotating on that basis, while our Southern brethren (which include the Igbo in the South-East, the Yoruba in the South-West and a set of noble “minority” groups in the South-South) have preferred the new consciousness of six zones. Jonathan’s candidacy in 2011 and his would-be candidacy in the upcoming elections have, perhaps out of political convenience, forced the South-South to rekindle (or pretend to rekindle) the old Eastern Region affinity as the Igbo support is coveted. And perhaps out of a desire to heal old wounds and allay long-held fears of Igbo-domination, the Igbo have also acquiesced to this rekindled affinity as is manifest in their overwhelming support of Jonathan in 2011 and their apparent deference to his would-be candidacy in 2015. As the coordinator of the World Igbo Congress’ (WIC’s) political summit with the Ijaw National Congress in 2011, I collaborated with Chibuzor Onwuchekwe and Charles Chikezie to draft what became the Mississippi Accord between WIC and INC in furtherance of this reproach.
In essence the concept of regionalism, separate and apart from religion and ethnicity, remains a potent force in Nigeria’s politics, perhaps to the chagrin of those who had sought to eliminate regional sentiments and affiliations. This regionalism is also reflected in the fact that Jonathan’s current Vice President, Nemadi Sambo, comes from the North, as did the Vice President to Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar. With a history of “Northerners” wielding “presidential” (or national executive power) for about 65% of the period between independence and 2014, Jonathan’s candidacy as an incumbent is the most viable chance of the “Southerners” approaching a balancing of the political score sheet in 2015. In that light, for those with “Southern” consciousness, and those fair-minded brethren from the “North,” the President has a duty to run for re-election.
Let the people decide!
Dr. Ugorji O. Ugorji is the Executive Director of African Writers Endowment and the Global Coordinator of Lean Forward Nigeria (see www.LeanForwardNigeria.com).