By Anthony Akinola*
One concept I tried to clarify in the run-up to the presidential election of 2011 was that of “re-election”. I argued then that President Goodluck Jonathan could not have been seeking re-election because he was only a vice-presidential candidate to the one elected president in 2007. One can only be deemed to be seeking re-election to a position one had been elected to in the first place. The clarification I was attempting to make may have become clearer now that the political future of President Jonathan has been enjoying some debate in academic and political circles (see, for instance, Chidi Amuta, “Jonathan and 2015”, This Day, 3rd April 2012).
Dr Amuta, in the useful article referred to above, opined that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the cause of democracy would be strengthened if Goodluck Jonathan were not denied the constitutional right to seek re-election in 2015. He was not saying that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must present Jonathan as its flag bearer, even if his lacklustre performance had continued into the future. What Chidi Amuta seems to be anticipating, just like the rest of us, is the controversy the PDP “zoning” policy of alternating the presidency between the North and the South could engender in the very near future. There would be those reminding Goodluck Jonathan that his tenure had expired, not least because the argument once conjured in favour of his candidacy was that he was continuing with the mandate he jointly held with the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. His supporters said the mandate was inseparable but would their argument still hold in 2015?
Of course, President Goodluck Jonathan can seek re-election in 2015 – if dictates of selfish interest prevail. The fact that he had been sworn into office twice would not have meant he had served a second term in office. One recalls the case of Lyndon B Johnson whose ascension to the American presidency compares with Jonathan’s route to office. Johnson had succeeded the assassinated John F Kennedy in 1963, won an election of his own in 1964 and would have sought re-election in 1968 but for the fact that he had become very unpopular because of the negative outcome of America’s conflict in Vietnam. Not constitutionally barred, he took the decent route of withdrawing from seeking his party’s nomination.
Goodluck Jonathan is not unaware of the possible crisis his wanting to continue in office beyond 2015 could generate. His declaration of an intention not to seek re-election in 2015 may not be unconnected with this. However, a promise made out of desperation or expediency may not always hold, not least because what we are talking about here is power and its alluring influences. The President had warned his ministers and assistants against unguarded statements about 2015; however, he could be the very one encouraging them to sing his praises and sound public opinion in the not too distant future. The PDP is in for a major crisis but can the so-called opposition parties benefit from this? Chidi Amuta explored this question in his excellent article.
The opinion here is that the very reasons the PDP may run into crisis in 2015 also explains why the opposition parties might not be able to take advantage of their situation. The so-called “progressives” have a disappointing history as they have been unable to progress beyond the confines of ethnic boundaries. Regional sentiments have been the dominating influence in all of this. There are all sorts of progressives in the various regions. The regional element in our democracy must be addressed in an improved constitution if we were to have a national progressive party. Being myopically pre-occupied with a political arrangement that has worked elsewhere may not have helped the cause of our democracy. I say it is futile to be preoccupied with political arrangements that have worked elsewhere because what we have not been able to photocopy are the cultural elements that sustain them in the host nations. In Britain, for instance, the institution of the Monarchy has provided stability to the parliamentary system of government which originated from that great nation. What we celebrate in Nigeria is exactly what truly – republican America rejects – privileges arising from the circumstances of birth. It is clearly stated in their constitution that “no American citizen shall bear a title of nobility”. Here in Nigeria, politicians envy traditional rulers for the unsolicited respect they command, while the latter also envy the former for the monies they are able to steal!
I should be suggesting to those with the powers to review or amend the national constitution that rotational presidency is most appropriate for Nigeria. Zoning the presidency could be the most assured way of inducing competitive political parties and ideologies to traverse the various divides. In a society that is as divided as ours, it could also be the most assured way objectively, of fishing out our political leaders, based on merit rather than primordial affiliations. Zoning could be our own contribution to the principle of federalism which, more than anything else, emphasises equality and fairness in the relationship of participating units. Democracy itself should be about peace and stability in one’s own nation.
*Akinola is a political writer based in Oxford, UK