Mr. President, To Be Or Not To Be?

The timing of the decision is as important as the decision itself!


President-Goodluck-Jonathan-360x225The decision to run in 2011 is one that President Goodluck Jonathan should take without delay and I want to make that point right away. Not a few members of the commentariat have argued against taking such a decision in a hurry because, according to them, if he does it will define our political dynamics immediately. Mr. President has also confirmed his inclination to that line of thought in his highly celebrated Presidential Media Chat.

For me, the monumentality of that decision also establishes the imperativeness of its immediacy. Some of those who argue against it believe that the president should wait until he has achieved some performance milestones to take to the electoral marketplace for votes. I disagree. The elections will most likely be held in January 2011, however the presidential primaries of the president’s People’s Democratic Party (which has become the most important contest in our recent political history) will come up long before that. So, realistically speaking, what can he achieve between now and the PDP primaries to showcase as his own achievements? Interestingly, the president has admitted that one year is not enough to meet any realistic targets. Hear him: “We cannot achieve much under these 12 months”. Also, in my opinion, the argument that he should not run based on a pseudo-sanctimonious premise that he ought to show that it is possible to walk away from political power as suggested by my good friend, Ike Anya, is untenable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with political power. It is just the way it is used that makes all the difference. Again, there is nothing inherently African about holding on to power and that is why when former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was accused of clinging on to power for too long, this is what he said of political office in his last speech to the Labour Party conference in 2006, “It’s hard to let go”. We only need institutions that should be able to dethrone any such nuisance.

But beyond the assumption of an expected debate on performance will be the question of zoning as personified by the Babangida (and possibly Atiku Abubakar) presidential ambitions in the PDP. The way it is going, I see it dominating the pre- and post-primaries campaign mantra. Yet, good as it is for political stability, zoning the presidency has not added an ounce of real development to our country. Even the point made by Thisday’s Simon Kolawole that “if the South uses the advantage of incumbency to hang on to power, it should not expect to get it back for ages when power eventually returns to the North… That is the biggest danger of ditching the power rotation understanding” is, in my view, condescending and cannot hold water because it presupposes that Nigeria will remain at this basal level “for ages”. As an aside, I suspect that in the ensuing Jonathan-Babangida-Atiku melee, the governors (there is always the governors) might cleverly dump them and go for one of their own, using the massive number of delegates at their disposal, probably citing threats to national security as they did to Senator Pius Anyim and Dr. Sam Egwu during the PDP Chairmanship contest.

I now make my last point on the need for an early decision.  If we are really looking forward to free and fair elections, then we should also begin to cultivate the habit of campaigns and taking the message to the people in good time for them to buy into and not only be eager to vote but also defend their votes. I strongly believe that election rigging is elevated by the apathy of reasonable people to the electoral process which in turn allows ‘carry-go’ politicians to have a field day at the polling booths. I know that if we are able to engage this critical mass of our populace with Obamasque-style politics, our elections will be better for it. We should get away from this bad habit, created during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, of keeping all the cards – especially the master card – close to the chest of the Big Man while the whole country waits. Politics and elections are serious business and anyone seeking public office should be confident enough to roll out his or her cards and show his or her hands to the people. Delaying such decisions until the last minute is anti-political in and of itself and can be said to be the stuff of desperate politicians who end up wanting to win at all cost or forcing us to return the incumbent to office so that ‘the king’ will not be seen to be dancing naked in public.