Shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in on May 29, 2011, I noted that his government should at best be a transitional regime and that unless something was done, and urgently too, Goodluck Jonathan would be the last president of Nigeria. One year into the administration, I am even more convinced about my proposition. My conviction hinges on the mad struggle for 2015 that has enveloped the whole nation.
Let me say from the outset that I have a problem with those who are obsessed with “overthrowing”
President Jonathan and taking over in 2015. It shows two things: a lack of understanding of the quandary we are in as a nation; and the lack of forthrightness to confront our problems. The bashing and loathing of the shoeless lad from Otuoke who has made it all the way to Aso Rock is troubling to say the least. Troubling in the sense that it distracts us from the task at hand, which is how to reclaim Nigeria.
This piece is not a defence of President Jonathan and the reason is simple: no matter how hard you try, you will find it impossible to conjure something in praise of the current administration. The president himself has rightly admitted that the problems of the country did not start with his government. That he reminds Nigerians of this is a subtle way of saying he is helpless and that we should look for the solution somewhere else.
As we draw nearer to 2015, the apocalypse as some have described it, we need to take a step back and understand “where the rain started beating us”, to quote Prof. Chinua Achebe’s popular proverb. The stakes are being raised each day. The battle for the soul of Nigeria is on. If the recent statement credited to Chief Edwin Clark, the president’s alter ego, is anything to go by, then we can conclude that President Goodluck Jonathan will contest the 2015 presidential election. The argument is not in favour of the teeming population condemned to a life of poverty under the current system; it is simply that the country’s ethnic minorities are also entitled to two-terms of four years.
General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 2011 election has warned that there will be “trouble” if the 2015 elections are rigged. Of course, the elections will be rigged if ever they are held. There is no possibility of free and fair elections in Nigeria just yet. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is neither independent nor committed to credible elections. INEC under Professor Attahiru Jega has become a huge joke and an embarrassment and nothing but the handmaiden of the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), notorious for election rigging.
Our regional gladiators are at their atavistic best. In late 2010, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, a founding member of the PDP, responding to the possibility of President Goodluck Jonathan emerging as the presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2011 election, had remarked: "The North is determined, if that happens, to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan or any other Southerner who finds his way to the seat of power on the platform of the PDP against the principle of the party’s zoning policy".
Alhaji Lawal Kaita has upped the ante. Only recently, he told his audience: “We hear rumours all over that Jonathan is planning to contest in 2015. Well, the North is going to be prepared if the country remains one. That is, if the country remains one, we are going to fight for it. If not, everybody can go his way”. Alhaji Kaita was, perhaps, speaking the mind of the so-called northern establishment. Following on the heels of that provocative and treasonable statement, the amorphous group known as the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) rose from its meeting in Kaduna and declared through its spokesperson, Gov. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, that “the North would not allow the 2015 presidency to elude it”.
“We must be united more than ever to go into the 2015 elections as one entity with the aim of producing the President,” Gov. Aliyu vowed on behalf of his colleagues. While the northern governors are salivating at the prospects of one of them becoming president in 2015, a section of the North, specifically the Middle Belt, says if the presidency must come to the North it should come to them, thus betraying the seeming “unity of the North”.
For the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ambassador Raph Uwechue, a president of Igbo extraction in 2015 “is not a favour waiting to be granted, but a logically due and legitimate political right justly accruing to it (Ndigbo) within the Nigerian family in a true ‘federal character’ setting”.
Regrettably, in the midst of these geo-political permutations, the ordinary citizen is lost and forgotten. But as President Jonathan has shown, the problem of Nigeria is not where the rulers come from. No matter the zone the next president comes from, if there is no serious effort to tinker with the structure of the Nigerian federation, we will only be moving one step forward and two steps back.
Just as I was rounding off this piece, I came across an interview Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory and stalwart of the CPC, granted Premium Times, an online journal. El-Rufai took a swipe at the Jonathan administration as usual and predicted that the country might not “get to 2015 unless those in power change their strategy”. Some people have taken the former minister to task on his recent posturing. Their argument is that he was an integral part of the shenanigans of the Obasanjo era, including the massively rigged elections of 2003 and 2007 that brought us to this sad end.
It is hard to fault this argument. But the former minister raised a fundamental issue in the interview which we can’t ignore no mater our disposition towards the messenger. He averred that Nigeria is a federation only in name; that a federation means having federating units that are strong and independent of the centre. He went as far as saying that we should revert to the era (1963 constitution) when states (sic) controlled half of the revenue that accrued to them internally. Well said! My only addition would be that El-Rufai and other members of the ruling class who share his forward-looking view should put their money where their mouth is, and really support the clamour for true federalism.
The cacophony of voices we hear about 2015 can be linked to the structural defect of the country. If states stop depending on handouts from Abuja, nobody will be interested in who presides over the country. How do we strengthen the federating units of the federal republic so that they can contribute to the centre, rather than depend on it? Governors are clamouring for a review of the revenue sharing formula while very little attention is paid to how their states can generate revenue to be self-reliant. But it is not just the politics of revenue (specifically petroleum) sharing that oils the current crisis. Equally troubling is the secularity or lack of it of the Nigerian federation.
These are the two issues genuine patriots and democrats should be fixated on as we head towards 2015. Nigerians need to prioritize and choose between our fixation on 2015 and hoping against hope that the 2015 election will be free and fair and building a strong, diverse, and united federal republic. Whether we want to achieve it through a Sovereign National Conference or a new constitution of “we the people”, the urgent task before all true patriots is to look beyond the current regime if they want to save Nigeria.
I believe in Nigeria, but I also share the illuminating view of my friend and colleague, Godwin Onyeacholem, that “except in the eyes of the extremely naive and incurable swindlers in the corridors of power, this country has already collapsed; only that the horror of its probable disintegration would be difficult to face.