Why it’s hard to believe Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

The issue of single term tenure for the president and state governors is a natural divisive factor in Nigerian politics. The reason is due to the mutual distrust and back-stabbing which characterise our type of politics. Both President Jonathan and his spokesman Reuben Abati were miffed by what they described as the opposition parties’s “abusive” and “insulting” reaction to the President’s proposal.

The bitterness in our politics is unfortunate, but it has a history and everybody is guilty. It started right from day one when the colonialists were leaving and the race for political power became a matter of life and death amongst the various ethnic and regional blocs. The trend worsened after the British had gone as the sectional struggle – fanned by the ruling classes – continued to inflame passions among the ordinary people, culminating in death and destruction. Successive governments have failed to stem the tide. We are always pushed back to square one, always talking about “starting anew.”

Jonathan’s move to introduce a single-term tenure is all about starting afresh as he himself indicated during his speech at the Peoples Democratic Party national secretariat on Thursday. Speaking while declaring open the 56th National Executive Committee meeting of the ruling party, the President said, “If you look at the evolution of the political system, the two-tenure (term) is the ultimate. Because even countries which have single tenures, after some time go for the double tenure. So, it is like evolutionary process.”

Many observers have argued that because of the many wrong things about our system, it is better to discard it. The merit, as Jonathan argued on this matter of tenures, is that it will reduce acrimony, cut cost and lessen the desperation that comes with a two-term tenure. This, many also agreed. Where the President is distrusted is his promise that he would not become a beneficiary of the proposed single term, five-year tenure. Most Nigerians are wont to think that there is something fishy about the proposal, which appears set on consuming valuable time and some resources and diverting attention from governance.

Jonathan has the dubious record of being a president who changes the rules in the middle of the game. He is also adept at doublespeak – all with a straight face. It is too early in the day to forget how he rail-roaded his party into giving him its ticket to run for office during the April elections. The party had zoned the presidency to the north, but because Jonathan was desperate to continue ruling, all means fair and foul were employed to make him the party’s sole candidate.

Now, the factors that made him so desperate to contest in 2011 are the same that would make him want to secure a second term. One is his inability to achieve much in terms of developmental programmes during the year he ruled after Yar’Adua’s demise. Another, of course, is sweet, raw power, the prospects of which are almost endless. The third is the crowd around the President, many of whom are permanent residents in the corridors of power.

Jonathan appears deliberately confused about what the constitution provides for him. Clarifying on why he will not run for office in 2015, he said at the PDP headquarters: “The tenure of Goodluck Jonathan and Namadi Sambo will end on May 29, 2015. That is the constitution.” The truth, however, is that it wasn’t the Nigerian constitution which prevented Jonathan from running in 2015. The constitution provides for two-term tenure for the president and state governors. It was Jonathan himself who, during the 2011 presidential campaign, promised the electorate that he would not contest the election after he might have done one term. This promise was made in the heat of the hustings, at a time when victory did not appear guaranteed, a time of desperation, a time when the electorate’s trust was all that mattered. Clearly, we are back to similar times when a desperate cabal can do anything, the easiest of which is changing the rules in the middle of a game – including denying covenants solemnly made earlier – in order to cling to power.

Published in my column in the current edition of the weekly newspaper, BLUEPRINT.

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