On Wednesday (April 18, 2012), an Abuja high court began hearing in a suit seeking to determine whether or not President Goodluck Jonathan will be eligible to stand for election in 2015. The suit was said to have been filed by one Cyriacus Njoku, a self-styled presidential aspirant on the platform of the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Njoku’s argument is that having taken oath of office twice – in May 2010 after Yar’Adua’s death and again on May 29, 2011, Jonathan would no longer be eligible to contest the 2015 election as doing so would amount to seeking a third term in office.
Some observers see the hand of Esau in the suit. To these people, it is the Presidency that is behind the move by Njoku to test the waters and clear any probable constitutional hurdle that may stand in his way to seek re-election in 2015.
Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati had recently announced that Jonathan was doing his first term in office, a position the government reiterated last week in response to the court papers.
Coming before completing one year in a four-year tenure, the implication is that governance will take a back seat as Jonathan begins battle for 2015 irrespective of whether he will stand for election or not.
Soon after his election last year, the president had announced that he would hit the ground running but in reality he hit the ground crawling. After spending two weeks at the famed Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River for retreat and strategizing, he did not constitute his cabinet fully until August last year when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala came on board as finance minister and co-ordinating minister for the economy. So really, the government is just settling down and there is really nothing yet to show that somebody hit the ground running after his inauguration.
Given the titanic battle that was fought over the presidential ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and subsequently the 2011 presidential election before he secured victory, one would expect that any issue concerning 2015 would be pushed aside for now considering the enormity of the problems and challenges the president has to grapple with to convince Nigerians that he is equal to the task at hand.
The distraction this will cause for both the president and government will erode whatever gains Jonathan would have made in governance to even justify a second shot at the presidency in 2015.
Today, Nigeria has never been more polarized and divided as a country. For the first time since the end of the Civil War, a few disgruntled people are calling for the break-up of the country because they feel they are receiving the short end of the stick.
Kidnappings in the Southeast and South South and terrorist activities of Boko Haram in the North have caused so much deaths, destruction, insecurity and uncertainty in the country. For the first time since the end of the war, there is palpable fear and apprehension about the future of Nigeria.
The economy is in shambles with mass poverty reaching an all time high. The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that 112 million people or 60 percent of the Nigerian population live below poverty line.
Given the thinking in the North that he used the power of incumbency to usurp a position that rightfully belonged to the North in 2011, there is renewed vigour and determination that the North must produce the president in 2015. This is understandable in view of Jonthan’s pledge prior to the PDP presidential primary in January 2011 that he would do only one term to complete his joint ticket with the late Yar’Adua.
The North is watching every move Jonathan is making. Not a few of them believe that the president is determined to seek re-election in 2015 even though he has not made any categorical statement on that. Lawal Kaita, a very close associate of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who was consensus candidate of the North for the 2011 PDP presidential ticket, was recently credited with saying that Nigeria would break up in 2015 if the North did produce the president.
And recently too, Junaid Mohammed, another outspoken northern politician, said in an interview that the North would retain Abuja if Nigeria broke up. Many northerners ignore the likes of Kaita and Mohammed and say people like them do not have the kind of following that can enable them carry out such a threat but such statements underscore the desperation of a section of the northern elite to retake power.
Therefore, the president’s claim about serving his first term and the suit before the court tend to heat up the polity and cause distraction to the government. At the end of the day, Jonathan would have been so terribly distracted and disorganised that he would not have any achievement to lay claim to for any aspiration in 2015. This may actually be a strategy to weaken him and erode his credibility before that time.
Already, a group called the Committee of Concerned Northern Professionals, Politicians, Academics and Businessmen has said it would join the suit to determine whether or not the president can contest the 2015 election.
Rising from a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, the group, in a communiqué signed by its convener, Junaid Mohammed and its committee chairman on constitutional amendment, Awwal Yadudu, legal adviser to the late head of state, Sani Abacha, said the issue of Jonathan contesting another term of office is a weighty constitutional matter that could only be resolved through the judicial process.
It advised the president not to intimidate the courts with pre-emptive and bombastic pronouncements on the issue and allow the due process of the law to prevail.
Though the court on Wednesday told the parties to opt for an out-of-court settlement, this may just be the beginning of a long drawn legal and political tussle. From all indications the Supreme Court may be the final arbiter on this issue if Jonathan decides to stay in power beyond 2015.
For Jonathan who earlier in the year banned any form of politicking for 2015 among government functionaries, consciously or otherwise his hat may have been thrown in the ring for 2015. And with that it may really be farewell to governance, so early in the day.