Without any deliberate move in that direction, almost involuntarily, President Goodluck Jonathan’s hat appears to have been thrown in the ring for 2015. Observers say it is still early to begin a campaign whether overt or covert for 2015 as the government would be distracted from the critical issue of governance.
The statement made by the governor (or Chief Servant) of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu in an interview penultimate week that Jonathan signed a pact with governors in 2011 to do a single term of four years, has sparked a controversy that has inadvertently kick started the campaign for 2015.
According to Aliyu, it was on the basis of that agreement the governors pitched their tent with Jonathan, support that was very crucial in the president’s shellacking of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, his main contender to pick the 2011 presidential ticket of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
In 2011 most of the governors on PDP platform including Aliyu were finishing their first term and needed the president’s support for ticket for second term. They were not looking at Aso Rock as their next target. So they had nothing to lose in supporting Jonathan then. In fact they gained because he, in turned, ensured they were returned except where the judiciary decided otherwise. But in 2015 the game will change.
Aliyu is among the governors touted to have presidential ambition. There are others like Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State, who has built an organization called the Kwankwasian Movement in Kano; Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State and Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, among others who are eyeing the presidential ticket of PDP. Those are governors of northern states who believe it is their turn to produce the next president in 2015. They have working partners among their counterparts in the south whom they hope to pair with in the event that Jonathan does not run for a second term. In this regard, one name that is frequently mentioned is Chibuike Amaechi, governor of Rivers State and chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). Anotther one is Godswill Akpabio, governor of Akwa Ibom State, who was on Sunday elected chairman of the newly formed PDP Governors’ Forum. The governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, though still in his first term and on APGA platform is also rumoured to have a vice presidential ambition, which may make decamp to the ruling party.
Aliyu and other governors who have their eyes and minds fixed on the presidency in 2015 see Jonathan as an obstacle even though the president has been silent on whether he would run for a second term or not.
It is possible that Aliyu’s statement was a strategy to draw the president’s camp to a debate on the issue so as to test the ground.. And the presidency appeared to have been rattled by the revelation. For some days, there was no reaction from the president’s camp until the Presidency, speaking through Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant on public affairs, mid last week came to declare the controversy generated by Aliyu’s revelation as a distraction.
“We wish to state categorically that this is neither the time nor the season to begin electioneering campaign or related discourse for the 2015 presidential elections and so President Goodluck Jonathan will not jump the gun.
“Mr. President will therefore stoutly resist any disguised or open attempt to drag him into any debates, arguments or political discussions relating to a presidential election in 2015.
“We will not hold it against anyone who wishes to pursue such agenda because Nigeria is a free country and will continue to be so under this president.”
Okupe concluded by saying that Jonathan was “focusing on completion of on-going projects in the power sector; ensuring remarkable improvement of infrastructure in road, rail and air transportation; working to provide functional education; transform our nation’s agricultural sector; create new jobs for youths and reform the oil and gas sector to increase efficiency.”
The relationship between the president and the governors has not been very cordial. During the burial of his younger brother last year in Bayelsa, the governors did not show up. That was a sign that the relationship with the governors has not been very rosy.
Now, many of them are thinking about what to do after 2015 as they will no longer be eligible to run for governor again. While some may follow a trend set by their predecessors in 2011 by running for Senate, a few others have their minds fixed to take over from Jonathan.
It is going to be a tough battle. The support of the governors is very important for any contender to pick the PDP presidential ticket. They were pivotal in Obasanjo defeating former vice president Alex Ekwueme to get a second term ticket in 2003 and in 2007 they queued behind one of their own, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, then governor of Katsina State, to pick the ticket with the support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The letter purportedly signed by Jonathan with the governors cannot be legally binding on the president but it has moral implication. It is this moral burden the president will have to contend with if he decides to stay in office beyond 2015.
Will the moral issue of one who cannot be trusted to keep an agreement affect his electoral chances? The problem will be to pick the PDP ticket. Another problem will have to do with how his strategists handle the issue.
To cross the bridge of the governors, the Presidency is already thinking of the American option in which the incumbent has the right of first refusal to pick the party’s ticket to contest for a second term. For instance, President Barrack Obama didn’t have to go through any primary to pick the Democratic Party ticket for the American 2012 presidential election. This will most likely elicit an amendment of the PDP constitution such that both the president and the first term governors will become beneficiaries. Amending the PDP constitution will not be a problem, it has never been if there is a compelling need for it. For instance when Obasanjo wanted to take control of the party machinery as he was set to leave office in 2007, the constitution was amended such that only a former president on the party platform would be chairman of the PDP Board of Trustee (BoT) and Obasanjo was the only one then and even now.
Apparently, Aliyu’s bombshell came as result of the realisation that Jonathan might consider this option in order to bypass the governors.
The newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC), if it puts its act together and its leaders refuse to be bought over by the ruling PDP, will benefit from the likely implosion of PDP. The bombshell thrown by Aliyu, the desire of the North to take back the Presidency in 2015 and the perceived ambition of Jonathan to stay in office beyond 2015 are issues the ruling party will have to handle with care. No doubt, APC may have cause to welcome new members as the journey to 2015 begins.