Marketing Jonathan’s Probable Presidential candidacy

The anticipated presidential candidacy of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) has become a big business trapped in high wire politics and intrigues. The Daily Trust (online) of August 28, 2010, reported that the Goodluck Support Group (GSP) co-ordinates over 1,027 other groups who are “calling and begging” President Goodluck Jonathan to run in the 2011 election. The paper also reports that GSP runs a pro-Jonathan newspaper called Goodluck News, and that one of the headlines in its maiden edition was the supposed divine proclamation: “God will not forgive Jonathan if he does not contest”.

Though fortune hunting inevitably plays a role in the support and opposition to the anticipated candidacy of GEJ, a deconstruction of the arguments of the contending groups will seem to suggest that they have helped to infuse vibrancy in our marketplace of political ideas. And if unfettered competition in the bourse of political ideas is the hub of democracy, then the anticipated candidacy may have in fact helped to advance our democracy project. Just as war is said to be a continuation of diplomacy by other means, threats of secession or Armageddon frequently deployed in the support and opposition to GEJ’s probable candidacy should be seen as part of an aggressive political marketing.

It is possible to identify at least six dominant arguments and the groups thought to be purveying them:

One, there has been an increasing tendency by Igbo supporters of GEJ to market him as one of their own by emphasising his Ibo name of ‘Ebele’ and nickname of ‘Azikiwe’ and the fact that his wife, Patience, who is from Okirika, is Ibo-speaking. This form of marketing is perhaps meant to mollify the Igbos who are opposed to his candidacy on the ground that it would be inimical to the campaign to produce a President of Igbo extraction by 2015.

A variant of this marketing strategy is an argument that GEJ comes from Bayelsa state, which was part of the old Eastern Region, dominated by the Igbos. The argument here is that support for GEJ will not only be a show of old regional solidarity but could also help in healing the rift between the minorities of the old Eastern Region and the Igbos which was thought to have been partly caused by the altercation between Professor Eya Ita and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1952. Some purveyors of this viewpoint argue that it is better to adopt GEJ as an Igbo and then present a checklist of Igbo interests he must protect in exchange for Igbo support. Others want a firm promise from him that he will in fact help to ensure that a President of Igbo extraction will emerge in 2015.

Two, a pro-Jonathan argument, often linked to people from the South-South, is that they produce the bulk of the nation’s wealth, and therefore should be allowed to produce the nation’s president as a reward. In this line of reasoning, Jonathan is thought to be under tremendous pressure to run from those who believe a refusal to run would mean ‘throwing away’ their golden opportunity. But this argument has been challenged on grounds that every part of the country, contrary to the common belief, actually brings something to the table: the North, it is argued, is undoubtedly the nation’s food basked, the South East its commercial nerve and the South West its corporate soul. Opponents equally argue that before the first oil boom in 1973, wealth from other parts of the country had been used to develop many of the cities in the South South.

A variant of the resource owner argument used by the pro GEJ groups is that conceding the Presidency to the South South would help to mollify the militants in the zone. Opponents of this however counter that such a ‘reward’ to militants could incentivise other geopolitical zones to tacitly nurture militants as bargaining chips.

Three, a pro-Jonathan argument linked to some Northern youths is that despite the fact that the North has ruled the country longer than any other zone in the country; the region remains the poorest and the most disadvantaged in critical human development indices in the country. For this group therefore support for Jonathan is a protest against the Northern political leaders for supposedly betraying the region by their purported selfishness. Some groups also argue that support for GEJ will be an appropriate reward for South South’s historical political support for the North. Opponents however counter that the North has already paid back for this support by an early ‘liberation’ of the area during the Nigerian civil war.

Four, a pro-GEJ argument that is sometimes linked to the South West is the use of various arguments to discredit or ridicule the PDP’s zoning arrangement – such as arguing that it is unconstitutional, anti-meritocracy, or not meant to be permanent, or meant to be among the six geopolitical zones rather than between North and South. Opponents however counter that many of the anti zoning elements from this zone are only trying to play smart because they have taken their ‘turn’ and now shudder at the prospect of having to wait for 40 years before having another shot at the presidency.

Five, GEJ has also been marketed on the basis of performance. Supporters for instance argue that queues at petrol stations have disappeared, and that there has also been a noticeable improvement in power supply since GEJ became the President. Supporters also play up the recent promise by GEJ that the problem of epileptic power supply would be solved by December 2012. Critics are however not convinced. They challenge GEJ’s track records, accusing him of both incompetence and profligacy, including the depletion of the country’s foreign reserves and inability to arrest pervasive insecurity in the country.

Six, in addition to the main contending arguments, the expected GEJ’s candidacy has also been marketed and contested around such latent polarities and solidarities as Middle Belt versus core North, Christian versus Moslems, Igbos versus Ibos and North versus South East. Overall, the arguments for, and against a GEJ candidacy is being fought aggressively but decently – as ought to be in a democracy. There is no unanimity of opinions within any ethnic group or geopolitical group – which could mean we are coming of age as a democracy.

In all these, the President has maintained such a studied silence that no one can say with certainty what his thoughts are on his probable candidacy. Opinions also are sharply divided on whether his silence is political smartness or cowardice.

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