Nigeria: What President Jonathan Must Do

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[Africa: Nigeria Commentary]

Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is Nigeria's Acting President and in the next months he would be in office, assuming that President Yar'Adua does'nt miraculously get well, he should begin to think about what kind of legacy he would be leaving for Nigeria and Nigerians.

But before we get to the kind of legacy he should aspire to leave, let's examine what is going on around him.

He assumed the office on February 9, 2010, after 87 days of the absence of the current President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.  Yar'Adua had been flown to Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment for his ailing heart.  But before he left, he failed to transfer powers to his vice president, Jonathan.

A leadership crisis vacuum ensued reaching a crescendo when the media started speculating that, in fact, Yar'Adua must already be dead since nobody, official or legislative, had been allowed to see him, at which point the president was heard to have spoken in the Hausa language to a BBC interviewer that, yes he was sick, but he was recuperating.

The Nigerian National Assembly then invoked Section 145 of the Nigerian constitution based on the broadcast, rather than the letter that Yar'Adua should have written and went ahead to appoint the vice president as the acting president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the country.

By May 30th, 2011, both the terms of the president and vice president (now the acting president) would expire, as Nigeria would have elected a new president.  It is doubtful, due to his very serious illness, that Yar'Adua would be re-nominated by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to run for a second term.

And due to the convoluted zoning arrangements that his party put into its charter, it is also doubtful that Jonathan would be the flag-bearer of the PDP.  According to this arrangement, a Notherner is entitled to occupy the Nigerian presidency for eight  years, due to the fact that a Southerner, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, occupied the presidency for eight years, from 1999 to 2007.

In fact, his party has made it plain to Jonathan that he has no chance in heaven of running for the substantive post of president of Nigeria in 2011. 

After a PDP meeting on the 2nd of March, the party issued a statement reinforcing its zoning arrangements, "We felt that the zoning of the presidency of the party as enshrined in the party's constitution should be maintained and therefore the zoning arrangement in the constitution should hold for the next four years," according to the party's National Chairman Prince Vince Ogbulafor. "The South," he continued, "has had it for eight years and therefore the North should also hold it for eight years so that we take care of the restiveness in the nation."

You would think that that would be the end of the discussion.
Of course, that cannot end that way. There is clamoring amongst Nigerians encouraging Jonathan to disregard the so-called zoning arrangement of his party and gear up for the 2011 elections as a presidential candidate. They charge that the zoning arrangement of the Peoples Democratic Party has nothing to do with the Nigerian constitution; that in fact, there is no place in the constitution where it is written that a Southerner must govern Nigeria for eight years, followed for another eight years by a Northerner. Their other argument is that the South-South, which is regarded as another geo-political region in Nigeria, has never produced a Nigerian president; more so the fact that 90% of Nigeria's wealth, oil, is produced in the region.

These are legitimate issues and could be quite credible, were the PDP open to changing its zoning arrangements, or were Dr. Jonathan to run on another party platform. But the PDP is known for stealing elections, especially with what happened in the 2007 elections, which international observers said was one of the worst fraudulent elections they had monitored. Again, no other party is making overtures to Jonathan to run on their platform - it doesn't mean it wouldn't happen. 
In such a scenario, what would be Dr. Jonathan's contributions to making such a venture successful? Unfortunately, the man has no political capital to dispense. He has never been elected on his own to any office. He ran as a deputy governor to the governor of Bayelsa and then became governor after the individual was impeached. Then the former President Olusegun Obasanjo plucked him from obscurity to run as Vice President to Yar'Adua. In other words, it is highly impossible that he could assemble a winning coalition that would propel him to the Nigerian presidency. There are, of course, literally hundreds of thousands or millions of people who would be urging Jonathan to run. Would they be leading him astray? Are they realistic in their expectations given that the northern constituency is quite a powerful constituency?
In the absence of a cohesive arrangement or agreement that he should be the flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, what should be occupying Dr. Jonathan's mind? Dr. Jonathan should put on blinders and not succumb to any sycophants.  His mission should be, in the next 13 months, to achieve a few accomplishments that would endear him to Nigerians and their clamoring for him to stay. But he shouldn't listen.
His first duty should be to go on national television and assure Nigerians that he would not be running for the presidency of Nigeria. He should say it with conviction, and this would free him from being beholden to anybody, or groups of people.  Then he should assemble a group of advisers whose loyalty is achieving any goals he sets out for himself.  I know he has already appointed ministers, but none of them, with the exception of Dora Akunyili would appear to be that independent thinker he needs to be at his side until May 30, 2011.
Dr. Jonathan's second task would be to recommend to the National Assembly the removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It seems incongruous that Prof. Iwu continues to be the chairman of elections in Nigeria despite the odious manipulation he created in the 2007 elections, adjudged by independent and international observers as being totally flawed, and subsequent elections he has botched up since then.

If his reward is the chairmanship of INEC for selecting Yar'Adua and Jonathan into office, I believe there are other ways he could be rewarded; but the world is watching Nigeria and next year's elections are crucial to Nigeria's standing in the world, and ultimately that of Jonathan.

Jonathan needs to fire Maurice Iwu, period. Whatever hold he has on Yar'Adua and Jonathan should be broken with Jonathan's assurance that he would not be running for any office in 2011. The world has watched and admired countries like Ghana, Botswana, and South Africa achieve international recognition through how they handled their elections. The accomplishment of a free and fair elections in Nigeria under his leadership, would catapult Goodluck Jonathan into the international arena of good leaders like former Presidents Festus Mogae of Botswana and Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique, both of whom have won the Mo Ibrahim Award of $5,000,000 and an annual lifetime award of $250,000.
The power sector is another area that Jonathan must direct his attention. I know it is quite impossible for achieve much within the framework of a 13-month stay in office, given what had transpired earlier in the last 11 years - eight years of Obasanjo's rule, as well as Yar'Adua's three years. This might not bring accolades for Jonathan in the international arena, but at least he would be solving Nigeria's perennial problem of the lack of sustained electricity. Of course, it is understandable that it is difficult to accomplish much in 13 months, but Jonathan must put in place the mechanisms for solving this intractable problem that Nigeria has had for ages.
Goodluck Jonathan doesn't need to spread himself thin into many areas, because then he would become jack of all trades, neither does he have to be banally the so-called "baba-stand-still." Jonathan has been blessed by circumstances beyond his control. He needs to give to the people to whom he has been entrusted by those circumstances. And he can only be able to leave a legacy of accomplishments if he adopted the slogan of "politics be damned."

Onyeani is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of the African Sun Times, and author of the internationally and critically acclaimed No.1 bestselling book, "Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success," the blockbuster novel, "The Broederbond Conspiracy," and the African Folklore children's book, "ODUM: The Lion."

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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