Like a thief in the night If there is one thing that the Jonathan administration has in abundance, it is its unfailing penchant for sometimes doing itself in to surprise Nigerians, particularly on New Year Day. Like a bond keeper, the administration has faithfully lived up to its billing in giving the nation regular doses of unpleasant surprises.
On the first day of 2012, Nigerians woke up to meet a rattling fuel pump price jerk that has halted the economic progress of most Nigerians and stunted their comfort level till date. Now, and perhaps, as a New Year gift, troubled Nigerians who are managing to cope with the myriads of economic woes foisted on them by a government that appears not to have gotten it right after more than a year on the saddle, some mischievous campaign posters purporting to solicit support for President Goodluck Jonathan's re-election in 2015 welcome Nigerians to the New Year.
The glossy posters with Jonathan's portrait boldly inscribed came with a bang. It was loaded with variegated and serious messages even though it was not signed as a complete advertisement with an identified sponsor. First, it warned those angling for the prized post to steer clear of Aso Rock, the nation's power base, that 'there is no vacancy' there, apparently trying to ruffle the opposition, which is battling to put it acts together with a view to giving Jonathan a good fight in the next presidential election. The campaign material also made a spirited attempt to eulogise Jonathan for 'doing well' as a president and called for continuous support for him in the 2015. "One good turn deserves another," the sponsors of the dubious posters, wrote.
Like a bad product, it came with defects
But like a bad product, the promoters of the vile communication, could only find space on refuse bins (for effect), newspaper stands and any available roadside medium to paste the posters perhaps in the night, apparently to avoid being identified. From the way the posters were displayed, Nigerians could have mistaken them for one of those religious publicity materials, which have become a regular feature of roads in the FCT but Mr. President's glossy pictures typified by his unmistakable traditional Ijaw shirt and hat to match, effectively drew attention to what was on offer.
By daybreak on New Year, the posters were already catching fire like a cracker. From the first gate of the Presidential Villa to Yakubu Gowon Crescent and AYA and the surroundings of ECOWAS in Asokoro District, men, women and youths were scrambling for space to catch a glimpse of the posters displayed on any available space.
Outrage and indifference over the message
As curious Nigerians decoded the messages embedded in the posters, some were outraged over the method adopted by hawks to begin another round of campaign for the President, who has repeatedly stated that he will not want to be distracted by the 2015 politics so as to have enough time to concentrate on fixing the mounting problems in Nigeria.
Right-thinking Nigerians are apparently amused by the import of the posters, since according to them, nothing has changed in the land apart from unending rhetoric being churned out by top government officials on where the administration is heading and how the country is achieving conceptual economic boom and employment generation and while young Nigerian graduates roam the streets in search of elusive jobs.
Jonathan had during his campaign for the 2011 election promised to 'breathe fresh air' on the nation. It was the same man, who vowed to end endemic corruption and instill a new wave of sanity in the nation's polity. As it has turned out, almost two years down the line, the monster of graft has taken a deeper root in the corridors of power, devouring honest Nigerians and throwing up more corrupt men with itchy fingers.
The startling revelations coming from the subsidy funds management indicating that the huge sums were swallowed up by mandarins with strong tentacles in the same government, who are almost above the capacity of existing anti-corruption agencies to handle, have made a mockery of any claim by the administration to be confronting graft. It is not surprising therefore why Nigerians have become very skeptical about Jonathan's promises and the situation may remain so for some time to come until he becomes more serious about redeeming the various promises, some of which the government might have forgotten.
Even the claim that the power sector has witnessed tremendous improvement in recent times is suspect because in the major cities some areas remain in perpetual darkness for days and no explanation is given. That, coupled with the inexplicable jerk in energy tariff thereby giving average Nigerian families a nightmare, may remain a sore point for the administration. Nigerians may not be interested in knowing what amount of electricity is generated by the government but will see and feel the change in the generation and transmission of power once there is constant power supply to their homes.
All the President's Men's Denial
The Presidency rose at once to disown not only the placement of the message but its timing. Like a well rehearsed orchestra, the President's men - Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, the Political Adviser to the President and Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity - distanced themselves from what they see as a repugnant message designed to distract their boss from going ahead with his 'transformation agenda'. Gulak, who spoke from his village in far away Adamawa, was emphatic that the President had not mandated the sponsors to put out the controversial communication material.
"I am sure it is the work of misguided elements who are out to cause confusion among Nigerians," Gulak told Sunday Vanguard in a telephone interview on Tuesday night.
The following day, Abati took the stage in another interview, castigating the masterminds of the posters. Like Gulak, he insisted that the material did not receive the blessing of his master, who was working hard to fix decrepit Nigeria.
"The President is focused on delivering on his mandate for Nigerians and would not want to be distracted," Abati chorused like other foot soldiers of Mr. President. He was not yet done!
"Those pasting the posters are trying to express their own views. The President had stated that he would talk about the Presidential election from 2014 and those doing these things do not have the consent of the president.
"What is of importance now is for the president to deliver on his electioneering promise to Nigerians and not to embark on the pasting of posters. The President has not launched any campaign; he believes those doing that are playing games. There is no reason for the president to engage in any form of scaremongering, having said that by 2014 he would make his position on the matter known. Nigerians should wait till them," the spokesman declared.
Product of high taste and careful packaging
But in spite of the denial by the President's men, it has emerged that the posters were carefully packaged and displayed at strategic places in the FCT by hawks working on the Presidential Project. It was learnt that the display of the first set of posters, was a carefully planned plot by Jonathan's foot soldiers, who wanted to test the political waters for their masters ahead of 2015. Competent sources confirmed that the group coordinating the posters on behalf of the Presidency would soon blossom into a Non-governmental body and own up to the publicity materials.
The import of the posters was to send a strong message to the opposition, which has been working to metamorphose into a formidable platform to confront Jonathan as a common political party in 2015. The thinking by Jonathan's political hawks is that it is not proper to leave the turf for the opposition to have a field day while their master pretends to be considering what to do about 2015 when the body language suggests he is going to run.
The quality of the posters and the message in them, lend credence to the fact that they were not done by poor and illiterate men in search of what to do in order to earn their meal. The packaging shows clearly that the message was a product of rigorous thinking and produced by sound minds to meet the taste of a sophisticated audience.
But if the Presidency insists it has no idea of who sponsored the message, Nigerians may want to know how soon an enquiry would be carried out to determine whose money was spent to produce and paste the materials and by who and why?
Posters vanish from Abuja
Perhaps, frustrated Nigerians still writhing in the pains and agony of soaring cost of living and scarce petroleum products were not too happy to be greeted by the posters as they returned to the nation's capital to grapple with the complexity of life imposed on them by the system that has woefully failed to protect and secure their lives. It was therefore not surprising why most of the posters were easily defaced and removed from the streets barely a few hours after they were placed by unidentified persons.
In a jiffy, the posters in the highbrow areas of Asokoro, where influential Nigerian politicians and economic players reside, were removed followed by the ones in the suburbs of the FCT. Neither the law-enforcement agencies nor the officials of the FCDA could stop the destruction of the posters. However, a few of the posters were still left around the premises of the Peoples Democratic Party, Wadata Plaza, in Wuse 5.
Uproar spreads like wildfire over posters
In a swift reaction to the development, notable socio-political groups in the country rose against the posters. Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum and the major opposition parties took turns to condemn the timing of the posters and called for probe.
The Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Bauchi State Chapter, asked Jonathan to first of all redeem the electioneering promises he made to Nigerians in 2011 before delving into another round of campaign. Chairman of the CPC in the state, Aliyu Abubakar Saidu, advised Jonathan to save Nigerians from their present predicament before thinking of another election, pointing out that the posters were too hasty.
On his part, the Bishop of the Calabar Diocese of the Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev Tunde Adeyeye, described the posters as the handiwork of stooges bent on diverting the President's attention from the major problems confronting the nation.
Adeyeye said, "This is very Nigerian. That is what we do; we major in minors and then divert attention from the problems of the hardship and poverty we are suffering from.
Adding its voice to the condemnation of the timing of the posters, the South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, one of the main support groups for President Jonathan, said that it was too early for anyone to come out with posters campaigning for the president. A founding member of the SSPA, Dr. Ambrose Akpanika, said he did not think that the 2015 poll should dominate issues at this point in time when the nation was facing serious challenges that need urgent attention.
Opposition against Jonathan's re-election mounts
Although the coast is always clear for an incumbent President and governors to easily win re-election in Nigeria, it is difficult to say how easy Jonathan's 2015 project will be, given the plethora of opposition against his re-election. The circumstance of his emergence, first, as an acting President following the death of his boss, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and his subsequent enthronement as a substantive President in 2011, have thrown up some knotty issues that were never envisaged by the law.
For instance, it has been pointed out that Jonathan would have exceeded his two- term limit, if he contests in 2015, thereby violating the Nigerian Constitution. That has come up because he served out the remaining tenure of Yar'Adua, which was not contemplated by the law. He has by so doing, taken the oath of office twice and his traducers would not want him to come back for another oath-taking in 2015.
Second Republic lawmaker and social commentator, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, has strongly advised President Jonathan not to waste time going for a second term, since doing so would create a constitutional crisis in the country.
Mohammed told Sunday Vanguard in an exclusive interview that Jonathan was not qualified to contest in 2015, having taken the oath of office twice as Nigeria's President first in 2010 following the untimely death of Yar'Adua and later in 2011, thereby hitting the limit provided by Nigerian law.
"Most importantly, Jonathan should be told that the Constitution does not allow any Nigerian leader to take the Oath of Office twice. He has already exhausted the limit of his two terms.
Mohammed advised Jonathan to first subject his Presidential ambition to a judicial interpretation by the Supreme Court so as to stave off looming Constitutional crisis that his action would generate in the country.
According to Mohammed, Jonathan will be doing Nigerians a big disservice if he waits till 2014 to declare his interest in the 2015 Presidency because there are Nigerians who have real legal issues to take up with him on the matter and he should do it in good time to prevent a constitutional crisis and violence.
"If Mr. President is a true Nigerian leader he should decide now so that those who have issues with him will go to court to challenge him and get redress.
"The issue is not about him but 160 million Nigerians whose fate is tied to the Presidency of Nigeria. Jonathan has no right to dilly dally with the destiny of Nigerians," he said.
But Section 137 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that" A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if - "(b) he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections; or ...."
Jonathan has only been elected to the Office of President only once and not twice.
Beyond the alleged constitutional crisis that is likely to be thrown up if Jonathan runs in 2015, one of the PDP governors from the North, where Jonathan derived its strength in the 2011 poll, Sule Lamido, has been mandated by the State House of Assembly to challenge the President in 2015. Lamido has not said anything about the endorsement but he may not be too far from running since he would be completing his second term as a governor come 2015.
All that the governor, whose son, was recently arrested by EFCC operatives at the Aminu Kano International Airport for allegedly carrying undeclared Dollars running into millions of Naira, has said about his presidential ambition is 'I'm flattered by the linkage of my name with the 2015 presidential poll'.
Clear picture of the looming game
In the days ahead, it will be clear, who sponsored the Jonathan's posters and why and those who are working to stop him will also be bolder enough to come to the open to declare their interest and why. The top race, which has often been laden with high wire intrigues and manipulation, has just begun and the end will justify the means. Who wins, who loses?