The campaign posters of President Goodluck Jonathan which flooded the streets of Abuja on New Year day tends to be opening a new chapter in the country's political discourse. In this report, GEORGE AGBA raises pertinent questions regarding the veracity of claims by both the presidency and the opposition as to who the real brain behind what may have appeared to be another New Year gift to Nigerians could be.
Since he was sworn in on May 29, 2011 as president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan's presidency has been confronted with ill-luck every first day of each year. On the two occasions his tenure in office have had to witness its entrance into a new year, it has been a tale of the president of Africa's most populous country in the shadow of his citizen's fury. First, it was the January 1, 2012 removal of subsidy from fuel price, which Nigerians protested fiercely against. For them it was a bad New Year gift from a government they had placed unalloyed confidence in.
Penultimate Tuesday, the very first day of 2013, Nigerians who thronged the streets in the Federal Capital Territory, seeking fun from all directions sighted some mischievous posters with portrait pictures of President Jonathan heralding his 2015 presidential campaign. The all gloss posters which were creatively fashioned, perhaps, to provoke and rattle the sensibility of the opposition had engraved in them an unfriendly inscription, warning sternly that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock come 2015. It was as if the anonymous sponsors of the campaign posters who kept their identity concealed were on a rampage to murder sleep in the camp of the opposition.
While it could be readily admitted that this was not a good omen for a presidency that had suffered malignant criticisms in the hands of the opposition, the controversy trailing the posters as to who the real sponsors of the ill-timed campaign materials are is still an issue at stake. And the questions begging for answers to this effect cannot be far-fetched. Can a president who has consistently waved the issue of 2015 aside at every forum he is being cornered to comment on it, on the ground that it was still too early for him to decide whether to re-contest or not be the same person to give his nod to the pasting of the posters?
If not, what does the sponsors of the Jonathan 2015 campaign posters intend to achieve here, if they are truly members of the opposition as being purported by the president's men? Assuming that this was the handiwork of some overzealous supporters of the president who were merely out to impress their good work on him, probably, to prove that they were indeed true soldiers ready to die at their duty post the way they did in 2011, why is it that they refused to reveal their identity as a youth group, political association or student union movement on the posters?
One significant trait of the criticism that trailed the emergence of the posters in and around the nation's capital is that, while most Nigerians were indifferent to the development, it was mainly members of the opposition groups and parties that condemned what they palpably feared most. The thinking is that after all the incisive vituperations and deadly tirades aimed at compelling Jonathan to have a rethink, if at all he nurses a second term ambition, he is still bold and resolute to think towards that direction.
From the government circle, the questions are tinkered in favour of the president. What is wrong with the president being behind the posters if a cue should be taken from the opposition itself? Is it not the same opposition condemning the act that had been sponsoring stories about gang up and plot against the Jonathan presidency ahead of 2015? The idea here is that the opposition is not being fair to the president with its politics of hypocrisy and double standards. "You condemn a man for doing the same thing you keep doing on a daily basis to disparage his government just because you want to be seen as the best alternative to the government in power. Worst still is when these campaigns of calumny don't do badly in distracting the president from discharging his duties diligently", a presidential aide who preferred not to be mentioned told LEADERSHIP.
The import of this contention from the president's men is that whichever direction a House Fly flutter- even far away from perching on the food and drinks- it would still be smashed by the sledge hammer provided he had already been penciled for death. This could also be captured in a statement by former president of Tanzania, Late Julius Nyerere, while he was reflecting on the farce of persecuting polygamy. Nyerere, a practicing Roman Catholic and therefore a monogamist, had pointed out: "We have always accepted that Moslems can have four wives and tribalists can have 10 or 20. But if I should take a second wife, I could be prosecuted. Yet, the police constable who arrested me might be a polygamist as well as the Magistrate who sentenced me to four years at hard labour. This is ridiculous".
President Jonathan, through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati has since distanced himself from the campaign posters. In a statement issued next day in reaction to reports on the posters, Abati said, "It (the posters) has not come from the president. Nigerians should take the president for his words and ignore any other information to the contrary. The president has not launched any campaign; he believes that those doing that are playing games. There is no reason for the president to engage in any form of scaremongering. He has said that by 2014, his position on the 2015 presidential race would be made public. Nigerians should wait till then".
Also speaking in support of the president, chairman of the Northern Alternative Forum, Mallam Gidado Ibrahim said, "It is very unfortunate that politics in Nigeria has degenerated to a level where the very opposition which lay claims to the alternative government to the one in power becomes the very source of the national mischief we are witnessing in this country. There should be a limit to everything under the sun, including the brazen extent to which some opposition elements now go to daunt and dent President Goodluck Jonathan. You don't need too much thinking for you to realise that those behind the 2015 posters of President Jonathan are the ones who are championing the criticisms against it.
"The intent is to discredit the president; to give Nigerians the impression that their president is not a sincere person and that he is a man who says a thing and do the opposite. Up to last December, President Jonathan had been sermonising it, that it is too early for anybody to distract him with 2015 presidential campaign. Now you and I know very well that no sane individual, even the dullest of politicians in the country would want to be seen as someone who talks on both sides of his mouth. Our president, as far as I know him can never do a thing like the flooding of his 2015 campaign posters to contradict himself. Even some opposition members who are currently raising dust of the development are aware of this, but they will never want to admit the truth for selfish reasons.
"And those behind the posters think they are smooth criminals if you consider their antics carefully, like the day they choose to perpetrate their evil plot against the president. They chose to make the posters appear on New Year day to make it seem as if it was what they have always termed another New Year gift to Nigerians. But thank God that well meaning Nigerians have caught them in act by reading between the lines".
But it is not reprieve for the president as the opposition has insisted that he must arrest and prosecute the sponsors of the said campaign posters to prove his innocence. The convener of the Concerned Northern Professionals, Academic and Businessmen (CCNPPAB), Dr. Junaid Muhammad argued last Friday that President Jonathan can only prove his innocence by directing the State Security Services (SSS) and the Police to arrest those behind the posters. "Jonathan should give specific orders to the SSS and the Police to arrest and prosecute those behind the posters. They can be prosecuted for trying to use the president's name to embarrass him and for incitement. Jonathan should do that to demonstrate that he was not complicit to in this nefarious activity. What they are doing now is a threat to Nigeria's democracy. If you believe in Jonathan's denial, you can anything like the Americans would say: "tell it to the marines. On both counts, Jonathan is not telling the truth. Everybody knows that those behind the posters are his people, loyalists or admirers", he stated.
Abati, however, countered this position by Muhammad, saying the security agencies in the country do not necessarily need an order from the president before doing their job. "They don't even need to wait for presidential directive. It is part of their normal duty to find out what is happening in the environment, particularly if what has happened is a matter of public interest. The President does not need to give any order. People whose job is it to ensure that nothing goes wrong within the Nigerian state will do their job. They will make their own assessment; they will do their own investigations", the presidential spokesman stated.