23 February 2013

Nigeria: Jonathan - One Term Pact VS Two-Term Constitutional Provision

Without being a governor or Peoples Democratic Party official, I can say I'm almost sure President Jonathan had some form of agreement with the PDP governors at the height of the 2011 presidential race. The form and nature of the agreement or whether it was written or not, I cannot say. And the reason I think there is some understanding between the president and the governor is as follows.

The PDP governors, mostly from the North, were opposed to Jonathan in the build-up to the party's presidential primary; they held up the party's National Executive Committee meeting for days, and all of a sudden this opposition thawed. The NEC meeting held, the primary election was later conducted and Jonathan won hands down, beating former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar by a wide margin.

The party's NEC meeting was initially scheduled for December 15, 2010, it was stalled by the governors. It was later held after the governors had allegedly reached some agreement with the party leadership and President Jonathan on December 16, 2010. The party's presidential primary was held on January 15, 2011. Given this background, it was no surprise that former President Obasanjo, apparently alluding to the agreement reached with the governors, spoke of the alleged one-term decision of Jonathan, saying the president should be commended for his sacrifice. It was at the PDP convention/presidential primary of January 15, 2011 at the Eagle Square, Abuja.

Obasanjo spoke then as chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees. The former president had said, among other things: "We are impressed with the report that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has already taken a unique and unprecedented step of declaring that he would only want to be a one-term President. If so, whether he knows it or not, that is a sacrifice and it is statesmanly. Rather than vilify him and pull him down, we, as a party, should applaud and commend him and Nigerians should reward and venerate him."

The former president who spoke this way should know. He has come this way before. Before he was eventually elected president in 1999, some Northern leaders had approached him to sign a pact with them that he would protect Northern interest in office in exchange for their support, as he did as military head of state. They also told Obasanjo they wanted some key ministries for the North. The former president claimed he did not sign the document and that other presidential aspirants at the time like Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chief Graham Douglas, Senator Francis Ella, etc signed.

Can Jonathan claim not to have entered into any agreement with the PDP governors in December 2010? I tried to get the PDP chairman at the time, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, to throw some light on what really transpired at the meeting of President Jonathan with the governors on December 16, 2010, but he didn't want to be drawn into the controversy.

With the declaration of Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu that President Jonathan agreed to serve for only one term, the knotty issue has been opened again. The presidency has refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying President Jonathan does not want to be distracted by what it called the politics of 2015.

My take on this issue is that it should be borne in mind that whether President Jonathan signed any such pact with the governors or not, such an agreement is not known to the constitution. What is paramount is what the constitution says. The constitution stipulates two terms of four years each for president and governors. Though President Jonathan has been sworn into office twice, he would be rounding off his first term by 2015 as he has only been elected to the office of president once and, as such, he is entitled to a second term. But entering into a pact and repudiating such raises integrity question in my view, if the president actually had one with the governors. This becomes all the more disturbing when one recalls President Jonathan had run in 2011 in spite of the PDP zoning, widely believed to have ceded power to the North.

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