Kaduna — A strong statement by Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu that Jonathan promised not to seek re-election has put spanner in the President's 2015 campaign machinery. At the heart of this confusion is the perception that going against the pact projects the president as dishonest.
Does the ordinary Nigerian take seriously promises and policy statements made by President Goodluck Jonathan and state governors? Not really. Hassan Umar, a Kaduna-based businessman responded to this question thus: "I don't trust government. They are politicians and all they do is to deceive people by promising and failing to keep their word. Last year, President Jonathan said that he would buy new buses for all states when he wanted to remove fuel subsidy. Up till now, I have not seen any bus to that effect. Government has promised to create millions of jobs, but at the end of the day, we don't see such things happening. All they know how to do is embezzle public funds. EFCC keeps prosecuting politicians for money laundering, but at the end when the money is recovered, we don't hear about what the money is used for. This is not good."
It's not only Umar that has this perception. Alhaji Kabiru Ali, a resident of Kano told Sunday Trust that it's not every statement from government that he takes to heart. According to him, "sometimes there are statements made by the government in order to divert people's attention. And there are statements that are direct and true. So, when one hears anything from government, all he needs to do is to, first of all, think and see if that is possible. This is simply because the government is full of corruption and masterminds of all kind of evils and deceits."
Though Umar lives in Kaduna and Ali lives in Kano, a distance of about 200 kilometres, they hold the same perception of government, a perception that has come to public discourse since last week when Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State told the world that President Goodluck Jonathan signed a pact with governors not to seek another term in 2015. There are indications that the president is oiling his political machinery to seek re-election at the expiration of his current tenure.
While the public began to digest the import of the pact viz-a-viz the groundswell of debate over Jonathan's 2015 ambition, another controversy erupted. Last Sunday, Dame Patience Jonathan, at a thanksgiving service, told Nigerians that she had been considered 'dead' by doctors for seven days during her medical trip to Germany. The shock emanated from earlier statements by her media aides that the First Lady had travelled abroad to rest. The string of denials did not snap in spite of the fact that enquiries made by journalists at a German hospital indicated that Dame Patience was being treated for an undisclosed ailment. The denial was given flesh by even the First Lady who, on her return, told Nigerians that she never visited any doctor. If she never did, why the multiple surgeries, death and resurrection thanksgiving?
On the now controversial issue of a single tenure for President Jonathan, it was supposed to be a political but gentleman agreement among governors of the PDP, a way of assuaging bitter minds over the twist of the zoning formula of the party. After much debate and doubts, on December 16, 2010, as many as 21 PDP governors and many PDP lords agreed that Jonathan would run for on term. The content of the pact runs thus:
1. "Democratic systems all over the world recognize the principle of incumbency and continuity.
2. "Entrenched democratic culture persistent in presidential system and our constitution entitles our President to run for a second term which the PDP Governors support.
3. "The Governors also recognize the Yar'adua/Jonathan ticket and therefore hereby support and endorse President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GCFR) to contest the 2011 election as the PDP Presidential candidate for a period of four years only."
This pact with PDP governors gave the president an unquantifiable advantage over another major contender for Aso Rock seat and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Being the leaders of PDP in their states, the governors' endorsement was synonymous to a leap to victory at the polls. As it were, the pact became a campaign instrument, as Jonathan's campaign director, Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, capitalized on it to seek the people's support. His sing-song became: "The President wants to run for one term...Let us give him the four years and see how he performs."
On his part, President Jonathan on July 28, 2011, reiterated it at PDP National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, saying his proposal for single-tenure presidency and governorship was for the good of the nation because, if the idea became law, he would not be a beneficiary. After a long explanation on the single tenure proposal, he remarked that, "It has nothing to do with elongation of tenure. The tenure of Jonathan Goodluck ends in 2015. That is the provision of the constitution. So, it has nothing to do with that."
The president reiterated this position in Addis Ababa on March 26, 2011, and his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, told journalists, while clarifying issues related to the single term proposal, that Jonathan would not benefit from it.
How Governor Aliyu brought the issue to the front burner:
Niger State Governor Aliyu brought the issue of Jonathan's pact with governors to the fore, probably, in the wake of subterranean moves by elements close to the president to begin 2015 electoral campaign. Governor Aliyu, spoke in Kaduna state where he featured in Guest of the Week on Liberty FM Radio (91.7).
He told the radio station that "I recall that at the time, he was going to declare for the 2011 election, all the PDP Governors were brought together to ensure that we were all in the same frame of mind."
"And I recall that some of us said given the circumstances of the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua and given the PDP zoning arrangement, it was expected that the North was to produce the President for a given number of years.
"I recall that at that discussion, it was agreed that Jonathan would serve only one term of four years and we all signed the agreement. Even when Jonathan went to Kampala, in Uganda, he also said he was going to serve a single term."
Denying that such a pact existed, the Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, described the pact as "frivolous," adding that "The alleged agreement only exists in the figment of the imagination of somebody with presidential ambition. Anybody who has a presidential ambition, it is such a person's constitutional right to have ambition."
Though the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, intervened last week to say the presidency would not make comments on the issued raised by Niger State governor because it was not yet campaign period, the current scenario is similar to what played out in 2010 when a zoning principle enshrined in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) constitution was trampled upon to give Jonathan from South-South a ticket that should have been given to a northern candidate. On December 2, 2002, what was termed "Enlarged Caucus Meeting (ECM)" of the PDP, comprising 47 members, a meeting in which Jonathan as Deputy Governor represented the absent Bayelsa State governor, agreed that power should rotate every eight years between the North and South. After a long debate and agreement read out by the then National Secretary, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, the caucus had agreed to the proposal. However, in an attempt to pave way for Jonathan to contest the presidential poll in 2011, the pact was roundly denied as nonexistent, until Daily Trust, dug it out of the archives and published it. This did not prevent the party from handing over the ticket to President Jonathan, however.
Questions over Jonathan's ambition in Aso Rock
Governor Aliyu's outburst on Liberty FM Radio, Kaduna, may not be unconnected with the hide and seek game between governors and the presidency. Several governors who are serving their second terms have their eyes on the presidency, either as president or vice president, and Jonathan's ambition will extinguish their own dreams. Sunday Trust learnt that some courageous governors had told the presidency that if Jonathan insisted on keeping the PDP's ticket, then they would explore the option created by the emerging opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) and move into it in droves.
Governor Aliyu made an allusion to this last week when he warned that if the PDP did not put its house in order, Nigerians would vote the alternative party, the APC, into power in the next election. Even at Wadata Plaza, there is no sign of peace, as the National Working Committee (NWC) is confused over how to handle the apparent quarrel between governors and the Presidency.
Sunday Trust learnt that though elements like Chief Edwin Clark, Elder Godsday Orubebe, Arc. Mike Oziegbe Onolememen, Chief Mike Aiyebeni Ogiadomhe and Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, and have continued to encourage President Jonathan to courageously take a shot at the presidential polls in 2015, Aso Rock is unsettled over the 2010 one-term pact with governors. In their argument, at the rate the roads, railways, aviation, power, higher education and employment-generation projects are being aggressively completed across the country, when it is time for the next elections, Nigerians would ignore the pact and the hackneyed zoning principle of the PDP and support Jonathan's candidature. As reported by Sunday Trust recently, Jonathan has revived his campaign structure with the appointment of his 2011 presidential campaign coordinators as head of the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The uncertainty in Aso Rock is emphasised by the fact that Vice President Namadi Sambo who has an ambition to contest the 2015 presidency, if Jonathan does not seek another term, is under close watch to ensure that he does not set up his campaign machinery which could clash with Jonathan's ambition. "The Vice-President's camp is frustrated," the insider confided in our reporter. "However, it is not folding its arms. Contacts are being made with good political mobilisers across the country as a Plan B, in case President Jonathan gives in to pressures not to contest in 2015."
If Jonathan does not run, it would not be a blow to the president. Rather, it is his hangers-on that would be disorientated.
The question being asked in the political circle is, how bound is Jonathan by the pact with PDP governors? A former Nigerian Bar Association President, Chief Olurotimi Akeredolu, SAN, told Sunday Trust that "it (pact) is certainly not a legal document. It cannot be legally binding. It can be best described as political agreement."
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ahmed Raji, added that such an agreement was more of political gymnastics and totally outside the province of law Court. His words "for anything to be binding, it must be in line with the constitution. If such an agreement exists, President Jonathan still has a right under the constitution to seek re-election. I do not see how such an agreement can divest him of constitutional right to seek for re-election. Such an agreement may, however, be used as a campaign issue, which is totally outside the province of a law Court."
He advised the governors to consult lawyers in future before entering into such agreements.
According to him, the court of law should not be dragged into the issue since it is an agreement which is only binding in honour and not an agreement enforceable by any Court of law. If at all it exists, it is not justiceable. He wondered how a few governors could sit down and abrogate or modify the rights of the generality of Nigerians to pick their choice.
A professor of Law, Taiwo Osipitan, in his remarks said "President Jonathan's one-term agreement with the governors was not binding on Nigerians who have the mandate to vote and elect their president. In a presidential election the whole Nigeria and all eligible voters are the president's constituency."
However, another senior lawyer, P. O. Jimoh Lassisi, SAN, opined that the pact is binding since it was a signed agreement. It would be unfair for anyone who has signed an agreement to renege on it. Specifically, he mentioned that for a person occupying the Office of the President, his words should be his bond.
Other flip-flops by Aso Rock
In recent times, there have been instances of contradictions by Aso Rock, apart from the double-speak on the First Lady's health condition. For instance, after the October 1, 2010 bomb attacks at Eagle Square, President Jonathan told Nigerians that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) could not be responsible for the criminal act. But as it turned out, a renowned leader of MEND, Henry Okah, has been convicted in a South African court over his involvement in the bomb blasts. Also, the presidency gave Nigerians hopes that the insecurity that has ravaged it was being addressed when Dr Abati said government was in talks with Boko Haram. But in a shocking denial, President Jonathan said the group was faceless and government could not hold talks with such an organisation. Also, there are many campaign promises, which have remained men promises. For instance, Jonathan told Nigerians that he would ensure that Nigerians do not use generators more than two times in a week, but that has not happened. Electricity supply is not better than what it was during the presidential campaign. He had also promised to create, in the two years, 1.5 million jobs. Apart from the SURE-P youth and graduate employment scheme, which are no employment in the real sense of it, no jobs are being created, not to talk of 1.5 million of them. He further promised to, in four years, make Nigeria go beyond producing and exporting crude oil to exporting refined petroleum products because Nigeria has no reason to keep importing kerosene. There are no indications that this is happening. Almost two years after he made the promise, the country's refineries are producing below capacity, which subsidy on petroleum products has not abated. Kerosene is still out of the reach of those who use it.
As a result of the flip-flops of government, Nigerians no longer trust what its spokespersons say. Kaduna-based Nnamdi Onyenede, remarked thus: "I can't trust them. There is no way to verify government's information because they always adulterate documents. The government and their spokespersons are not being sincere, honest and they are not working with integrity. This is a common fact for everybody. So, I have stopped caring about government spokespersons' statements."
Mr Yinka Odumakin, a Lagos-based civil rights activist, said this situation brings government to disrepute. According to him, "the president and his aides need to be told that when there is this kind of credibility gap it does not help. You recalled that when there was MEND bombing during the 50th Independence anniversary, the president came out to say MEND was not responsible, but Okah has been convicted and jailed in South Africa over the incident. Again, they said the First Lady was resting in Germany, but she recently did a thanksgiving where she confirmed that she died for seven days. These lies do not give credibility to the presidency. I think it's either the president's aides are not doing their jobs well or they did not realize that the office of the president is not where you can just tell lies that cannot be sustained.
"The frivolous lies pose serious challenge to the office of the president. For instance, if by tomorrow the presidency comes out to say good morning fellow Nigerians, people will need to look at their wrist watches before they answer. So the credibility gap is not good for the presidency. I think Mr President will need to repackage himself and make him more credible than he is at the moment.
I think the president should know that he can only build trust around his administration by his track records. If he makes mistakes he could correct them by apologizing to the people, else it will be difficult for Nigerians to trust him. Trust can only be earned; he cannot command it. He can't buy it but he must earn it. So, if these kinds of lies are told by the president, it means his aides are not doing their jobs and the danger is, that, it will make it difficult for Nigerians to trust their president even when he means well."
Theophilus Abbah, Ismail Adebayo, Abbas Jimoh, Adelanwa Bamgboye and Christiana T. Alabi