It was Dalhatu Tafida, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, who first let the world into the working of the president’s mind.
At a press conference in Abuja in late 2010, a day ahead of President Goodluck Jonathan’s formal declaration to run in the 2011 presidential election, Mr. Tafida, then Director General of the Jonathan/Sambo campaign organisation, said the president won’t seek another term in 2015.
The president, he said, would be available for only a single term if elected.
“The President wants to run for one term…Let us give him the four years and see how he performs,” Mr. Tafida implored, in what now seems a campaign gimmick.
That explanation sounded logical at the time following the subsisting power rotation formula between the North and the South of Nigeria. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner of Yoruba extraction, was in office for eight years. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s, a northerner, was therefore expected to take the north’s eight-year turn.
But death suddenly struck, foisting Mr. Jonathan, who was Mr. Yar’Adua’s deputy, on the nation.
So, when Mr. Talfida spoke, the president didn’t deny or fault his arguments. Rather he reinforced them in his actions and speeches.
Although he denied knowledge of the power rotation arrangement, he was unambiguous about his future.
Addressing Nigerians in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he attended an African Union Summit, the president regretted they would not vote on April 9, 2011, in a poll that was to return him for a fresh term.
“I would have loved that Nigerians in the Diaspora vote this year. But to be frank with you that is going to be difficult now,” he said on January 31, 2011,before striking home his point.
“Nigerians in the Diaspora will not vote, but I will work towards it by 2015, even though I will not be running for election.”
The presidency’s denial on Sunday that he has made no commitment to anyone not to run again has shocked many watchers of Nigerian politics with some describing Mr. Jonathan as a shameless liar.
The denial has also triggered debate on whether Mr. Jonathan’s tenure will, or not transcend 2015.
In a reaction to Niger state governor, Babangida Aliyu’s claim that the president endorsed a pact with the governors to exit in 2015, presidential adviser on political matters, Ahmed Gulak, said the claim was “frivolous” and a figment of the governor’s imagination.
“The alleged agreement only exists in the figment of the imagination of somebody with presidential ambition,” Mr. Gulak said, referring to Mr. Aliyu’s own ambition to succeed the president in 2015.
The president himself has yet to personally speak on the subject. But that is not surprising as that is a well known Aso Rock’s tactic where the president pushes aides to express his position on issues. At times, when a sentiment expressed by an aide gets controversial, the president pushes back, disowning such a remark.
Still, Mr. Gulak’s response on the president’s behalf seems deliberate.
For a potentially stormy subject, the president, through his political mouthpiece, Mr. Gulak, needed to have made it clear he signed no agreement if indeed he didn’t. But he should also have explained if he had changed his mind about running again. He said it himself he won’t run in 2015.
At a time the presidency is being criticised over the disgraceful admittance of lying to the public about the health of the First Lady, it faces even greater condemnation should it continue to deny that the President didn’t tell the world he won’t run in 2015.
Nigerians seem to respect the president’s right to seek re-election. The concerns have been more about whether Mr. Jonathan once pledged to run for only a single term ending 2015.
The president’s remarks in Ethiopia, probably alongside others, provides a response to that concern. The president indeed said so. A denial today would be ungentlemanly and unpresidential.
Ahead of that famous Ethiopian speech, the resolution of a meeting of 18 governors and two deputy governors provided a much-needed weight at the time for the president’s ambition, with a statement backing Mr. Jonathan for one term.
Governor Aliyu’s claim probably derived from the outcome of that meeting.
Also, after the president’s declaration in Addis Ababa, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, warmed up to that position on March 26, 2011.
Speaking in Abuja during the grand finale of the Jonathan/ Sambo ticket, Mr. Obasanjo praised the president for agreeing to stand for only a term and urged Nigerians to give him that one chance. Mr. Jonathan was in the audience the ex-President addressed and he nodded in agreement to Mr. Obasanjo’s remark.
Mr. Jonathan should resist the temptation to be blinded by ambition. He should be a man of his words. He should not run again.