Governor Aliyu’s Challenge, By Jideofor Adibe

Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger state

“Being double-faced is therefore in the gene of Nigerian politicians, not just in that of one politician.”  

Politics is in the air and jostling for 2015 has simply begun in earnest. Anyone telling you otherwise is either living in another planet, trying to undercut the competition, or simply being dishonest.

We saw another evidence of this when Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, who is also the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum declared recently that President Goodluck Jonathan reached an agreement in 2011 with leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Governors elected on the platform of the party to serve only a single term. He was quoted by several media houses as saying: “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.” The key word here is ‘signed’. Did President Jonathan actually ‘sign’ any pact with the leadership of the PDP and the Governors elected on the platform of the party? The Presidency, speaking through Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, denied the existence of any such pact and challenged anyone who thought otherwise to produce evidence.

I believe the ‘salvo’ from the Chief Servant of Niger State is merely adding a moral dimension to the numerous angles through which the key contending forces are fighting over 2015. There is already a legal challenge from sources suspected to be testing the waters on behalf of the presidency on Jonathan’s eligibility to contest in 2015 just as the opposing sides have also sponsored contrary legal opinions on why he is legally barred from running. There is nothing really wrong in this because the contest for power is usually fought from various dimensions, including psychological mind games. But the categorical nature of Governor Aliyu’s allegation put’s the credibility of both the Niger State Governor and the President on the line. The onus of proof is however on Governor Aliyu to produce a signed pact between the Governors and PDP leadership and President Jonathan.

If it is proven that President Jonathan indeed ‘signed’ a pact to run for only one term and then is contemplating to jettison it, then the moral burden will be quite heavy. It will be one reneging of an agreement too many. It should be recalled that in 2011 President Jonathan chose to contest the presidency even though he was the 34th signatory to the expanded PDP caucus meeting in December 2002 which allegedly endorsed zoning and power rotation for the party. Proving the existence of another ‘signed’ deal that is about to be disrespected will be just too damaging – coming on top of whispers of ingratitude in the current face-off between Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo who literally made him Governor of Bayelsa State, Vice President and President of the country.

My personal opinion is that given the furore Jonathan’s candidacy generated in the run-up to the 20011 elections, there must have been an ‘agreement’ of sorts between President Jonathan and the PDP leadership and Governors. In fact the Governors were at that time seen to be exceedingly powerful and were openly playing hide and seek with President Jonathan, who was then seen as weak and diffident. An apparently frustrated Jonathan was once quoted as telling the Governors and the leadership of his party: “Everything I have asked for, you have refused to give me. No President anywhere has been treated by his party the way you are treating me. I am the captain of this boat. I am not going down alone. I am going to sink this (political) boat and go down with all that are in it.” (Weekly Trust, 19 December 2010). Again former President Obasanjo, who was a staunch supporter of Jonathan’s candidacy in 2011 and who was then the Chairman of the Party’s Board of Trustees alluded to the President’s one-term decision at the PDP convention/presidential primary of January 15, 2011 at the Eagle Square, Abuja: ‘’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 [sic]. Rather than vilify him and pull him down, we, as a party, should applaud and commend him and Nigerians should reward and venerate him” (ThisDay Live, 23 February 2013). In the same vein the Vanguard of 22 February 2013 reported that the PDP’s NEC meeting which held on December 16, 2010 (allegedly after the Governors had tried to frustrate it) reached a number of agreements embodied in a communiqué which was read by Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State. The paper quoted part of the communiqué as reading: “The Governors also recognize the Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket and therefore hereby support President Goodluck Jonathan (GCFR) to contest the 2011 election as the PDP presidential candidate for a period of four years only.”

Anecdotal evidence therefore suggests the existence of an ‘agreement’. What is not clear is the nature of the agreement, what it was supposed to achieve and whether Jonathan signed or not. Nigerian politicians often say things they don’t mean. Virtually all the major presidential candidates in 2011 – Buhari, Babangida and Atiku – promised to do only one term even though most people took such with a pinch of salt. Buhari, regarded by many as the most ‘straight forward’ politician in the country, even reversed himself on his public pledge not to seek the presidency again. Similarly Governor Peter ObiAnambra State of , who has a public persona of a ‘saint’ among some Nigerians, also promised to do one term in office but ended up going for a second term. Being double-faced is therefore in the gene of Nigerian politicians, not just in that of one politician.

Nigerian politicians simply cannot be trusted and the government cannot be trusted. The pervading distrust percolates into inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. Did Nigerians not rally behind then Vice President Jonathan when a cabal tried to prevent him from becoming Acting President by lying about the true health conditions of Yar’ Adua? And did the presidency under Jonathan not do exactly the same when Dame Patience Jonathan became ill and recently revealed she had nine surgeries? From Taraba to Enugu State, sick Governors lie on their conditions in order to cling onto power – the same thing we all found reprehensible about the cabal around the late Yar’Adua who held the nation hostage.

It is possible that the concession ‘extracted’ from President Jonathan to run for only one term in 2011 was part of political double-talk, only meant to pacify the public anger in some parts of the North. Despite the apparent street opposition to Jonathan’s candidacy in the North, I believe that many of the Governors would still have been inclined to support him – purely from a perspective of self-preservation. At that time most of the Governors were to run for a second term and would not want an angry President who had threatened to do a Samson (pull down the structures so everyone goes down) setting the EFCC after them. There was also an apparent dread of a Buhari presidency that could amend the constitution to remove the Governors’ immunity and herd as many of them as possible into long jail terms on corruption charges. Atiku, some governors might have calculated, would have been too ‘politically smart’ for the sort of games they were playing with the then malleable Jonathan.

If I were Jonathan I would try not to run in 2015 – not just because of the general perception that he has underperformed – but even more importantly to make a bold statement about sacrifice and integrity and that there should be life after power. Handled properly, such a bold step could help in healing a highly divided nation and rebuild trust. My fear however is that even if Jonathan does not want to run and assuming he has the will to resist pressures from those benefitting from his presidency, the politics of the opposition, with its embedded intimidation, can actually force him to run and ‘let the heavens break loose’. There is also the often overlooked vendetta by power incumbents, especially against their predecessors in office. Just look at some of the States where the governors lost in the last elections.

Nigerians rightly condemned Obasanjo for seeking tenure elongation. Given the nature of our politicians, I am not sure any future President of the country would not contrive ways to elongate his tenure. Obasanjo accepted defeat when his pet project of tenure elongation was defeated. We never really know how others will handle challenge to their attempts to elongate themselves in office.

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