President Jonathan and 2015: When Law Trumps Ethics, By Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo

I believe that every Nigerian has the constitutional right to contest any office in the land.  To this extent I believe that President Jonathan has the right to contest. However, the relevant questions for President Jonathan’s candidacy in 2015 and the candidacy of other Nigerians in similar position as President Jonathan who have clearly stated earlier that they would not contest is the question of ethics.  Even though the circumstances for each contestant may be different, the facts are that it is on record that President Jonathan said he would not go for a second term.

Before we go on, these are the facts. They should be controverted factually if false. In 2010, a day before President Jonathan made public his decision to run for Presidency, the then director of Jonathan/Sambo campaign, Mr. Dalhatu Tafida said “The President wants to run for one term…Let us give him the four years and see how he performs.” We do not have records that President Jonathan controverted or corrected Mr. Tafida. And in his speech to Nigerians in the Diaspora in Ethiopia in 2011 when he attended an African Summit meeting, President Jonathan said: “I would have loved that Nigerians in the Diaspora vote this year (April 2011). But to be frank with you that is going to be difficult now…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 question therefore is: if it is true as it is true that President Jonathan said publicly to Nigerians, and to his own party and campaign director in PDP, that he would not contest for a second term, is it ethically sound for him not to stand by his statement?

Those who defend the view that President Jonathan has the right to contest argue that there is no formal law in our country’s formal books of law and in the nation’s constitution that bars him. I believe those who defend the president on this ground of formal law are right.  Such formal law does not exist.

But those who defend the view that President Jonathan ought not contest argue that he needs to uphold an ethical position on this issue rather than a formal legal position. They point to two things. First is that they argue that it is unethical and immoral for a human to take a position today and change it tomorrow.  This is about consistency in our moral positions. They argue that moral inconsistency is the ground for moral deception, opportunism and anarchy we see in the land. In other words, they believe that if we humans are free to change our positions at will, and at the drop of the hat, then it means we do not place any import on trust.   In other words, they want to say that trust is displaced if we can change our position at will.

Second, in talking about trust, they appeal to status. In this regard, given that we mortals are no angels, they want to grant and allow the possibility of mind-change on an important issue to less mortals. They allow this for less mortals who do not hold the fate of the country in their hand. However, a mortal such as a president is not an ordinary person because a president of a country holds his/her position on trust if properly elected. For example the presidents of super power countries hold the key to nuclear bombs. Thus if it is granted that such presidents can change their minds at will and capriciously, then we humans are in danger for the key to the nuclear bomb can be pressed whimsically and we  all will be dead. Thus, they argue that president Jonathan ought not to be allowed to change his mind at will because   the position of the president of a country is too important for he/she holds our fate and he holds the position on moral trust.

Third they link the issue of a president holding “our fate” in his hand to the circumstance(s) that must have led President Jonathan to say that he will not go for a second term. Such circumstance was (i) the factor that produced President Yar adua, (ii) President Yar Adua’s unexpected death, and (iii) the need to uphold the circumstance within the PDP that produced the then President Yar adua.

Thus, the question is: if President Jonathan recognized those “circumstances” then, why would he change his position today?

Finally, those who argue against President Jonathan’s candidacy in 2015  on moral ground point to the nature of modern societies as that of a social contract. The modern state is a social contract which is both written and unwritten. The social contract is defined by written and unwritten moral principles for the idea of a contract is a moral idea. Thus, the idea of social contract provides the metaphysical background against which every act of citizens in the modern state is measured.

For example, a citizen’s claim to do X or not to do X is measured against that background of a social contract. In other words, for President Jonathan to go back on his words, we are either going to say that our country is not a social contract or that we are not part of civilized nations and states whose conduct is governed by the idea of a social contract of which the visible and invisible; written and unwritten  features are ethical.

President Jonathan, his media men and managers of his  campaign may deny it if they want. But if our dear country wishes to be part of a civilized and modern world, we must see President Jonathan’s public statement to Nigerian citizens in Ethiopia in 2011 that “though I will not be running  for election…”  as a moral and public expression of a social contract. The president’s spokespersons are also sources of articulation of such contract. To this extent, and until Mr. Dalhatu Tafida denies what he said in 2010 that the “president (president Jonathan) wants to run for one term” we must believe that  Mr. Tafida was expressing  President Jonathan’s contract with Nigerian citizens.

In view of President Jonathan’s failure to either publicly retract that moral contract he expressed in Ethiopia,  those who fail to   recognize that the most important problem and challenge  in our country today is ethical will need to do a serious examination and re-think.  This is also the reason why patriots who gather in different organizations including in new political parties such as APC  need to do a more sober reflection in making moral choices. Modern, civilized, inclusive and stable societies and countries rest on an ethical foundation. This is the reason citizens in such countries do not resort to violence  when they disagree for they are guided by the moral and ethical principles, which underpin the idea of the modern society as a social contract. It is those moral principles that breadth life to the idea of a modern state as a social contract, which citizens defend and which deter citizens from  resorting to violence to resolve an issue.  Sadly, this moral act is what President Jonathan and his managers simply fail to understand by their moral conduct.

In this regard, when law is made to trump ethics in the case of President Jonathan’s 2015 candidacy, it is a simple aggression against ethics while upholding the formal face of law.  This does not mean that President Jonathan does not have the legal and constitutional right to contest. Of course he does. But without retracting his Ethiopia moral contract with Nigerian citizens and without stating reasons for such retraction, President Jonathan  would have  exercised a formal right only  at the expense of a moral infraction- an infraction  which is derived from his own position to Nigerians in Ethiopia and from his  party spokespersons  such as Mr. Tafida.

History shows that laws hold a country together peacefully only when such laws are rested on ethics and on the idea of moral principles that glue a nation together as a  social contract.  President Jonathan’s advisers may need to pay attention to this otherwise the President and his regime would have either lost the moral basis to prosecute youths who engage in 419 fraudulent acts or the President and his regime by their own immorality affirm the youths’ unethical 419 fraudulent acts. This is what happens when formal law is made to trump ethics. And this is immoral.

Adeolu Ademoyo ( is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

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