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Dawn of New Nigeria at 50—Dissecting the Jonathan Declaration
By: Franklin Otorofani, Esq.  Published October 1st, 2010

His Facebook declaration was an instant hit and first in history perhaps warranting a place in the Guinness Book of Record; his Eagle Square, Abuja, declaration was unprecedented in its breadth and depth sending shivers down the spines of his opponents and seismic tremors into their terrified camps; but what does Jonathan’s declaration really mean for our beleaguered nation? In other words, what is the value proposition immanent in the Jonathan’s declaration to offer himself as candidate for the nation’s Number One seat in 2011?

This article attempts to answer this singular poser, because buried in the answer is the future of Nigeria and her place in the comity of nations.

Jonathan’s declaration of intent to contest the 2011 presidential election at the Eagle, Abuja, was neither the first declaration of intent to contest presidential elections in Nigeria nor was it the first to take place at that venue. In fact, two days earlier a similar declaration of intent had taken place at that same venue by a notorious presidential pretender whose name I will not dignify in this article because it is bad news for Nigeria.

Except for his bootlickers and those who are out to make a quick buck from his treasure trove of loot everyone else seems to agree with this view including his former associates in and outside the military who have deserted him like a general without troops. It’s worthy of note that of all the presidential aspirants crowding into the field of play this is the only one whose candidacy would portend present and imminent danger to the nation that must be stopped in his track. Nigerians will accept anything but… 

Every Nigerian ethnic language has an exclamation to ward off potential misfortune, but I would go for the one from the Igbo ethnic group, “Tufia!” (God forbid)! That a man whose name should forever live in infamy and blotted out of the pantheon of Nigerian leaders with red ink has again arrogantly put his hand up in a roll call of future leaders is a monumental provocation that must call all men and women of goodwill who love this serially raped and abused nation and her troubled citizenry to political action without prodding. Nigerians are rising up to say no to evil, not again. They’re saying no to squander-mania and festering corruption. Yes, they’re saying no to geriatric presidency. And I’m supremely confident that God will spare this harassed nation another calamitous rule from the Evil One.

That was a necessary and timely distraction because it all ties into the subject of this piece, which is about the future of the nation viewed from the perspectives of the presidential aspirants many of whom have quite frankly become the proverbial old wines in new bottles except for Jonathan among the leading aspirants. That is not to dismiss or ignore the younger ones tiptoeing into the field of play as if afraid to make a splash with their entries, but to square up with the political realities on the ground. This is not the place to assess the relative viability of their candidacies, but to deal with the realities on the ground. Jonathan is the focus of this piece and the assessment of other aspirants must therefore take the back seat for now.  

Would Jonathan’s candidacy make a difference? If he was not the first to make a declaration of intent to vie for the nation’s number one position in or outside of that venue, how was his declaration different from the ones that preceded it? What qualitative difference did Jonathan bring to bear on his declaration that sets him apart from his contemporaries?

In answering this question I must admit my limitations for not being physically present in Nigeria to witness firsthand the declaration. I must confess that I missed the public excitement and the general atmospherics in the declaration, which only my physical presence could have guaranteed. As such, I cannot claim firsthand knowledge of the event. I’m therefore constrained to deal with the broader ramifications of the event which is even more important. But even so one could feel the excitement in the air across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the build up to the carefully choreographed declaration. The huge waves of public excitement in the Jonathan declaration cascaded beyond Nigerian shores across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans buffeting their shorelines in near Tsunamic proportions. And they got to me in my living room, not at political meetings, because I’m not a politician but a political analyst with no partisan agenda to push and force down the throats of my readership even though I have my political preferences like everyone else out there. Other than that, I’m just an interested citizen like everyone else wondering what the buzz was all about. After all, who, in the world did not key into the declaration, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike? And which world leader did not pay close attention to the historic event taking place in Nigeria? Jonathan took speculation out of his dream, turning it into a living reality that unsettled entrenched political interests and upended reactionary forces in Nigeria.

I’m naturally interested in anything and everything that’s discomforting to reactionary forces and the status quo ante in Nigeria, and Jonathan’s declaration was a violent jolt to those forces. Those opportunists who had counted on ridding to power on the back of the PDP horse named “Zoning” and hoping that the president would suddenly develop cold feet and pull out of the race to clear the way for them got their worst fears realized and their hopes dashed on the rocks of determination and dogged pursuit of political ambition by a man long written off as a paperweight by Nigeria’s political wheeler dealers.

That’s right. The man they had derisively and contemptuously described as “political lightweight” with no “political power base” or “political structure” on the ground, who would be easily tossed aside to give way to the so-called political heavyweights literarily brought the nation to a standstill with his declaration of intent to contest for the nation’s presidency on September 18, 2010, at the nation’s capital graced by who’s who in the land. His opponents were too dumb to understand that Nigeria’s imperial presidency automatically confers the heavyweight class on the occupant of the nation’s Number One seat. Yes, they do not understand the power of incumbency. They now know who is the real political heavyweight, but their knowledge is too little too late to make a difference.       

Jonathan’s declaration says much about careful political planning. Unlike the renegades he did not rush it even when pressured to do it and built up huge expectation in the air while at the same time allowing his opponents to do the supporting shows before the main event. There’s no question that a lot of planning had gone into that event and that must have explained its delayed execution. And when it came time for execution it flowed with clinical efficiency without a single flaw. If this is an indication of how Jonathan will run his government there’s indeed cause for hope. Careful planning, flawless execution! It was the result of good and methodical planning rather than the ad hoc, fire brigade scenes we have been harangued with by presidential pretenders.

The planning involved not just the wide consultations necessitated by the PDP zoning imbroglio but the innovations that it embodied of which the Facebook declaration was just the opening salvo. It was reported that the president personally extended invitations to his opponents in the PDP to grace his declaration. One newspaper, ThisDay, described it as the first in Nigeria’s history and “talking politics without bitterness” championed by the late Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri of the defunct Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) in the second Republic, “to a whole new level.” All these are qualitative innovations in leadership styles because the tone of leadership is just as important as the substance of it. Jonathan has since thanked Nigerians for making his declaration a mammoth success. That too is a first-small but important gestures in political showmanship.

And although Jonathan is the sitting president at this moment in time and Nigerians are already getting used to his style, it is important that he sets the right tone for his leadership and maintain same now and in the future in order to properly define his leadership style as a wholesome departure from the past, because change is not just a matter of flipping the faces of individuals in the corridors of power, but of policies and their execution as well as of leadership styles. And this is so because at the end of the day it’s not necessarily the number of projects commissioned by a leader that he’s remember for long after he has quit the stage, but the style and quality of his leadership.  

But before we go into the broader ramifications of his declaration, however, it is crucially important that we examine what his declaration tells us about his person and the quality of his character as a person. If Jonathan’s declaration sent any message to Nigerians in particular and to the world in general, it is this:

“I will not allow my enemies and detractors to alter or dictate my destiny and rob me of my natural, legal and constitutional rights as a citizen of my country or for that matter allow them to determine my economic and political future, because I have placed my destiny in my own hands and mold it into whatever shape I desire for myself.” 

Now, that’s a message that I can live with and one that should reverberate in all the nooks and crannies of the world’s citadels of injustice, oppression and marginalization. It’s a message that should be etched permanently in our national consciousness as fitting bequest to generations yet unborn. It’s a message that should be propagated in every homestead and in every village, town, and city until it becomes our living national will and testament, and the unwritten code of our nation’s political, economic and social intercourse.

He has sent the message that, win or lose, his right to vie for any office in the land would not be altered, denied, abridged, short-circuited, or otherwise tampered with under any guise, shape or form. He has delivered the message that no amount of threat, intimidation or politics of exclusion would prevent him from pursuing his dreams to their logical conclusions. And as he delivers that message live and direct from the nation’s pristine capital, echoing across the length and breadth of his fatherland, that child in that far away home or farmstead in that far flung village in Imo, Jigawa, Ondo, Delta, Cross River, Taraba, or Benue state, is listening attentively and taking his or her notes about what’s possible in his/her country, Nigeria.

He/she is taking mental notes about the crumbling walls of political exclusion and fiefdom in Nigeria that had prevented his/her stock from ascending the commanding heights of his country’s leadership since her independence and sees the dawn of a brand new era in the unfolding events in the nation’s political scene. In fact, he/she is witness to history in the making. That is the kind inspiration that the Jonathan declaration has brought to bear on the polity, that a child not born with silver spoon could ascend the summit of political power in Nigeria by pulling himself up by his or her own bootstraps through education, hard work and determination.

As the president himself puts it, that child in any of the above mentioned and other such politically marginalized places in Nigeria has hope “that a child from Otuoke, a small village in the Niger Delta, will one day rise to the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” And as it is for Otuoke, in Bayelsa state, so shall it be for all such places in Nigeria, because change has come to Nigeria. In Jonathan’s own words:   

“My story symbolizes my dream for Nigeria. The dream that any Nigerian child from Kaura- Namoda to Duke town; from Potiskum to Nsukka, from Isale-Eko to Gboko will be able to realize his God-given potentials, unhindered by tribe or religion and unrestricted by improvised political inhibitions. My story holds out the promise of a new Nigeria. A Nigeria built on the virtues of love and respect for one another, on unity, on industry, on hardwork and on good governance.”

Jonathan said it all and I couldn’t have said it better. And if the reader is mistaking Jonathan for Obama he/she is excused because the comparison is indeed striking. Jonathan’s story closely mirrors Obama’s story—one of a political underdog with poor background rising to the pinnacle of power.

But there’s another message embedded in the Jonathan declaration, which I had alluded to in my previous article to the effect that Jonathan needs to run in order to put to rest the notion that he has not won any election by himself and had always benefitted from the misfortunes of his former bosses. No politician worth his salt would allow such a stigma to be stuck with him in perpetuity. There’s, therefore, a need for him to throw his hat into the ring in his own right as a head of a ticket with someone else acting as his running mate this time around rather than being a perpetual running mate to someone else throughout his political career. And he could only do so by gunning for a political office, and the only one available to him in his capacity as president, is the office of the president in the next election. By throwing his hat into the ring, therefore, Jonathan has sent this message to the world:

“I’m capable of running and winning an election into any elective office of my choice including the office of the governor of a state and president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as head of my ticket with a running mate of my choice, and no force on earth can stop me from attaining my dream.”   

Here again, this is a message that sits well with me. Jonathan has got to prove that he’s a politician who can run and win elections in his own right rather than being an appendage to somebody else and the forthcoming presidential election presents a golden opportunity to demonstrate this to the whole world.

The nation has not quite seen Jonathan campaign for an elective office. Jonathan is still largely unknown to Nigerians in that particular sense. How would Jonathan conduct himself as head of a ticket? How would he conduct his campaign in relation to other candidates? What would be his style of politicking? Will it be issue-based or the sickening ethnic/cum religious effusions of political desperadoes as we knew it in the past? Will he introduce some elements of civility or enlightened politicking into the mix or the do-or-die political battlefields that Nigerians have been weaned on? Will he resort to mudslinging, which is the traditional staple of his opponents? The answers to these are still up in the air. As running mate not much was known about Jonathan heretofore on these issues, but the nation will have the opportunity of watching and assessing his personal brand of politics in the next few months, which will have far reaching implications in the polity. His Abuja declaration offered the nation a window into his brand of politics and that’s why this analysis is so germane to the overall political discourse. 

And that takes us back to the original question: What qualitative difference did Jonathan bring to bear on his declaration that sets him apart from his contemporaries? For starters that 27 of the 28 PDP governors attended the declaration ceremony is testament to Jonathan’s organizing abilities as well as his general acceptability. It is instructive to note that all the PDP governors from the North, East, West and South attended the declaration with the only missing governor being Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara state who is himself a presidential aspirant and would not therefore be expected at the ceremony though invited. Besides, all the PDP chieftains were in attendance.

It would appear that all chieftains of the party in and out of government had decided to make a statement of Jonathan’s acceptability to fly the party’s flag come 2011. This is the first time such near unanimity is being exhibited in favor of a presidential aspirant, who is not yet the party’s candidate.

But it’s the result of strategic footwork carried out by his campaign. The fact that Jonathan had named serving governors as his zonal campaign coordinators was a political masterstroke that gave governors a direct stake and responsibility in the emergence of Jonathan as the party’s candidate during the primaries and thereafter in the elections proper. While it is entirely possible that some individuals present at the declaration might have double faces as I had indeed warned in an earlier article, there is no question that the physical presence and pledges of support for the president’s ambition at the ceremony makes it extremely hard for such individuals to turn coat knowing that their political activities and allegiances are under close watch by the party and the Jonathan camp. Nothing is hidden in politics when it comes to the allegiance of an individual leader.

It’s fair to conclude therefore that their public show of support for the Jonathan candidacy is genuine because they have a genuine stake in Jonathan’s victory especially for both returning and retiring governors of the party. And what’s more? Jonathan’s cozy relationship with the PDP governors, who had been allowed to have their way at almost every turn must have paved the way for their public endorsement of his candidacy under the PDP Governors’ Forum earlier on before his eventual declaration. In other words, he had worked hard to water the flowers that blossomed at his declaration.

Without having to speculate on this point, therefore, Jonathan’s victory at the polls would rub off on the returning governors and parliamentarians and vice versa depending on the order of elections. The same is true of retiring governors who are not in a hurry to retire from politics and are therefore looking up to the center for further opportunities to serve the nation in other capacities. And who is in a better position than Jonathan to help them actualize their own individual dreams and aspirations? That, in part, would explain the massive presence of party chieftains, serving office holders, and party faithful. Jonathan is currently the national symbol and representative of the PDP in national affairs. His vision is their vision and his mission is their mission. Again, it’s the power of incumbency at work.

And there are precedents everywhere for serving presidents enjoying automatic tickets for second terms. Whether in advanced or young democracies, no serving president has been denied a chance to go for re-election except where there is some great scandal involving the president, and the PDP is certainly not an exception. The party’s support for President Jonathan is therefore in tandem with global best practices and historical precedents. This is not to say that the primaries are not needed, but its’ fair to say that they’re merely in fulfillment of the books as required by law.

However the point need be made here and now that those contesting against Jonathan as sitting president in the PDP primaries must expect similar treatment next time around when a sitting president from their own ethnic stock or different ethnic background goes for re-election. By challenging Jonathan a precedent has been set that will be followed in future elections. There will be no automatic ticket for a sitting president in the ruling party and all doors are open to challenge a sitting president’s re-election bid in his own party. It must not start and end with Jonathan. This is a point that must be etched in the nation’s political consciousness going forward.

If late President Yar’Adua were alive today and had chosen to go for a second term, it is doubtful if anyone from the PDP would have challenged his re-election bid. It’s doubtful if there would have been PDP presidential primaries in the first place except to endorse his candidacy. His candidacy would have been a foregone conclusion. When Shehu Shagari was in power and went for re-election he got it on a platter without challenge from the South. Chief MKO Abiola was forced out of the NPN in 1983 when he tried to challenge Shagari in that year’s presidential election under the party’s platform. This has been the history. Yet the PDP allowed Northern aspirants to challenge OBJ in 2003 and it’s doing the same thing to Jonathan in 2010. This raises the question whether or not it’s the party’s policy to throw the contest open to all aspirants only when a southerner is in power. I will however not pursue this point any further in the interest of national unity but it’s some food for thought for those preaching the gospel of zoning.      

In his speech that has been described as the best yet since he became president, Jonathan presented the nation with the vision that’s driving his ambition.

“Our country is at the threshold of a new era; an era that beckons for a new kind of leadership; a leadership that is uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past; a leadership committed to change; a leadership that reinvents government, to solve the everyday problems that confront the average Nigerian.”

This is the summation of the Jonathan’s declaration. The first line of the quote talks about a country that “is at the threshold of a new era.” That is a bold statement that can only come from one who has made some bold moves. The title of this piece was in fact inspired by this self evident promise that’s already unfolding in the present Jonathan administration even today. This writer does not deal with mere promises by politicians but with the objective realities on the ground as to the focus and direction of the government in power which happens for the time being to be led by Jonathan himself. Therefore, his declaration must be matched with the realities on the ground.

Now let’s examine this a little closer. Jonathan talks about the country being at the threshold, meaning at the beginnings of a new era. He didn’t say we are there yet but on the way there. It means the nation is only just beginning to turn away from the ways of the past and moving into a future defined by a different set of values. It’s like steering a ship lost at sea with a broken compass in a totally different direction with the help of a new compass pointed in the desired direction, and taking her to her destination. The process of steering that lost steam liner that is Nigeria has only just begun.

However, it is not enough just to begin that process, it is important that the process is seen to its completion. And that takes commitment and perseverance, and above all, continuity to bring about. In that regard, the reader would notice the words “committed to change” and “leadership that reinvents government.” These are the ingredients required to accomplish the task of ushering the nation into a new era of total transformation from a backward, corrupt-ridden nation, where anything goes, to a truly modern, industrialized nation, where nothing goes except as prescribed by law and the constitution and doing away with mutual ethno-religious distrusts and other primordial encumbrances.

The reader would notice in this regard the words “a leadership that is uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past.” This line hints directly at the problem of ethno-religious prejudices that’s prevalent in the nation today, which has prevented her from attaining her goals. We see that even today in the zoning argument in the ruling party. There is no democracy in the world where certain elective positions are reserved for certain sections of the country but it’s happening live in Nigeria due to ethno-religious prejudices thus artificially stifling political competition and denying the nation the best materials for political leadership positions—all in the name of promoting a sense of belonging amongst the component units of the federation as if sense of belonging can and must only be purchased at the price of democracy and political competition.

If positions in all other spheres of our national life are acquired through fair competition it is inconceivable and therefore unacceptable that the reverse should be the case with regard to offices of state. If the parties choose to practice zoning in the allocation of party offices so be it, but no one should impose zoning in state political offices that’s not authorized or sanctioned under the laws and constitution of the land. It defeats totally the idea of one nation.

Nigeria will be 50 by the time this piece gets published. And she will be celebrating her jubilee with pomp and pageantry all over the world. It’s a shame that Nigeria is still a conglomeration of mini-nations rather than a nation fifty years after independence. Zoning is a reaffirmation and revalidation of the statement that Nigeria is still, in the words of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “a mere geographical expression” rather than a nation. This appears to be what President Jonathan is set to rectify by damping down the prejudices of the past because he’s uncontaminated by them! While the rest of the bunch is running around fanning the embers of ethnicity, he remains above and beyond the fray as a statesman.

When other failed leaders have chosen to reduce themselves to ethnic champions rather than statesmen Jonathan has distinguished himself as a uniquely positioned statesman who is uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past. Thus if the nation is truly looking for a detribalized leader who will turn her away from the past and move her into a glorious future the choice couldn’t be more stark between those who represent the past and business as usual and those who represent the future devoid of ethno-religious cleavages, mutual distrusts, and recriminations.

This statesmanlike disposition is aptly captured in the following words uttered in his declaration:      

“I have come to launch a campaign of ideas, not one of calumny. I have come to preach love, not hate. I have come to break you away from divisive tendencies of the past which have slowed our drive to true nationhood. I have no enemies to fight. You are all my friends and we share a common destiny.

Now, how many times have you heard a Nigerian leader utter such refreshing words of inspiration? Yes, words alone do not get the job done but they provide a roadmap and the mental disposition of a leader about the issues at stake. Words offer us a window into the thinking of a leader and invariably become the yardsticks with which to judge the actions and performances of leaders down the road. That’s why leaders are held to their promises during elections. In that regard therefore the words of a leader are just as important as his performance in office overall.

If presidential aspirant Goodluck Jonathan says he’s all about politics of ideas, he will be judged by that standard during his electioneering campaigns. If he says he has come to break away from divisive tendencies of the past, he will be judged by that standard down the road. And if he says he has come to preach love, not hate that is a bond he has entered into with the Nigerian people and by which he will be judged in future. He has set a standard for himself and he will be held to that standard. So words are not just words but bonds.

The important thing to note here is that given his position, his public commitment to these wholesome ideals that are presently lacking presents a major challenge not only to him but to his opponents in the race because they form a barometer with which to measure the performance and comportment of other candidates as well should they decide to take the low road during the campaigns by resorting to primordial tactics and politics of personal destruction rather than of ideas as espoused by Jonathan. That to me is one of the qualitative differences he has brought to bear on the polity with respect to how political campaigns are conducted with civility and decorum.

It is instructive to note that it did not start and end with the declaration but has continued to define and animate the Jonathan campaign philosophy till this day while others are resorting to the usual tactics of mudslinging, which is not altogether surprising because that’s all they know. As the saying goes, you could have a cat drink a whole drum of palm oil to change the color of its defecation, but it would still put out black excreta regardless!  

And now we go from the general vision to some specifics in the declaration:

“Let the word go out from this Eagle Square that Jonathan as President in 2011 will herald a new era of transformation of our country; an era that will end the agony of power shortage in our country. Let the word go out from here that I will be for the students, teachers and parents of Nigeria, a President who will advance quality and competitive education.

Let everyone in this country hear that I shall strive to the best of my ability to attain self sufficiency in food production. Let the word go out that my plans for a Sovereign Wealth Fund with an initial capital of $1billion will begin the journey for an economic restoration. This restoration will provide new job opportunities and alleviate poverty. Let the word go out that our health sector will receive maximum priority in a new Jonathan administration, a priority that will ensure maximum health care and stop our brain drain.

Let all the kidnappers, criminal elements, and miscreants that give us a bad name be ready for the fight that I shall give them. Let the ordinary Nigerian be assured that President Jonathan will have zero tolerance for corruption…?

The good thing about this is that these are not mere promises coming from a presidential aspirant. Anyone can truss out promises that are never meant to be kept as the nation has witnessed time and again. And that’s why Jonathan said in his Facebook declaration that he would “promise less and deliver more!”

These problematic areas are already receiving appropriate attention as indicated earlier whether we’re talking about power and energy supplies, transportation infrastructures, security of lives and properties, healthcare and education, and even electoral reforms. The power of incumbency is double edged. While it imposes a duty on the incumbent to demonstrate his bona fides it also gives an incumbent the chance to get things moving in the right direction that is not open to non-incumbent, which he could showcase as his achievements and practical demonstration of his vision and mission.

So, for instance, Jonathan could point to the launch of the power sector roadmap and the improvements in power and energy supplies. He could point to achievements in the education sector as well as in transportation infrastructures. He could point to his well received electoral reforms and Nigeria’s rebound in diplomatic circles including her election into the Security Council, Air Transportation Security certification by the US Department of Transportation, as well as her delisting from the US Terrorist Watch List. He can point to the massive works going on or about to start in the nation’s international gateways. He could point to Nigeria’s rehabilitation in the international arena as tangible achievements as well as examples of what lie ahead in his presidency. All these have come to pass within three months of his presidency.

This is however not a reason to pound his chest by declaring that all is now well in the polity, far from it. And he did not. The security situation is far from normalized and the roads are still far from healthy overall, so also is electricity supply, but the great work has started and there is no going back. But there is no way all of the huge problems inherited could have been solved overnight within the span of three months. It’s sufficient that the great work has begun in earnest and there is no going back on the task to making Nigeria whole again. One can only imagine what four more years will bring to the fortunes of our great nation under Jonathan’s leadership, and continuity is critical to success in this regard. One cannot stress this too much. 

At 50, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan has the singular honor of presiding over the affairs of the nation at her grand 50th birthday celebration. No other Nigerian leader has that historical honor.

At 50, the nation has a brand new president who is committed to change and will lead her into a certain future of total transformation.

 At 50, Nigeria is at the Dawn of a New Era to fulfill the dreams of her founding fathers and change the narrative for the better in the next 50 years at her centenary celebration.

At 50, it’s celebration time for a nation that has defied every doomsday prophesy of disintegration and still going strong!

Happy Celebrations!—One Nation, One People, One Destiny!!

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria and may your days be long!!!


Franklin Otorofani, Esq. contact:

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