By: Salisu Suleiman
As INEC unfolds its proposals for next year’s general elections in the midst of rising political activity, it is clearer than ever that if there is one thing common to Nigerian politicians, it is the fact that most of them do not look back at history and are thus unable to project, even hypothetically, what the future may be like. And because they are unable to draw the lessons from the past, they very often lack a strategic approach to power and politics. Indeed, from the jostling and postulations currently going on in the country, it is obvious that they also do not understand the nature and essence of power.
Our politicians have refused to learn from the fact that there has been no military leader in Nigeria who has not attempted to extend his tenure by one means or another. Similarly, no civilian president has ever voluntarily declined the chance for re-election. From colonial times till date, there have been few, if any, Nigerian politician at any level who has opted to step down from office, or not to stand for re-election. Not many Nigerians are aware that a major reason for the coup to oust General Yakubu Gowon was his attempt to prolong his rule. General Murtala Mohammed and others promptly threw him out and announced October 1979 as a date to hand over power back to civilians.
History may have credited General Olusegun Obasanjo as the first African military leader to organize democratic elections and transfer power to civilians, but he actually tried to woo African leaders in a bid to shift the hand over date. When they snubbed him, he organized the 1979 elections and handed over to his preferred candidate. As ineffectual as Shehu Shagari was as president, he sought a second term in office and got the NPN to do what the PDP has turned into sublime art: massive rigging. Shagari ended up spending most of what should have been his second term under house arrest. General Buhari either did not have the guile, or simply couldn’t be bothered to draw up a transition timetable. General Babangida took care of that and did it so well that Nigerians lost count of his timetables.
Abacha’s transition timetable was simply to die in office. He got his wish (though much earlier than he expected). It is tempting to point to Abdulsalam Abubakar who spent less than one year in office as an exception, but he had little option but to quickly organize elections and leave. It was a question of self-preservation. (And with oil selling at a lowly $9 a barrel, there wasn’t much to hang around for). Obasanjo’s much denied Third Term bid was every bit real. And even frail Yar’Adua (Turai?) wanted a second term before divine intervention took care of events.
The point is: all those who think that Acting President Gooduck Jonathan will not run for President come 2011 have no idea about the enormous powers wielded by the Nigerian Presidency and the equally enormous resources at its disposal. With his easygoing mien and outward unwillingness, it is easy to underestimate Dr. Jonathan. But the man is a much more consummate power player than people, and even other politicians give him credit for. The greatest myth around Jonathan is the notion that he has always been a reluctant leader, and that by some miracle, power has always followed him. To have successfully sold that dummy is one of the smartest acts of political subtlety in Nigeria.
Every experienced politician knows that power does not follow anybody. It has to be fought for. Some are so desperate for power that they lose all sense of propriety in its pursuit, even to the point of obsession. By indicating his disinclination to run, Jonathan has effectively diffused the tension brewing up, especially about the issue of rotational presidency. He has also thrown a large, juicy bone to the political dogs in Nigeria who are now battling to position themselves for either the role of vice president, or at least to emerge as the PDP nominee for presidential elections in 2011. The PDP added spice to the soup by insisting that its presidential candidate in 2011 will come from the North. Really?
At the moment, all sorts of permutations are going on. The same old faces like Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu Gusau, Atiku Abubakar, Muhammadu Buhari are jostling for handholds. Some pretenders like Ibrahim Shekarau, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Danjuma Goje, Sule Lamido, Bukola Saraki and Isa Yuguda are also strategizing in the hope that some sort of miracle will occur. These people underestimate the determination of the younger generation which has vowed that none of these candidates will smell the presidency even by a million miles because they are part of the problem. Several movements have come up to ensure that fresh faces and tested patriots in the mould of Nasir el-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu or Ahmed Adamu Muazu emerge as president. These groups are consulting with, and extending their reach to other regions, professional bodies, civil society and other political groups to ensure the success of their strategies.
Except that it may not be as easy to shove Jonathan aside. Unless the man really does not want to be president, these politicians may be in for a rude shock. At the appropriate time, and with the appropriate level of reluctance, Jonathan will ‘unwillingly’ allow himself to be persuaded to run for president. He won’t be running because he has any ambitions. He will run only after ‘deeply reflecting on the calls from Nigerian patriots home and abroad, traditional rulers, majority of governors, and out of respect for the wishes of the Nigerian people’. He will claim that it his patriotic duty to run for president at the country’s hour of need. Or something like that….