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Jonathan’s Place in the South West

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Somehow, I have become a victim of my position that the achievements of an incumbent may not necessarily be the central issue in an electioneering campaign but other issues as formulated by the more vocal of the contending tendencies in an electoral contest. I think this election is the best proof of the correctness of my stance, notwithstanding the fact that my candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan, is the one that has been adversely affected.

I had argued at a strategy session that whilst it was important to highlight the achievements of the President in the last four years in the campaign for his re-election, I warned that it was necessary to pay more attention to the opposition’s propaganda that labelled President Jonathan as a non-performing leader, who had no clue to all issues so basic to the lives of our people. That was their overt narrative. The covert narrative, which was more devastating, was the sublime campaign of calumny that the President was responsible for a number of challenges that directly affronted the sensibilities of our people. Yet most of those challenges were caused by the negligence and mischief of the opposition politicians.

The opposition’s demonising campaign started two years ago and became intensified in the last six months so much so that by the time the actual electioneering started, the opposition’s theme of the President as the perpetrator of all that was evil in the nation had become the sing-song of even the otherwise educated and enlightened in the society. 

In the North, the commoners were told that President Jonathan was a usurper that did not like Northerners, and that that was why he neglected the zone and promoted the scourge called Boko Haram to decimate their population. Perceptive observers of the political current in the North would admit that this is the basis of the anger in that region that accounts for more than 50% of the electorate. If the electioneering were all about achievements of the President, would this have been the issues for consideration? President Jonathan ought to be coasting home to easy victory in the North. Why?

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of the North. More than 70% of the national budget, under President Jonathan’s watch, has been spent in the North because as he put in Gusau, “that is where the arable land is.” The educational backwardness of the North even in this century is well known. President Jonathan, more than all the Nigerian leaders put together, offered Northerners more access to education than ever before. Of the 14 universities established by his administration, 10 of them are in the North. It was him that found it necessary to reform the Almajirai system by building 125 boarding schools for them. Meanwhile, more than 50% of the 25,000km of roads rehabilitated or built by his administration are in the North. In terms of security, President Jonathan did his bit. At inception the Boko Haram bomb-throwing menace impacted negatively on 12 states of the North. Despite all odds, he reduced these to three states, and by last week to three local governments.

Even politically speaking, should the North be interested in a one-term presidency of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari or a post- President Jonathan two-term presidency? This is particularly germane when we take into consideration our established sense of political equity in the country. Or was it not that sense that produced a Yoruba presidency 1999?

The South West provides further evidence of my stance. Until the President practically took over his campaign five weeks ago, the region was a battle ground. Yet it was a stronghold of President Jonathan in 2011. In spite of some Afenifere elements’ support for Gen. Buhari that year, he could not obtain the required 25% of the votes cast in any of the six states in the region. But opposition propaganda had put the region in jeopardy. The President’s administration had marginalised the region by not giving it choice appointments in the hierarchy of the nation’s leadership, was the common refrain. How true? And weighed against President Jonathan’s alignment with the cherished political values of the South West, should there be a doubt about where the allegiance of its people should lie?  

For years the South West had clamoured for a national dialogue over the lopsided structure of the federation, demanding for a major review that will allow the constituents to develop at their own pace. Every administration since independence had resisted this demand. It was President Jonathan who acceded to it last year and committed to implement the 600 recommendations unanimously adopted by the National Conference held in Abuja.

This revolution of sort, if fully blossomed, would remove the basis of the complaint of marginalisation that the anti-Jonathan politicians had been promoting. Meanwhile, were the facts of the complaint the central issue, President Jonathan should be a hero in the region.

The President’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party, by its zoning and rotation of political offices principle, had allotted the positions of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate to the South West. In the party hierarchy, the position of the National Secretary was allocated to the South West. President Jonathan, as the party leader, made adequate arrangements to implement the PDP policy. A revolt within the PDP caucus in the House, however, frustrated the implementation of the policy. But the rebellion would have failed without the support of the Yoruba-dominated Action Congress of Nigeria led by the Asiwaju of Lagos, Senator Bola Tinubu, who provided the block vote to defeat the PDP nominee, Hon. Mulikat Akande, from Oyo State.

In the meantime, the Majority Leader position in the Senate had become impracticable for the South West to take because the PDP, which was the majority party, had no ranking senator from the region; hence the position was ceded to the South South. There was, however, a mitigating opportunity for the region in the position of the Minority Leader. There were at least two ranking senators, Ganiyu Solomon and Ayo Adeseun, from the Action Congress that could have taken up the slot. Again Senator Tinubu bye-passed the region and gave it to a non-ranking senator, George Akume, from the Benue State-homestead of the President of the Senate, David Mark.

The Action Congress-backed disruption in the House and its short-changing of the South West in the Senate effectively eliminated the region from the top hierarchy of the nation’s decision-making caucus with the attendant devastating consequence for the most politically sophisticated people in the country. 

In terms of other concrete political values of the South West – democracy, respect for human rights, justice, equity and fairness – President Jonathan is clearly a better associate of these time-honoured values than his closest rival, Gen. Buhari. This is evidenced by their antecedents. A thorough breed democrat, who had been part of the democratic process since 1999, President Jonathan’s administration, had allowed the basic principles of presidential democracy to flourish, even up to a point of tolerating the development of viable opposition in the polity. There is no known case of muscling of institutions of government and the press. Rather, he promoted the development of wide-ranging conditions for a transparent society. It is to his credit that the Freedom of Information Bill, a legislation that sought to open up governance, became a law. Its promoters had agitated for its passage for 11 years. Interestingly all the people who attempted to frustrate its passage are all behind Gen. Buhari today chanting: Change!

Jonathan’s main opponent is the exact opposite of all of these values. Given an opportunity to govern a complex country like Nigeria, Gen. Buhari tolerated no dissent and stood stoutly against all known democratic principles. Noted largely for the abuse of citizens’ rights it was under his watch that the greatest leader of the modern Yoruba nation, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was humiliated. He gagged the people and promulgated the worst anti- freedom law to date, Decree 4, which criminalised truth. Even as he claimed to be a born-again democrat today, he has offered no apology as restitution for his past deeds.

Why, therefore, one would ask, is there a struggle for the South West in spite of the unambiguous records of the two main contenders in Saturday’s presidential contest? The answer, for me, lays in the way the electioneering issues had been framed by the opposition. But happily, President Jonathan in realisation of this strategic error had moved swiftly in last five weeks to make amends. And feelers from the field show clearly that he is heading for a comprehensive victory in the most politically sophisticated region of the country.

•Adebiyi is the Special Assistant on Media to President Goodluck Jonathan     

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