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Jonathan: The lust for power

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What has His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, former President and Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, forgotten in Aso Villa, Abuja, that his imaginary or emergency supporters are urging him to go back and take, seven years after he was rejected at the poll?

Power is alluring. The pecks of office are so sweet. Yet, power is transient. It is permanently tempting and reassuring. But, it is also deceitful. It rekindles hope. It is the road to fame. It can also be the route to doom.

No politician would contemplate retirement. Those who have tasted public office are addicted to power. They will never embrace the reality that no condition is permanent. To political actors, political covetousness is a virtue.

The corridor of power is so magnetic and quite electrifying. The Cecerio of Esa-Oke, the late Chief Bola Ige, slain Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, once retorted at a rally in Ado-Ekiti: “Who is that person they would put crayfish in his mouth and he will not close the mouth and shew?”

But, the major question is whether the former President has the constitutional right to run or not.

Jonathan, a gentleman, according to those who know him, may be troubled by ego or the psychological effect of losing political control. He may have forgotten that he got to the vice presidency, not by struggle, but by divine grace. He never knew that God will make him president later.

As president, many of his moves were not inspiring, according to those who defected from his party. His foes, who wanted to displace him in 2014, dubbed him as a clueless leader. He carried the bow of fate on his head. He fought a hard battle.

In politics, observers content that he is both a success and a failure.

As deputy governor in Bayelsa State under his boisterous and larger-than-life boss, the late Diepreye Alamisyeseigha, he was the best example of a spare tyre. He was loyal and contented, and never on the front burner. However, fate catapulted him to the front seat. He not only succeeded his boss, he later served as vice president.

As number two citizen, he was almost a redundant deputy, never commanding any influence. Even, it was said that when some wealthy and pompous Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftains stormed Aso Villa to converse with President Umaru Yar’Adua, they usually demanded that he should excuse himself. So boring was the office that his very active and energetic wife, Mrs. Patience, lost her patience, decrying the condition of a vice president working hollow to the power-loaded President, a vice president whose preoccupation daily was reading newspapers.

But, he became the constitutional beneficiary of Yar’Adua’s protracted ill-health and demise, overcoming initial obstacles through the invocation of the novel doctrine of necessity. He served out his former’s boss’ term and retained power in a re-election in 2011.

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In 2015, he exceeded his luck by trampling on the principle of zoning or rotation, which the PDP is also trying to violate now by insisting that the North should hold the levers of power for 16 years.

But, when reality dawned on him that the time of political grace had eclipsed, he remained honourable in political distress by conceding defeat to the winner. The nation, and indeed, many African coubtries, ignored the failed tricks by Elder Godsday Orubebe and saluted Jonathan’s spirit of sportsmanship.

Outside power, the deflated ego has been very troubling, although he attracts the accolade of an elderstatesman who upheld national interest. He became a special envoy, held in esteem by Nigera’s neighbours in the sub-region and the African continent.

The former President is somehow beautiful on the podium, delivering lectures on his failed national conference, why he could not implement the report, the challenge of democratic elections, which have remained a nightmare, the compelling need for electoral reforms, national unity and good governance.

Since last year, there have been speculations that those who liquidated him politically were ploting to bring him back. He is not known to be an active PDP chieftain, having parted ways with Diri/Dickson forces in his native Bayelsa during the last governorship election when his supporters gravitated towards David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The schemers invaded the media, selling the idea of a single term for him, trying to kill two birds with a stone by pointing to the fact that his return to the highest office will also satisfy the yearning of the South for power shift, rotation or zoning. The candidature of a person, who the APC portrayed as a symbol of inept and corrupt leadership, is being sold to the now clueless ruling party, due to the contradictions in the platform.

The campaigners know that there is no difference between the APC and PDP. Both are ideologically dead entities. During the week, Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade, tried to supply the tonic. A weak presidential aspirant, he, nevertheless, hinted that he would step down for his former leader in PDP.

Jonathan’s capacity for resistance appears low. It is normal. It is peculiar to men of power and influence. Power is captivating. Politicians are sustained by incurable optimism; the elixir of hope. Tired of being left in the cold, they like to bounce back to political reckoning.

That was why in the days of the maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, ministers of yesteryears were dusted up in their old age to serve as ministers and errand boys for the dreadful dictator.

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Jonathan may be drawing strength in his distant predecessors, who previously tried to toy with the sensibility of the country. All of them, except, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, failed in their comeback bid.

Seventeen years after he was toppled as military Head of State by his boys, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, a doctor of political science, resurfaced during the dubious transition programme of the Babangida administration.

Jack, as he was fondly called, had no baggage. Some chieftains of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) begun to sell him as a unifier, a detribalised Nigerian, an apostle of national unity and an incorruptible leader. Gowon, who hails from Plateau, was out to bid for president from Kaduna, where he and other northern elite, reside.

Obasanjo was the first person to attack him. He asked from his former boss what he forgot in Aso Villa. It was during the Option A4 system. In later years, it was clear that OBJ was full of bile as he toed the same path. When his time came, he forgot his past admonition and tirade.

Gowon, who ruled the country for nine years, a soldier who ordinary could not hurt a fly, could also not fly during the intra-party contest. He lacked structure and appeal. The General returned to his open shell to play the role of an elderstatesman, moral voice and national prayer warrior.

The lesson was instructive. Former military President Ibrahim Babangida ignored it. The Evil Genius and great annuller most historic, democratic and credible presidential election, has been one of key backers of PDP since 1998. He was instrumental to the second coming of Obasanjo. In fact, it was speculated that he had a pact with the Ota farmer that he would consider him as successor after his two terms. But, politics is a slippery field.

Babangida toured the state chapters, selling himself to delegates. Gullible people thought he was still hugely popular, unknown that he was contending with a fading influence.

He was a great ruler and political experimenter. In eight years of his firm grip on Nigeria, he produced about 70 military governors, numerous ministers, ambassadors, heads of parastatals, commissions and panels. But, outside power, the crowd seemed to have dispersed. In retirement, he was nostalgic, taking solace in old glory.

To stop the morbid presidential ambition, Northern Elders set up a committee to screen aspirants, including IBB and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The panel, which was saddled with a PDP business, had as member a chieftain of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Chief Audu Ogbeh.

When it’s verdict was out, it showed preference for Atiku. The sharp arrow of rejection hit the old soldier, master tactician, dribbler and veteran coup plotter.  Since then, the aspiration has not been revived.

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Only Obasanjo tried his luck and triumphed. He was said to have resisted those urging him to come back. But, the Generals, his juniors, were taken aback, based on the rumour that after the annulment, some fans were said to have encouraged him to show interest in the position of Head of Interim Government. The true situation could not be ascertained by the media at that time.

But, Obasanjo was successfully persuaded in 1999 to run by Babangida, Chief Sunday Afolabi and others. He also won the election. It is up to posterity to judge whether the second coming was a blessing or otherwise.

Jonathan has heroes in this regard. If he succeeds, it will not be the first time. If he fails, it is not new. What is certain is that, like many African countries in the eighties, nineties and beyond, Nigerian political space is remarkable for recycling of leaders.

What is Jonathan’s contributions to the APC to warrant drafting him to the race? He may be banking on consensus, which in the light of the prevailing circumstances, is very remote. There is shortage of assurance because at this stage of electioneering, Jonathan is alien to the ruling party. In PDP, he seems to belong to the past, although he has not really renounced his membership of the opposition party.

Lawyers are also raising legal issues.

According to Section 137(3) of the constitution, a person who was sworn in to complete the term for which another person was elected as president shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term.

Jonathan has been sworn in twice, as acting president and president. The constitution says a person can only be sworn in as president on two occasions. If he contests again, his term of office will exceed eight years, if his years as acting president are taken into consideration. Eight years is the maximum.

The legal opinion cannot be brushed aside. There is more awareness now, unlike 2015 when he contested. It may be risky. If the former President contests on the platform of the APC, opposition parties can go to court. His participation may be voided by court.

But, being elected twice is different from being sworn in twice. Jonathan was elected only once. He only paired with the late Yar’Adua in 2007. He was sworn in only once as Acting President. He was also only sworn in as President once.

In the past, the Court of Appeal said Jonathan can re-contest. Now that the matter is on the front burner again, only the court can resolve the hurdle.

From the APC angle, the Jonathan option is, perhaps, the greatest preliminary drama of the electioneering.

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