I read the Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie extensive interview in The Guardian of Sunday, September 22, 2013 in which he spoke on the 2015 presidency and the bid by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to seek re-election for a second term in office.
The front page lead story written by Mr Gbenga Salau flagged down my attention and aroused my interest in the three-page interview at pages 55, 56 and 57. Okogie was, as usual, forthright on the various issues he engaged, but his position with respect to Jonathan’s re-election bid was somewhat disappointing.
Okogie, in a manner of speaking, does not want Jonathan to seek re-election, not because his right to do so is not constitutionally guaranteed, but for the reason that he wants a situation where political agreement, if any, is kept.
The archbishop emeritus was apparently referring to the so-called one-term pact that Jonathan was said to have signed with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors in 2010 in the build-up to the 2011 presidential primaries of the party.
But the good thing is that he personally did not believe that Jonathan signed any such pact that he would do just one term in office. He had taken the liberty to suggest that if it is true that he did it, those who extracted the commitment from the president would not behave stupidly.
The situation, to me, is not complicated at all to deal with, talking about an alleged one-term pact; if there was a pact to which Jonathan appended his signature not to seek re-election, those in whose custody the document is should simply produce it so that the claims and counter claims can be laid to rest once and for all.
Producing it will succeed in placing a moral and not constitutional burden on Jonathan. It will portray him as a desperate power seeker who cannot keep to a term of agreement, which is the purport of the claimants who, as of the time of writing this piece, had not produced the document; but the document will not preclude him from exercising his constitutionally circumscribed right to contest.
And this is the point Okogie was trying to gloss over: nothing else supersedes the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution in this regard. Every other consideration, no matter the amount of passion infused into it, pales into insignificance in the crystallizing political calculations.
He did not bother to ventilate, through the window of the relevant provisions of the constitution, the restrictive cocoon into which he herded the president. He would rather pontificate that if he were Jonathan, he would not run because the writing on the wall did not favour his running.
Was he able to rationalize the claim of the writing on the wall? Not at all! Okogie only spoke about “much sycophancy and flattery” even when Nigerians had not got to 2015. I disagree with him, for there is nothing sycophantic about anyone urging Jonathan, as a performing president, to seek re-election.
The other point to make is Okogie’s specious attempt at trying to make the period that Jonathan served as vice president to count as part of his terms in the presidency. That was patently fallacious. Read him: “Jonathan will be there for almost six years; there was a time he was vice (president), and now president for four years. What is he looking for again…?”
I never could have imagined that this fecund cleric would have run with this kind of reasoning. He was deliberately celebrating the illogicality of a logic that is resting on the foundation of morality instead of law. What does the law, nay the constitution, say? It allows the president and state governors to occupy their offices if re-elected after a four-year term for another term of four years.
Ideally, in seeking re-election within his PDP, as a sitting president, Jonathan should enjoy the right of first refusal, the same way state governors should. But the field is not going to be closed for Jonathan’s sake even if it is the consensus of a vast majority of party members for him to have the party ticket. Those who want to contest for the party ticket with him will be allowed to do so in the true democratic spirit.
But the only thing is that they would be at a disadvantage because, whereas Jonathan would enjoy the factor of incumbency that is anchored on experience and tangible achievements in office plus a number of other deliverables, his opponents will attempt to come to the job without prior presidential experience.
In fact, the basis of performance by Jonathan is solid enough to support a campaign for his re-election. It will be a different story altogether if he is not performing. Forget the packs of balderdash that the opposition elements churn out through the media about the administration not performing. They are inexorably obsessed with propaganda and many Nigerians have seen through their antics.
This preoccupation of theirs, in addition to other stratagem of latching on orchestrated security problem to stomp on the president, is not capable of intimidating him from exercising his personal and constitutional right to contest in the 2015 presidential election.
Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, in the spirit of national conversation on the president’s re-election bid, reinforced this position at the pre-centenary celebration of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria on Sunday, September 22, 2013. His proposition was the fact that Jonathan’s performance, which surpasses that of any other Nigerian leader in recent history, compels the president to join the race for a second term starting from May 29, 2015.
According to him, “Nigeria has not grown faster under any other government since Gowon than President Goodluck Jonathan. It is very rare to have a government that has confronted insecurity all over and still has been keeping the economy growing at seven per cent per annum for the past three years. It has never happened since Gowon left governance. The president is addressing the challenges of power supply. Don’t listen to doomsday Sayers who are going about causing confusion.”
But like the opposition elements, Okogie has chosen to join the bandwagon (of aggrieved governors many of whom are serving out their second term) by calling on Jonathan not to seek re-election, as far as I understood him, for the sake of it (of not running). Where is fairness in this? Even former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who is looking for Jonathan’s job, nay position, and who would have been happy if Jonathan does not seek re-election, has said that the president can run in 2015.
He was quoted by the Nigerian Pilot of September 23, 2013 to have told an online medium that it was not correct that one of the conditions given by the aggrieved governors in the PDP for peace to reign was that Jonathan should not contest the presidential election in 2015.
Read him: “That is not correct. No person has a right to stop the other from pursuing his rights as guaranteed by the law. If President Jonathan doesn’t have the rights to contest the 2015 presidential election, only the court can make such pronouncement, not an individual or a group of individuals. It is entirely up to Dr Jonathan to say he will run or not. My view is that with zoning in the PDP now dead, anyone qualified under the constitution is free to run.”
While I spurn the Okogie approach, which is biased for the opposition’s sensibilities, sentimentality and anti-democratic postures, as amounting to needless moral suasion, I concur with Atiku Abubakar’s homily on Jonathan’s right to contest. It resonates well within the context of the national conversation on the issue of the right and/or otherwise of Jonathan to throw down the gauntlet as the man to beat in the 2015 gritty contest for the nation’s plum presidential position, which he currently custodies.
And media reports from New York where the president has been attending the United Nations General Assembly have quoted him to have said that the constitution allows him two terms of eight years. This is the president’s strongest hint ever about his 2015 presidential plan. It should stimulate more constructive conversation in the public domain.
· Ojeifo, journalist/publisher, sent this piece from Abuja.