Despite the call for caution by President Muhammadu Buhari over jostling for the presidency ahead 2023, politicians are already neck deep in permutations on who would be the president’s successor. In this analysis, YUSUF ALLI, MANAGING EDITOR, NORTHERN OPERATION examines the latest push for former President Goodluck Jonathan’s return to the Presidential Villa.
Five years after conceding defeat to an opposition candidate, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan is in the news again over his likely return to the Presidential Villa in 2023, on the back of the tiger – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – that consumed him.
In a strange political calculus, some APC governors and leaders seem to be falling head over heels for Jonathan. The All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organization (APCPCO), through its then Director of Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in 2015 described his administration as clueless.
It said: “Nigerians have seen through the nearly six years of the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration that it has been six years of stealing of crude oil at an industrial scale; six years of clueless leadership and six years of high-level corruption.”
THE BEGINNING OF THE ROMANCE
In the last two years, Jonathan has been visited by mother luck. His once frosty relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari turned dramatically into a robust and confidence-winning type. The new found love was crystalized towards the 2019 poll when Buhari and the APC provided political shelter for Jonathan who was then ostracised by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The ex-President had sought to have a say on who should be the governor of Bayelsa State. He wanted a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Timi Alaibe, as the PDP governorship candidate but former Governor Seriake Dickson preferred Senator Douye Diri who later won the primaries.
Feeling humiliated, Jonathan collaborated with the APC and supported the party’s candidate, David Lyon, who won the governorship poll but had his victory nullified by the Supreme Court in favour of PDP’s Diri.
A few minutes after Lyon was declared the initial winner, APC governors stormed Jonathan’s residence in Otuoke to congratulate and thank him. Subsequently, the ex-president was alienated from the party. Diri, however, reconciled with him in what appeared a “face-saving political move” for Jonathan. Yet, the ex-President has been uneasy with the present leadership of PDP but has refused to rock the boat.
Unknown to many the new relationship between Buhari and Jonathan, which has extended to the APC, was brokered by their wives.
The path of First Lady Aisha Buhari and ex-First Lady Patience Jonathan crossed and they have been doting over each other for more than two years. Overwhelmed by EFCC’s revelations about her and court cases, Mrs. Jonathan had sought political back-up to have some respite, but not to influence the judicial process.
She found one in the current First Lady. Their relationship fostered a new understanding hitherto unknown to the Buharis.
The ties between the two ladies got to a stage where they mooted the idea of floating and managing a COVID-19 treatment centre together under Mrs. Buhari’s pet project tagged Future Assured Programme.
Mrs. Jonathan had offered to temporarily convert her 200-bed hotel in Abuja to a treatment centre. The hotel, allegedly worth about N2 billion, has been under Interim Forfeiture Order secured by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on April 30, 2018. But the ex-First Lady and the EFCC had been in court over the seizure of the property.
Although agreements were signed by all the parties, the takeoff of the treatment centre was aborted at the last minute because the suspended Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, insisted on applying a presidential directive that seized property should not be used for any purpose. When the project failed, a dejected Mrs. Jonathan was alleged to have complained that “this Magu wants to kill me.”
It was gathered that the failure of the embattled EFCC boss to exercise discretion and read between the lines “on the Buhari-Jonathan new political accord might have added to his present travails because the First Lady who used to be his major backer felt undermined. It was learnt that some loyalists of the president rated Magu’s attitude as an affront on the president. It is a big price he’s now paying because his erstwhile main backer is not too keen on his case.
Others in the power corridor were, however, able to decipher the President and his family’s new soft spot for the Jonathans and exercised restraint till a well-defined direction unfolded. A reliable source said: “A few things about being Jonathan are being dug up contrary to the perception of Buhari, the cabal members and some die-hard loyalists of the President. I think Jonathan’s personage, especially his humility, patience and ability to be resigned to fate have earned him more confidence from the Presidency.”
Some of the President loyalists were said to have bought into the agenda for Jonathan by starting to canvass for power shift to him in 2023 because he is “amenable.”
Notwithstanding, the ex-president is savouring the moment by becoming an emissary for Buhari with different shuttles to Mali, Cote D’Ivoire and other trouble spots. Such gestures may look harmless but they have enhanced his international profile as a peacemaker.
In the last couple of days APC spokesman, Yekini Nabena, said: “Goodluck Jonathan has been working for this government. He has been going to all African countries. If he is not a progressive person, he won’t have been working for this government. So the PDP should also know that.”
THE REAL PUSH/PERMUTATIONS ON JONATHAN
In the next two and a half years, the curtains will be drawn on Buhari’s leadership era in Nigeria; it will be left to history to judge whether his second coming was worth it. With the 1999 Constitution abhorring a third term and Buhari’s open declaration of his disdain for tenure extension, Nigeria will get a new president in 2023.
It is either Buhari leaves the field open as an impartial arbiter or he becomes interested in who succeeds him. What is playing out in the ruling APC since the exit of the immediate past national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the loss of Edo State to the PDP – with the connivance of many APC governors and leaders, indicated that Buhari might play a big role in determining his successor because as far as the ruling party is concerned, he has learned to hold it in his grip.
Already, the president’s ‘boys’ have hijacked the party under the guise of reforming it to foreclose the chances of any presidential aspirant outside their political tendency from emerging as the presidential candidate.
A source said: “From developments in our party, APC is no longer standing on a tripod as the case before and after the merger in 2014. The incumbency factor has helped Buhari’s loyalists to take over the party’s structure.
“Even first term governors who are not Buhari’s boys might find it difficult to get a second term ticket on the platform of APC. This is why some of them are secretly retracing their steps to fit into the new scheme of things. The only issue yet to be resolved is who will be Buhari’s anointed candidate as presidential flagbearer.”
Although, highly-respected statesman and nephew of the president, Mallam Mamman Daura recently flew a kite suggesting that merit, not zoning, should guide the choice of the next president, it is becoming clearer to Buhari’s strategists that power must shift to the South or else anarchy might set in.
Banking on a huge vote base of over 12 million, some of the strategists initially toyed with the idea of altering the zoning formula to retain power in the North.
They are also floating Plan B where it is impossible to push their luck further. It was learnt that the strategists are waiting for any slip from PDP to decide if APC will zone its ticket to the North or any geopolitical zone in the North.
Apart from self-preservation, zoning politics allegedly made Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to get enmeshed in his long-drawn defection. The governor, who was ignorant of ongoing permutations, said he defected from APC to PDP in the interest of the Southeast.
While Umahi is beating about the bush, Governor Hope Uzodinma on Friday at the Presidential Villa set the benchmark for him. He said: “What we are doing in the Southeast as a party is carrying the message of the party. Before this time, some of us believed that we should have marketed the ideologies and policies better than the past leadership did.
“What we are trying to do is to explain to our people the need to see that this Nigerian project belongs to all of us, and if you jump out of the train, don’t accuse anybody of pushing you out.
“It is not about whether you want to be president now or not; you don’t get presidential ticket by the market square, it is the decision of the political party. You must be loyal to your political party.
“So I know that my brother Umahi is politically strong in the Southeast and joining APC would add to the value of the party in my region. But he never told me he is coming because he will be president.”
An insider source said: “Daura’s thesis was designed to test the waters and feel the political pulse. He was shocked by the backlash and has been using different opportunities to clarify his statement. But it will be a miscalculation for any politician to ignore the Freudian slip from such a tactician like Daura.”
“If PDP opts for a Northern presidential candidate, APC will have no alternative to adopt Daura’s theory that merit should be a major determinant of the next president. Picking a Southern candidate might not attract the votes as much as a Northern candidate.”
The dicey permutations account for the alleged presidential aspiration of Governors Kayode Fayemi, Atiku Bagudu, Abubakar Badaru and other being touted like Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Mai Mala Buni. Others whose ambition has been known are APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. If both ex-President Jonathan and ex-President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki join the race in APC as is being speculated, the numbers may swell.
THE JONATHAN CARD
Investigations revealed that the Jonathan card came into the picture as part of Plan B if it is apparent that power should shift to the South despite the fact that the Southwest and the Southeast are after the presidential slot.
At a session in Abuja, it was agreed that the North may be out of power for eight years if power shifts to either the Southwest or Southeast. Another source who was privy to the ongoing scheming, added: “Some strategists felt the fastest way to return power to the North is to pick Jonathan who will only spend one term in office rather than any Southwest or Southeast candidate.
“It is like an abridged form of power shift and a quick win for the North.”
Responding to a question, the source said: “I think the powers-that-be have weighed options on Jonathan, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (who ought to be on the pick list except for mistrust the Cabal have for him), Asiwaju Tinubu, Kayode Fayemi and Rotimi Amaechi. They said they were motivated by Jonathan’s attitude to his defeat by Buhari and his cooperation with the administration since 2015.
“But what they have forgotten that Jonathan is not a politician per se and he has no strong political platform or base to win the entire South. He plays politics of providence.”
At a recent confidential parley, a close ally of the president, who was the arrowhead of the search for Jonathan, admitted that “only Asiwaju Tinubu is so far a serious aspirant with a solid structure”. But he was non-committal on the disposition of the Cabal.
A more important factor which has branded Jonathan a much-sought-after bride is an alleged plot by members of the inner caucus of the present administration to handover to a president who will watch their back. It was learnt that most caucus members believe Jonathan fits the bill moreso, the Buhari government also “deliberately refused to probe him save for some ministers and aides that were excessive in conduct while in office.”
A few influential power mongers and schemers do not want power to return to the Southwest, if it must shift at all. In spite of the fact that five years ago the South-South zone was still in power, these power brokers would prefer either the South-South or Southeast which they had treated with disdain in the power equation.
“I think also bad belle politics is behind this Jonathan option being thrown up by a few elements.”
FLYING A KITE WITH JONATHAN?
In spite of the visit of APC governors to Jonathan twice, it was uncertain if they are flying a kite over his candidacy for the 2023 presidential poll. Some feel APC might be setting a booby trap for him. A party source said: “May be those behind the idea were just testing the waters before they come up with their plans. And they have succeeded in raising the hitherto dormant political temperature in the country. What is incontrovertible is that something is cooking up somehow. We are all eager to know the outcome.”
A former minister confirmed that the APC team actually “asked him to leave PDP for APC but there was no commitment from Jonathan.”
The APC and PDP have been making political capital out of the visit because of the consequences of glossing over it. For its part, the ruling party in a statement through its National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, was diplomatic as to why its governors visited Jonathan. It said the party was taking steps “to consolidate on its national appeal and acceptance”.
“The trip was not a big deal. At a time when the PDP and its leadership are grappling with a crisis of confidence, one would expect the failed opposition to focus on picking itself up,” the statement said.
Reacting, the PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said the visit confirmed that “the APC, in 2015, only created artificial symbols of misgovernance, corruption, and other alleged misgivings just to discredit our party and grab the levers of power to achieve its members’ selfish desire.
“This visit to Jonathan by the APC governors was a direct acceptance of the successes recorded by our party in building a strong nation with a virile economy that was rated as one of the fastest-growing of the world.
“The visit was, therefore, a subtle step by APC governors into the corridors of the PDP in agreement that our party holds the solution to the myriads of problems brought to our nation by their APC and President Buhari.”
An APC chieftain, Dr. Garus Gololo, however asked the former president to be “wary of some political jobbers who may be mooting the idea of drafting him into the contest.
“They were there on their own. Nobody sent them. They are busy body governors. They abandoned the business of governance in their states and are chasing shadows.
“Who told them Jonathan will win any election again in Nigeria? Who told them we are in shortage of candidates in APC? At the appointed time they shall be shocked by the array of capable personalities that would indicate interest in 2023.”
THE DILEMMA OF JONATHAN
Left to ex-First Lady Patience Jonathan, her husband has no basis for staying in PDP any longer. She has been displeased by the cold attitude of the party to her husband, especially shifting of blame to him for the party’s loss of the 2015 presidential election. She saw it all how all PDP leaders were sneaking into the Villa for favours and how they have abandoned him.
But the ex-President has been circumspect. He was said to have been ruminating on why he will have to abandon a party that made him a Deputy Governor, Vice President and President. He is also enjoying his present status of a statesman more than any other aspiration.
A source close to Jonathan said: “It is a major domestic and political dilemma for the former president. This explains why he is yet to come out to clarify the situation.”
Some have suggested that Jonathan’s political career may slump if he does not fully identify with a political party. They say he’s treated like a leper in PDP and needs a sustainable shelter – except if he wants to remain a statesman.
Analysts warn that unless he is not a student of history, the APC that is luring him is in a tinderbox with a Caretaker Committee managing its affairs. Once he joins, he is either a party to the crisis or victim of the power play.
HURTING HIS IMAGE WITH DEFECTION
A likely backlash Jonathan may experience is the possibility of receding into a political low profile which may earn him the tag of an unstable politician. A senator, who was excited about the prospect of Jonathan defecting to APC said: “I will be happy if he does because he has fought all his friends who defected from PDP to APC. Let him come and tell his story too.”
IS JONATHAN AN ASSET OR LIABILITY TO APC?
Except for the Doctrine of Necessity and unwritten agreement with the North in 2011, Jonathan has always been lucky with being in power. The only time he fought to be a president was in 2015 and he was defeated. With the PDP in control of the South-South, including his homestead Bayelsa State, it will be difficult for him to add value to the electoral fortunes of APC. He could not install a governor in his state not to talk of leading the country.
He also lacks incumbency power and financial wherewithal to win a presidential race that is money-guzzling in this clime. Buhari is not known for staking hard-earned state resources on elections and there is a limit to which Jonathan can enjoy goodwill from the Organized Private Sector for resources.
Findings confirmed that if he gets the APC ticket, some chieftains of the party might either leave or sabotage his presidential bid.
Coming to APC may create a political liability for the party which defeated him in 2015. The APC will end up de-marketing itself because voters would argue that they were misled into voting for the party in 2015.
Since he left power, Jonathan has not been contributing to national discourse, unlike ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, to be able to identify him with any cause.
Since presidential ticket is not served a la carte, Jonathan has to compete for the slot with a motley of aspirants, including some early birds who are already burning their energy. The APC presidential bus is already crowded such that they are engaging in self-destruction before the race begins. Some of those who visited Jonathan on his 63rd birthday also have presidential aspirations; a handful even have more robust antecedents of performance in office than Jonathan.
Also, facing the electorate with all the scandals associated with his administration might be an uphill task. Towards the 2016 poll, he lost the goodwill of the international community. He admitted in a book, “Against the Run of Play” by Olusegun Adeniyi as follows: “President Obama and his officials made it very clear to me by their actions that they wanted a change of government in Nigeria and were ready to do anything to achieve that purpose”.
“I got on well with… Cameron but at some point, I noticed that the Americans were putting pressure on him and he had to join them against me.
“But I didn’t realize how far President Obama was prepared to go to remove me until France caved in to the pressure from America.” There is no sign that the assessment of Jonathan by the foreign powers has changed.
LIKELIHOOD OF A THIRD FORCE
This is being speculated and if it is created, Jonathan will have to re-strategize to be able to defeat this force.
The recent nationwide #EndSARS protest has raised a fresh army of young and agitated voters who may influence the outcome of 2023 presidential poll beyond the traditional method which Jonathan and his generation are used to.
He was elected in 2011 on the basis of the sentiments of being a young man and a minority. The stakes have become higher. APC was quick to realize that the electoral dynamics might record a radical dimension in 2023 and it is trying to attract more potentially influential figures into its fold.
It will be dangerous gambit for Jonathan to put all his eggs in one basket and over rely on Buhari who might find it difficult as an outgoing president to control the political tempo, especially between late 2021 and 2022.
Being a product of providence, Jonathan will need more than good luck to lead Nigeria in 2023. He requires much hard work, solid structure, nationwide goodwill and image redemption to be able to compete for the presidential slot. More than any aspirant, he must watch his back to avoid being used as “a pawn.”
LEGAL OBSTACLE AGAINST JONATHAN
With the fourth alteration to the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly, Jonathan is technically unqualified to contest for the presidency in 2023.
The Fourth Alteration was made in 2017. It was tagged Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (Fourth Alteration) Bill, No. 16, 2017 (Restriction of Tenure of the President and Governor). The amendment restricts a person who was sworn-in as President or Governor to complete the term of the elected President from contesting for the same office for more than one term. It became effective from June 7, 2018.
The alteration says a citizen cannot be sworn in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria after being inaugurated thrice. Jonathan took oath of office as Acting President in 2010, as substantive president after the death of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010 and as elected president in 2011.
A governor, who spoke in confidence, said: “Those behind this are flying a kite and they are merely massaging the ego of Jonathan to make him politically relevant. The fourth alteration to the 1999 Constitution does not allow him to contest.”
But another source argued that a court settled the matter in 2015 that Jonathan can be sworn in thrice.
The governor, however, disagrees: “The Fourth Alteration has overtaken whatever relief Jonathan got in 2015. Nigerians will meet in court if he tries his luck. It is better for him to continue to enjoy free publicity being given to him now.”