Home » Columnists, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-present), NNP Columnists, Presidency, Reuben Abati » Abati: The Jonathan Presidency (11) – Conclusion

Abati: The Jonathan Presidency (11) – Conclusion

THE ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held its convention and presidential party primaries on Thursday January 13 at the Eagle Square, Abuja. The three candidates at the primaries were incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, former Vice president Abubakar Atiku, and Mrs Sarah Jibril. In the run up to this, there had been much mudslinging and exchange of bile between the two leading candidates, Jonathan and Atiku, with both candidates investing heavily in media advertisement.

In its campaigns on the eve of the primaries, the Jonathan group (One Nigeria Coalition)  stole the Atiku line as follows: “Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan’s Experience says it all! – university teacher, skilled technocrat, deputy governor, acting Governor, Vice president, Acting President, President, ECOWAS Chairman.” On television, the group ran a campaign wishing every Nigerian: Goodluck! In counter adverts, the Atikus asked: “Who is the better prepared?- Jonathan: Even  his alleged bribes rejected, Never contested election; Inexperienced, uninspiring, Cannot honour agreements; Atiku- The comeback kid, Fought third term, Demystifies incumbencies, Experienced, reliable, sincere.”  In other advertorials, it was alleged that Jonathan and co had perfected plans to rig the PDP Presidential primaries and the 2011 elections. The rhetoric of political campaigns in Nigeria is usually self-serving and acrimonious.

Sarah Jibril, seeking the ticket for the third time, ran a low budget, self-effacing campaign and was the least combative candidate. The PDP presidential primaries was necessarily a contest of many forces seeking a showdown: North vs South South, Jonathan vs Atiku, Obasanjo vs Atiku, Northern Political Leaders Forum/Arewa Consultative Forum vs Ijaw National Congress.  Fears had been expressed that the bombs that exploded on October 1 and December 31, in Abuja and in Jos (December 24) may have been linked to Jonathan’s rejection of the PDP zoning formula and the determination of his opponents to make the country ungovernable and thereby discredit him. Much earlier the Jonathan Presidency also accused his political opponents of seeking to commit “treason” with an unveiled threat that the administration would be ruthless in dealing with such persons.

The PDP Presidential primaries in effect, turned out to be more or less a military exercise, with massive security arrangements. It is yet another sign of the underdevelopment of the Nigerian state and its democracy that every major election has to be held under heavy security presence in order to hold back the constant threat of anarchy. In 2007, the April general elections were no better than a military operation as soldiers took over the entire nation to ensure peace. For its Presidential primaries, the PDP took advantage of its control of power at the centre, and practically shut down the Federal Civil Service for two days! Five security checkpoints were located in areas leading to the Eagle Square manned by the Police, Vehicle Inspection Officers, the military, the Federal Road Safety Corps and the Civil Defence Corps; people were forced to trek for about two kilometers to get to the venue, and at each point, they were subjected to bomb scan, security scan and body search!

Nigerian public officials and political leaders consider it a proof of their importance to arrive late at public functions, and to start every programme behind schedule without being required to offer any apologies. Thus characteristically, the PDP convention which was scheduled to start at 10 am, did not start until 5.34 pm. Sarah Jibril arrived at the venue at 11.58 am, Atiku at 4.15 pm, Vice President Namadi Sambo, at 5. 13 pm, and Goodluck Jonathan at 5. 30 pm! The primaries, aired live on television, by Africa Independent Television (AIT), and the public-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), appeared peaceful, and transparent, as the entire process was conducted in full public glare. It ended the following morning around 6 am, with the results read by Professor Tunde Adeniran, Chairman of the PDP Electoral Committee. Out of a total of 3,603 votes cast, 61 ballots were voided, Jonathan won 2, 736 votes, Atiku 805 and Sarah Jibril, one vote, making Jonathan the presidential flagbearer of the PDP in the 2011 general elections with Namadi Sambo, the Vice President as his running mate.

This was the first election that President Jonathan would run and win as the principal candidate. His emergence as the Presidential candidate of the ruling party was a major moment for the country’s minorities who since the Willinks Commission (1958/59) had been agitating for equity within the Nigerian Federation. But more significantly, Jonathan’s victory exposed the failure of the so-called northern consensus on the zoning of the presidency to the North. Jonathan polled majority votes in all the country’s six Senatorial zones, as follows- North Central: Jonathan (380), Atiku (165), Jibril (1); North West: Jonathan (422), Atiku (365), Jibril (0), South West: Jonathan (482), Atiku (22), Jibril (0); North East: Jonathan (331), Atiku (154), Jibril (0), South East: Jonathan (423), Atiku (23), South South: Jonathan (625), Atiku (9), JIbril (0).  He won convincingly across the country except in three states in the North West – Sokoto (932-84), Kano (21 – 98), Zamfara (7 – 70) and Niger (16 -84) which he lost to Atiku. He however beat Atiku in his home state of Adamawa and even in Yobe, the home state of Mallam Adamu Ciroma, one of the loudest pro-zoning campaigners, and by a wide margin in Katsina (147 – 11), President Yar’Adua’s state. His victory further advertised the power of incumbency and the increased influence of the 27 PDP Governors. Alhaji Atiku who had condemned the Jonathan administration in his campaign speech, rejected the results, his agents refused to sign the results sheet. There were threats of court action, but a few days later Atiku shut down his campaign office and announced that he would remain in the PDP.

The most courageous of the candidates however was Sarah Jibril: she had no power of incumbency to exploit, and no money to distribute among delegates but she displayed character and determination. In her speech, she had appealed to women delegates to support one of their own, and all men to support Mama Sarah Jibril. But this gender pitch earned her just one vote. This was a sad comment on the place of women in public life in Nigeria, the status of women and the chauvinism of Nigeria’s democracy. Mama Sarah Jibril, seeking the Presidential ticket a third time,  has however earned a place in history: whenever a woman emerges as Vice president or president of Nigeria in the future, she will be remembered for her pioneering efforts in that direction. In his acceptance speech, Dr Goodluck Jonathan remarked that there was “no victor no vanquished”, and began promptly to reach out to the Northern political establishment through a programme labeled CAR- “Consolidation, Appeasement and Reconciliation”. Nonetheless, there were protests against his candidacy in parts of the north – notably Kaduna and Bauchi. The Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) also met to plan their next course of action. Meanwhile, a group of northern leaders, the G-20, led by Chief Solomon Lar and South East Governors congratulated Jonathan and Sambo. The resilience of a section of the North insisting on its right to power would remain a sub-text of the Jonathan ascendancy, with implications for post-election politics, and an early indication that the President’s victory may well be pyrrhic.

By January 20, most of the party primaries had been concluded, with candidates of the various political parties already known, although the INEC election time table allowed the primaries to be held on or before January 31, 2011. The key Presidential candidates that had emerged included Goodluck Jonathan (PDP), Muhammadu Buhari (CPC), Nuhu Ribadu (ACN), Pat Utomi (Social Democratic Mega Party) Dele Momodu (National Conscience Party), Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP), John Dara (National Transformation Party), Peter Nwangwu (African Democratic Congress) and Ambrose Ewuru (Hope Democratic Party). On Saturday, January 15, 2010, INEC launched a two-week voters’ registration exercise; the excitement which Nigerians showed during the party primaries and with which they embraced the voters registration showed a deep passion for democracy and particular interest in the 2011 general elections. But as the processes leading to the elections began, was there any indication that the 2011 elections would be an improvement on previous elections, or confidence that it would be credible? The general feeling sadly, was that the elections were doomed to fail, and that Nigeria’s transition towards democratic rule was yet to yield desirable outcomes eleven years after.  

The pre-election phase was characterised by the usual crisis of institutional failure and the country’s poor state of preparedness. Across Africa, there has been a demonstration of the weakness of democratic structures and extant capacity deficits as has been seen in Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, and Guinea. In Nigeria, the change of guards at the electoral commission only further exposed the weakness of the institution as the new Chairman and his team revealed that the system needed to be built afresh, beginning with the procurement of equipment, the training of staff, the preparation of a voters’ register. By July 2010, the INEC Chairman had complained about lack of funds and in Septmeber, about the need to change the election timetable. From this point onwards, the entire process had to be rushed, including Constitutional Amendments that had been left unattended to by the legislature, in order to meet the hand over deadline date of May 29, 2011.   It was only on January 10, 2011 that the amended 1999 Constitution was signed into law by President Jonathan, prompting legal action by Olapade Agoro, presidential aspirant, National Action Council, who requested that the INEC time-table and the primaries should be declared null and void.     

The voters’ registration (Jan 15 -29) exercise, marred by irregularities, violence and outright failure in the first week, exposed just how unprepared both Nigeria and INEC were, further raising anxieties about the elections considering the importance of a voters’ register and the integrity of processes to electoral outcomes. A budget of $75 billion was earmarked for the voters’ registration exercise but by the end of the first week, the INEC Chairman was reportedly complaining about lack of funds, even if one of the three contractors had not supplied all the Direct Data Capturing Machines (laptop, fingerprint scanner, web camera, and battery) which malfunctioned in many places. In many states, angry youths who could not be registered attacked the youth corps members who had been recruited to serve as ad hoc officials. Three persons were shot in Ebonyi state, two persons were killed in Jos, scores were injured in Bayelsa, thugs went on rampage in Osun.

The politicians had obviously not learnt their lessons. The party primaries across board were marred by violence, the absence of internal democracy in all the parties, with powerful Godfathers in many states imposing their wives, daughters, sons-in-law, and cronies without creating a level playing field for open competition. In Osun, Ekiti, Lagos, Anambra and Edo states, ACN members protested alleged imposition of candidates; in Ogun, Zamfara, Abia, and Delta states, aggrieved PDP members held parallel primaries thus deepening intra-party confusion and division, in Akwa Ibom, the Governorship primaries had to be canceled and a rerun ordered by the party headquarters.

Dele Alake, ACN Senatorial aspirant in Ekiti, Central offered an apt description of the entire process when in withdrawing from the race he wrote: “I did not envisage that an intra-party primary would degenerate into malpractices, fraud, violence and brigandage… I have come to the painful conclusion that it will be an uphill task for decent people with a sense of propriety to be part of such process… I do not and will not be part of a scheme that will hoodwink the public because I want to serve them….” (The Nation, Jan. 13, 2011.) In an interesting development, the Chairman of the ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, retorted that “Nobody should accuse the ACN of imposition because that is our style. Anyone that is not comfortable with that should go and contest in another political party.”

The security agencies were unable to check the spread of violence during the party primaries and after. The high level of desperation at the intra-party level could only suggest a further heightening of tension during inter-party competition and hence an urgent justification for more pro-active security responses. The monetisation of politics also remained a problem. There were allegations of votes buying, and in the absence of a machinery for tracking campaign finance, the stage was well set for the corrupt manipulation of electoral outcomes. As at January 2011, there was no real emphasis on ideas and programmes, other than the ambition of political office seekers. With the conclusion of the primaries, many politicians defected overnight to rival parties which could offer them the party tickets for the 2011 polls.

The mismanagement of the pre-election phase had obviously sown the seeds for future litigations and sundry crises with regard to the abuse of human rights and the rule of law, the ineffectiveness of government services, legitimacy of outcomes, and the failure of law enforcement agencies.  The role of the media was also suspect; for example Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja, the Gubernatorial candidate of the Accord Party in Oyo State, protested that his campaign material was rejected by the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). Also, the Jonathan campaign team used the NTA owned by the public, to promote the President’s candidacy while media organs owned by politicians toed the party line shamelessly.  

The first phase of Nigeria’s 2011 general elections was at best a selection process, the preparations were shoddy, the dominant PDP had no strong opposition to challenge it; there was a lot of excitement among the people but no optimism for the kind of real change sought by an increasingly vibrant civil society. Will Jonathan keep his promise to ensure free and fair polls and make the people’s votes count?


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