Buzz by Olumide Iyanda
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You do not need an impeccable source in Abuja to know that President Goodluck Jonathan has his eyes fixed on returning to Aso Rock in 2015. Opposition politicians and Twitter activists swearing “over my dead body” are probably saying so because they are not in his shoes. If the truth must be told, very few Nigerians will graciously embrace the Mandela Option of doing just one term and bowing out to become a statesman.
Do not be fooled by what the President and his aides say publicly, #TeamJonathan began strategising for the next general elections even before the presidential oath was administered on him at the Eagle Square on May 29, 2011. Knowing the kind of hold the commander-in-chief has over elements in his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and with a war chest funded with petrodollar it will take more than wishful thinking to stop him getting another go at the presidency. Add that to an uncoordinated opposition and a lethargic population and you have the stuff a leader seeking second term’s dreams are made of.
With the Mandela Option patently un-Nigerian, Dr. Jonathan has a role model in Barack Obama who was re-elected for his second term as American president on November 6, 2012. Speaking on behalf of himself, the Federal Government and the people of Nigeria, Jonathan heartily congratulated Obama immediately after that feat, welcoming “his victory in an intensely fought presidential race as an endorsement by the good people of the United States of his leadership, progressive world view and the very good work he has done in the past four years towards ending global economic depression and fostering global peace and security.”
Sounding professorial, Jonathan called on “the millions of people across the world, especially those in developing nations who watched the beauty and strength of democracy unfold in the United States presidential elections” to “come to a greater and better appreciation of democracy as the key to building peaceful, stable and progressive societies.”
The leader of the most populous black nation has never hidden his admiration and awe for the first black man in the White House. Jonathan has made a meal of their meetings in the past even when some were photo ops. He also borrowed generously from the template created for Obama’s 2008 election for his own campaign in 2011. Like the American, Jonathan used the social media as a strong tool in winning a younger and ‘hip’ generation of voters. He officially announced his ambition on Facebook on the day Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was doing an “old school” rally in Abuja, thereby stealing the thunder from the former military ruler.
So effective was Jonathan’s use of the virtual world that his aides arrogantly declared that he brought Facebook to Nigeria. He even launched a book about his Facebook friends. Unfortunately, some of his sincere friends who clicked ‘Like’ on that platform for free have turned against him and he has, in his own admission, become one of the most abused leaders on the planet. Most of the pro-government comments you now see across social media platforms are posted by faceless campaigners funded from the same source as the #BringBackGoodluck2015 project.
It was not easy for Obama in 2012. Jonathan too should not expect an easy contest come 2015 even with the TAN rallies and adoption by open and closet members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But if Obama could do it, Jonathan probably can too.
Unlike in 2011 when he rode on luck, public sympathy and promises of fresh breath, Jonathan will need to tell Nigerians what his achievements are even if the milestones can be counted on the fingers of a mutilated hand. 2015 will not be about “our son” or the number of trips to religious convention grounds. It will be about what he did with the mandate freely given to him by a country hungry for change.
If Jonathan is convinced of his own leadership, progressive world view and the very good work he has done by 2015 then he will not run away from facing his challengers in debates like he did in 2011. Like Obama, he is free to appear on all manner of talk shows and before different personalities, but he must not insult Nigerians by scoffing at a general debate of all presidential aspirants only to end up hanging out with D’banj or at a monologue in Aso Rock.
He needs not worry if some of his challengers are better orators. After all, Obama lost his first debate with Mitt Romney in spite of his familiar verbiage. It took a second and third debate to get the American president back on track.
There will be bitter name calling and all manner of well-honed attacks in the campaign trail but it is the responsibility of the president to remain focused and remember that he is also responsible for the welfare of those contesting against him. Nothing works for a campaigner-in-chief better than being a good commander-in-chief. Obama proved that with his handling of Hurricane Sandy. That won him more goodwill on the last lap of the race than Obamacare and the auto bailout. How well Jonathan explains his refusal to visit Chibok, the scene of the most heart wrenching “storm” in the land, will be an important reference point during his campaign.
Behind a successful Barack was a Michelle. The American president owes more to his wife for his victory than anybody in recent times. If votes are won and lost in part on the antics of presidents’ wives, Patience may become a moral burden for her husband. I have refused to comment on the controversy over her health, but even if we pretend to believe that her occasional absence from the country was not for medical reasons, what manner of first lady leaves her country for weeks to rest in another? Does that not say something about the kind of country her husband is presiding over? Don’t even talk about the absurd “na only you waka come” and “diaris God o!” melodrama.
Like Obama, a second term for Jonathan won’t be as easy as the first. The American leader was made to sweat extra hard in a keenly contested election and he probably appreciates the 2012 victory more than that of 2008.
Jonathan’s road to Aso Rock in 2015, if he gets there, will not be as easy as it was in 2011. And he should have the grace to ensure a free and fair election and congratulate the winner if he does not get there.
That will show if he has learnt anything from #TeamObama.