October 2, 2022

By Lindsay Barrett
The recent announcement on social media that the leadership of the organisation known as Miyetti Allah had paid for the APC’s Expression of Interest form for the presidential contest on behalf of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan must have surprised many observers.
Apart from the fact that Dr. Jonathan’s home constituency is certainly not situated anywhere in the Northern geo-political arena of Nigeria, where Miyetti Allah’s influence is assumed to be unassailable, the announcement made many analysts scramble to find a rational explanation of it.
Some of them suggested that the gesture was a symbolic one arising from the gratitude of representatives of under-privileged Northerners in recognition of Dr. Jonathan’s support of reform of Islamic education in the North when he was president.
Other analysts revealing a more conspiratorial frame of mind allege that the gesture was part of a region-wide attempt by the North to impose a Southern leader who is constitutionally constrained to serve only one term as a result of having previously held office.
Either of these excuses for the unusual generosity of Miyetti Allah are not only far-fetched but also unrealistic and Dr. Jonathan’s swift rebuttal of the gesture, which his aides described as being both unsolicited and insulting, was not merely appropriate but also revealing.
Dr. Jonathan was also reported as having said he was not contesting for the Presidency in the forthcoming election and as far as we know he has not jettisoned his membership of the PDP. However, although he left Nigeria the day after Miyetti Allah’s sensational announcement to fulfill an international appointment, and it was announced that very day that he had been appointed to participate in a high-powered international committee to discuss global issues in Europe, the social media is still replete with conspiratorial reports about his supposed interest in the Presidential race.
The events narrated above are indicative of one of the most important issues to be unearthed by the advent of the contemporary Nigerian political game. The issue of what role former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is really playing in the current system of representative democracy in Nigeria has become a central point of discussion for average citizens. Indeed, while the approach of the electoral season has generated much discussion especially on the eligibility of aspirants and their ability to pay the substantial fees being charged for contesting, rumours surrounding Dr. Jonathan’s possible entry into the race have turned out to be among the more two prescient issues of discussion in the public space.
Two factors of contemporary circumstance have combined to drive that subject of discussion with much more vehemence and public curiosity than other subjects of concern. First of all the existence of social media has made it possible for several anonymous commentators to articulate their opinions and express their views widely on this issue. As a result, the Jonathan syndrome in the contest became an iconic issue of discussion and controversy partly because he remained silent on the issue when others were openly vocal and extremely loud in voicing their assumptions concerning his role.
Until the Miyetti Allah imbroglio was aired the issue of Jonathan’s relevance in the forthcoming contest was regarded as a fringe issue but it has gradually become a subject of core concern.
Jonathan’s response to the show of public interest in his relationship to the new political circumstances that have arisen in Nigeria has been to maintain a studied silence rather than to join issues with those who have been commenting on his relevance on social media. He has however expressed an interest in promoting stability and advocating the welfare of ordinary citizens and elected officers’ representation of the popular will. As a consequence, he has held discussions with several members of the extant political establishment in Nigeria regardless of partisan identity.
Again, Jonathan has not so far announced any desire to return to office and those who have been promoting this eventuality have done so without any empirical evidence based either on his comments, or precedent based on his conduct. It appears that his evaluation of the popular will of the Nigerian electorate is still credible with a substantial proportion of participants and that his term in office might have attracted perpetual and confirmed support from many of those who voted for him and who still consider his Presidency as having been a watershed era in Nigeria’s political history. This reality has given the speculative social media reports an air of feasibility in recent times, but in terms of genuine political calculation at this time the proposals seem unrealistic.
A comprehensive reading of the circumstances surrounding contemporary electoral politics in Nigeria, especially where the contest for the Presidential seat is concerned, suggests that a Jonathan candidacy would generate inordinate controversy. Among the probabilities that he and the supporters of his candidacy must consider is the nature of political dialogue and contention that has become conventional over the last few years in Nigeria. There can hardly be any doubt that several of those who have already announced their ambition to contest for office are definitely well schooled political provocateurs who will have no qualms about three making Dr. Jonathan’s eligibility to contest an issue of legal contention and controversy.
It will certainly be less controversial and more in keeping with his record of stable tolerance of the political antics of those who are greedy for power if he avoids being dragged into such quarrelsome debates either on the public platform or in the law courts. In fact, Dr. Jonathan’s conduct as an ex-Head of State, including his polite and mannerly relationship with his successor might very well be a major reason why the suggestion that he could actually run for the ticket of the ruling party has been generated.
However, it runs against the grain of political succession in a nation of such diverse complexity as Nigeria for a leader whose followership is based on such insubstantial foundations of personal ambition as Dr. Jonathan’s to return to power without provoking substantial opposition, Dr. Jonathan might do well to consider that those who are promoting the possibility of his return are not themselves likely to have to confront those who will challenge his eligibility in court. As a consequence, his entry into the race, if based on the perceived popularity of his person, might simply serve to create an imbroglio that will further complicate Nigeria’s already complex failure to build a truly representative system of governance.
We are convinced that Dr. Jonathan’s conduct both when he was in office and since he has assumed the status of elder statesman as a retired Head of State has enabled him to be an exemplary figure in the annals of Nigerian political leadership, but that his return to the arena of contestation would devalue his reputation.
However, there can be no doubt that in the light of contemporary political circumstances in Nigeria those who regard his period and tenure as the national leader as having been both positive and worthwhile have the right to advocate his return if they wish to do so. If that is the basis for the speculative reports that have been inundating the social media his eventual decision should emerge as soon as the party primaries have ended within the time limit imposed by INEC in the event that he declares an interest or does not.
An important element of the political discourse will be what role his influence plays in the eventual contest whether he runs or not. It will be interesting to see what value is placed on his opinions about or possible endorsement of those who eventually emerge as the genuine contestants, especially if he stays out of the race. At this juncture in the run up to the competition the noise being made about his possible entry into the race is normal political chatter but the real importance of Jonathan’s relevance to the system will not be evident until he voices a verdict on the choice that confronts the electorate.
Barrett wrote from Abuja
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