By Dapo Akinrefon, Sam Oyandogha, Jimitota Onoyume, Ozioruva Aliu. Chioma Onuegbu, Perez Brisibe, Yinka Ajayi & Egufe Yafurborghi
Following reports that there is a plan by northern power brokers to draft former President Goodluck Jonathan into the 2023 presidential race, Niger Delta leaders are divided over the matter.
Many described the development as a plot by the North to remain in power by proxy after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Others considered it a healthy move, but outlined conditions to be met before the former leader accepts the offer.
Though some cautioned Jonathan not to accept any overture, others said it was needed to unify Nigerians owing to what was described as Buhari’s divisive leadership.
Vanguard had earlier reported that there were plans by the North to draft the former President into the 2023 race to have a government of national unity after Buhari’s tenure.
An influential former northern governor was reported as leading the project, said to be currently being marketed to northern elites.
On the heels of Vanguard’s report was a similar one by another medium, which said Buhari’s supporters had bought into the plan.
According to the report, a Jonathan presidency would satisfy growing calls for power shift to the South. Besides, it was said that the North considered him a gentleman who wouldn’t move against northern interest.
Sunday Vanguard could not confirm from the former President, who handed over to Buhari in 2015, after serving one term, if overtures had been made to him, but he had earlier denied being under pressure to run.
After ruling for six years, two of which were the remnant of the late President Umar Yar’Adua’s tenure, Jonathan is still entitled to one term.
However, the former President’s kinsmen were divided by the development, with some giving conditions that could make such possible. Others felt it was a needless project.
‘It’s South’s turn’
Speaking on the matter, National Coordinator South-South Elders Forum and former Trustee Member of PANDEF, High Chief Anab Sara-Igbe, said:”It is the turn of the South-South. The region should have another term. Those inviting President Goodluck Jonathan into the 2023 presidential race are not wrong.”
He shouldn’t run -Gbemre
National Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition, Zik Gbemere, said:” President Goodluck Jonathan remains a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with the right to be active in the 2023 presidential election.
“He still has the window to contest since he ruled for just one term.
“However, if I were Goodluck Jonathan, I will not accept the pressure from the North or anywhere else to contest any election again. Knowing the type of politics played in Nigeria, it may just be an attempt to dent his image further.
“Jonathan achieved a lot when he calmly conceded defeat and accepted the outcome of the 2015 presidential election. What else does Jonathan want to achieve? What is it that Jonathan could not do well, with nearly six years as the President of Nigeria? Jonathan should be very careful not to accept any Greek Gift, either from any person or any other geopolitical zone of the country.”
North must allow Jonathan to restructure Nigeria – Soberekonto
On his part, Ijaw leader and elder statesman, Sokari Soberekon, said: “It is not enough for the North to call on Jonathan to contest in 2023. The North must be committed to giving him room to restructure when he eventually wins.
Recall that his commitment to Northern development was met with ingratitude by those who pretended to love him, but vehemently thwarted the man’s determination to restructure the country.
“If they want him to be President again, they must support him to restructure the country to become a truly federal state. Regardless of the fears in the North, restructuring is for the good of all Nigerians.”
It should be a Nigerian project, not North’s —Omare
Also, an Ijaw activist and immediate past President, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Eric Omare, said: “In my view, to say that a section of the country is projecting someone for the highest office in the land is not a proper narrative. Goodluck Jonathan as a former President of Nigeria enjoys the support of all sections of Nigeria. If he desires to aspire to the Presidency in 2023, he would enjoy the support of Nigerians and not a northern affair. If the project truly exists, it should be seen as a Nigerian project.”
North shouldn’t play godfather role—Seigha
Chairman of Niger Delta Nationalities Forum, Mr. Seigha Manager, said the Niger Delta would not allow the North play the godfather in 2023.
Manager said: “The mere thought of it sends mixed feelings and reactions amongst individuals and groups. For some, it is a mere rumour or speculation. For others, it is a great idea. However, as a pressure group from the Niger Delta region, our reaction is yes and no. Yes, because the ex-President as a Nigerian, having spent only one term in office is fundamentally qualified to contest for another term. This, however, is his right.
Nonetheless, our group will rather resist or say no to the idea of a particular group or political lineage trying to drag the ex-President into the arena for selfish interest. This is more so if the political permutations show that he may be drafted to hold office as a figurehead on behalf of a particular region. The North would complete its eight-year tenure in May 2023, and therefore, should not necessarily play a godfather role.
Jonathan should be left to exercise his fundamental human right as a Nigerian if he is convinced that Nigerians want him back. This should be the choice of all geopolitical zones rather than a few who want to retain power by proxy.
“Recall that a huge percentage of Niger Deltans worked tirelessly for Jonathan’s second term, including our group, but the North that benefited more from Jonathan insisted it was its turn to produce the next Nigeria’s President. We, the Niger Delta people did not benefit from the Jonathan administration the way northerners are now benefiting from President Buhari. Most South-South people aren’t happy with Jonathan.
“We are certainly not interested in a Jonathan who will come again to practice “one Nigeria.” Rather, we need a southern President, who will act exactly like President Buhari. We don’t want a Jonathan who will not be able to sack the northern Service Chiefs and appoint only southerners. We want a southern President who will come in 2023 and have a mind of his own. We don’t need a northern Jonathan.”
Restructuring more important to us —Nkanga
A former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State and National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum ,PANDEF, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd, said the body needs to know those behind the move before having a formal position.
His words: “We don’t react to things like that since we have not been able to authenticate the value and standing of people who are dragging Jonathan into the 2023 presidential race. However, those things are not important to us. There are a lot of other issues to be looked at.
“The restructuring of this country is more important to us (PANDEF) than all those things. We should avoid all these distractions. Let us do things that are more important to Nigerians. Our position on the 2023 presidential race is that if there is zoning, for the sake of honour we should stand by it. That is what we have said so far”
Jonathan won’t get involved—Essien
On his part, a former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban, Chief Nduese Essien, added: “It is not real. I think some boys are just flying a kite. You know people always do such a thing. I don’t even think Jonathan will want to be involved in that type of mess. In fact, there is no point for any serious-minded person to respond to such an issue because it is not a serious thing.’’
Promoters are looking for malleable character—Okon
Similarly, pioneer National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and spokesman of Akwa Ibom Leaders Vanguard, Senator Anietie Okon, described the development as a sign of desperation for power.
He said: “I hope he, Jonathan, is not going to accept that rubbish because their interest will be against the region he comes from and Nigeria. He cannot reduce us to that level of servitude. They are talking about one Nigeria, yet they do not believe that a president from the South will protect their interest. They are looking for a malleable character. People of conscience have agreed that allowing the Igbo to produce the next President in 2023 would be a testament to the so-called one Nigeria. They think they are smarter than everyone.”
Next President should come from South-East—Owie
Making his position known, a former Chief Whip of the Senate, Sen Rolland Owie, said those behind the plan have a hidden agenda.
He said: “Some of our people are dishonest when it comes to politics. Our colleagues in the North know how to play the game. For instance, when my friend and Ahmadu Bello University school mate, El-Rufai, was talking about power coming to the South, I said he was already planning to run.
“Those of us in the South take our brothers from the North for granted. They are more politically matured than those of us in the South. Southern politicians put their cards on the table while our colleagues in the North hardly put their cards on the table.
“If northerners want to drag Jonathan into the race, they know they are not saying the truth. They are just pretending. They have a different agenda. Frankly, the most marginalised section of the country is the South-East. During the Second Republic, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, had agreed that when Shagari finishes his second term, the Presidency will go to the South-East, but the military truncated that republic. Akex Ekweme, from the South-East, was certainly gearing to be President. The marginalisation of the South-East has been happening from the Second Republic to this day. The North shouldn’t bring Jonathan to disrepute and I trust he won’t take them seriously. They are being used to create disunity in the South.”
What’s their intention? –Ambakederimo
Convener of South-South Reawakening Group, Joseph Ambakederimo, questioned the intention of those behind the plan.
He said: “It is baffling to me as much as it is amusing. This issue that is gradually gaining traction is not sitting well with me. On what platform is the plan going to be achieved? Who are the ones behind this? What is their intent? What is there to be achieved and how would it be beneficial to the country? Is the intent of these persons altruistic? I asked these questions on the backdrop of the many scandals that have trailed his administration.”
N’Delta needs devt, not Presidency— Saatah
Also speaking, acting President of Niger Delta Congress, NDC, Nubari Saatah, said the North should not manipulate ex-President Jonathan.
He said: “The Presidency is not of utmost importance to the Niger Delta people at this point in our history. The core of our agitation has been economic and environmental justice for our people, and if we didn’t get that before his removal from office in 2015, what are the chances of getting it if he becomes President in 2023? It is simply a distraction, and a means to slow down the struggle of our people. What the Niger Delta Congress and the Niger Delta people want is the restructuring of the country, which will pave the way for economic and environmental justice. That also doesn’t mean that if Jonathan is a candidate in 2023 the Niger Delta people will not support him.”
Jonathan should get ready – Evah
National Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, IMG, Comrade Joseph Evah, asked Jonathan to be prepared to run for the office if the Igbo fail to produce a candidate.
Evah said: “It is obvious the next Nigerian President will be coming from the South, and anybody from the southern part of the country can produce the next President.
“However, the way I am looking at our brothers from the east, coupled with the way they are fighting themselves, they may sabotage themselves. If they are not ready to put their house in order, other ethnic nationalities are free to go for the position, even the Youruba are warming up for the position.
“If any ethnic nationality wants Ijaws to produce the next president, we believe that Jonathan is more qualified for the position as far as I am concerned. He has learned a lot of lessons.
“For us, we are ready to support him, but if Ijaw are not ready, other ethnic nationalities from the region are free to go for it including the Yoruba. We do not want the northerners to retain power for the next eight years. We should be alert and ready ahead of 2023.”
Why are we going backward?—Esele
On his part, former President of Trade Union Congress, TUC, Mr. Peter Esele, said: “Every political party has the right to decide which direction they want to go, but let’s ask ourselves, why is that we keep going backward by acting as if yesterday was better than today? In 1999, we went 20 years backward to get a leader in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo, who had ruled before. He was brought back in 1999 to become President.
“In 2015, we did the same by going 30 years backward to get President Muhammadu Buhari. Now, someone is asking us to do the same by going backward to about eight years to pick someone who had ruled us before? I do not think any country that wants to develop will be doing that repeatedly.
“I also think it is a slap on a particular generation of Nigerians because it actually means that they do not have anything to offer and that is why the country keeps going that way. But Jonathan is in the PDP, so if that is what the PDP wants, then the Nigerian people will decide. Jonathan as a human being is a wonderful and good person.
‘He shouldn’t run’
“If I am to advise him, I will tell him not to run. From my numerous interactions with him, I do not think he was even keen on going for that 2015 presidential election and that reflected in the manner he accepted defeat and moved on. If he goes into the murky waters of politics, everything will be done to smear him.”
We need Jonathan to unite Nigeria—Alaowei
National President, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, Mr. Cleric Alaowei, said Jonathan should be allowed to have a peaceful reign if they eventually succeed in convincing him to run.
“The call on former President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2023 poll is not bad. Jonathan is a symbol of unity, not only in Nigeria but on the entire African continent. His services are needed to unite the country again.
Buhari has largely polarized the country along ethno-religious lines. Ethnic sentiments, mediocrity, and nepotism are the other of the day. We need a detribalised figure to save the country from imminent collapse.
I am in support of their plan. They should not make the country ungovernable for him again. I hereby, advise Goodluck Jonathan to heed the call if it is genuine.”