In contemporary Nigerian political history, it does not take an excessively labourious survey from the ordinary citizens in the streets to find that the most towering democratic leader who has built national trust among the people is no other than former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, fondly called GEJ. On radio air waves, market places, schools and even among the coterie of confused political class currently in the saddle, everyone tries to fraternise with the former president in order to shore up his or her political credibility. This does not come as a surprise at all to discerning observers; it is because of the high stakes in the fast – approaching 2023 presidential election.
One of the most critical arguments about the 2023 presidential election is the agitation for power to shift to Southern Nigeria. Of course, this is hardly a debatable point. After President Muhammadu Buhari completes his second term, he has taken the slot of the North in the North-South power rotation agreement, an age-long chored that has defined the proverbial handshake across the Niger. This is thus not the issue. The real question is: Who is the aspirant that is most acceptable to the Nigerian voters from the Southern part of Nigeria among the contenders for the highest office of the land, the presidency?
To most Nigerians, the question is not about the waning or wanned influence of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, or the uncertain calculations of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It is neither the consideration of ethnicity or religious identity, Nigeria’s most lethal primordial sentiments. It is about the personality of the contenders.
There are many persons from the South whose names have been flaunted as 2023 presidential aspirants. It is imperative to look at them and examine who they are and what Nigerians think of them.
I share the recent thoughts in some quarters that though the two main parties have not yet come out with the zoning of the ticket, there is every indication that the APC will pick a candidate from the South, after the North. The PDP on the other hand has given indication that it will throw the contest open to aspirants from the North and South. However, the present position of the PDP is still tentative as the majority of the governors elected on the platform of the party have thrown their weight to the demand of Southern Governors Forum that the presidency should go to the south in 2023. It is therefore a conclusive decision of the South and many supporters in the North that the presidency is shifting to the South.
Among the most popular names that touted to be aspiring or may contest in the 2023 presidential election is the amiable former President Jonathan. For obvious reasons, his is a most unique factor in the 2023 permutations. Unlike other aspirants, he has been under intense pressure, especially by Northern political power brokers that believe that he is the only person most accepted by Sothern people; the most accepted person by Northerners; the most accepted person to both Christian and Muslim communities who have tested the current ruling APC under the Buhari administration but got their fingers severely burnt.
It is noteworthy that GEJ has yet to openly declare his interest to contest for the 2023 presidential election, he is being wooed not only within the PDP but also by APC governors that want him to defect and join their party.
Unlike any previous leaders in the country, GEJ is more popular in every part of the country today than even when he was a sitting president. The statesmanlike manner he conceded defeat and handed over power in 2015 shocked the entire world and this earned him respect round the globe. Since Jonathan handed over power to President Buhari he became the darling of the northern people, including the core north. As far back as two years back some northerners are already beckoning him to return to the Aso Rock presidential villa. Most Nigerians see Jonathan as a better manager of the nation as compared to the present leadership in the country. If Jonathan decides to contest again in 2023, no doubt, he will be the candidate to beat irrespective of the party on whose platform he contests as his major support base in the South and Middle belt is still intact. With the additional support he is getting from the other parts of the north Jonathan will be home and dry if he goes into the race.
It should be underscored that GEJ has the unrivaled record that during his stay in the presidential villa, he ran an inclusive government which gave every part of the country a sense of belonging with his policies and appointments. GEJ is well known for his civil approach in tackling issues built around the need to ensure social justice, equity and the rule of law. During Jonathan’s administration Nigeria’s economy not only survived major shake-ups that affected most advanced economies, it actually grew in leaps and bounds, emerging as Africa’s largest.
There are other aspirants angling to contest the 2023 presidential election. They are the APC National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu; former vice president Atiku Abubakar; PDP presidential running mate in 2019, Peter Obi, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; former Senate President Abubakar Saraki; former banker, Kinsley Moghalu and Kingsley Moghalu, among others.
The hurdles for Tinubu are the stiff opposition against his candidature within the APC, especially by the APC governors. There is also the unending mistrust between him and the cabal of this government. There are so many issues swirling around him. There is an issue of alleged corruption which the EFCC alluded to recently that it is investigating him. There is the age factor which many Nigerians think does not favour him.
As a matter of fact, Nigerians and voters in particular know that any party that makes GEJ its flag bearer will automatically win the hearts of Nigerians in 2023 and this is very easy to know. That is why today GEJ is the darling of political leaders in the ruling party APC as well as the main opposition party, the PDP.
Nigerian citizens feel nostalgic about the period of the Jonathan administration. food was a zero concern to everybody. Rice was like heaps of sand. He gathered the most creative and balanced technocrats who managed the economy in such a way that Nigeria became the number one economy in Africa. More than six years down the lines, the economy has gone down. Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world where her citizens cannot eat food.
Between the GEJ administration and the present ruling APC administration, Nigerians know who they should trust. Nigerians have been betrayed by the Buhari administration it voted into power in 2015. The country is most insecure today as a result of banditry and insurgency that cut peoples’ lives short. The North-East has become a region whose economic and political structure is shared between insurgents and the Federal Government of Nigeria. There is no sector in the country that is not experiencing upheaval as a result of maladministration, mismanagement and corruption.
Listening and watching leaders in the South expressing themselves on national matters, it is very clear that they lack statesmanship. They also lack tact. But GEJ is not like that. He speaks for national interest and not for personal and political interest. GEJ is the standard for measuring between a statesman and a greedy and ambitious politician.
Nigeria and Nigerians should not make any mistake. The South should put on a thinking cap and support GEJ as a consensus aspirant from the South. It will be the wisest and smartest decision they will ever take. GEJ is the most acceptable aspirant from the South to Nigerians and history is beckoning on the region to act fast. The region should cease the moment and make history. He is the man that every group of person can relate with from any part of Nigeria as a result of his unparalleled humility and disarming candour.
In considering this, the South must equally note that Nigeria is larger than any selfish and slim interest. The South has the best chance in GEJ to produce the next president. The political leaders should therefore move quickly and convince and support him to contest the 2023 presidential election.
Hameed, Ph.D is a political scientist based in Kaduna.