“I Goodluck Ebele Jonathan by the grace of God hereby offer myself and my services to the Nigerian people as a candidate for the office of President in the forth coming 2011 elections.” It is now official. President Goodluck Jonathan will run. So politicking now begins in full glare. In politics- Nigerian politics so to speak, the basic rule is; most things are to be enshrouded in secrecy, while few in openness. Today, the streets of Nigeria are chock-full with discussions on who will clinch the presidential ticket of the ruling party- the PDP. While on the other hand, politicians are secretly involve in intensive intrigues, horse-trading and scheming. These are signs that the PDP presidential primary will be interesting; full of tricky manoeuvres, and a keenly contested party primary similar to the 1999 PDP presidential primaries and the 1992 staggered presidential primaries of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) which were in the end cancelled by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida.
Being the President of Nigeria, the circumstance that led to his emergence as the President as well as his party’s controversial in-house policy of power rotation between the North and South has put President Goodluck Jonathan in the eyes of political pundits; politicians and ordinary Nigerians. Dr. Goodluck has now formally declared his intention to contest for the 2011 presidential election. Winning the PDP primaries is the first hurdle for him to scale in his quest to return to the seat of presidential power. This is very crucial, because anyone aspiring to be the President of Nigeria must have a party platform to contest on. The big question is; will Jonathan win the PDP presidential primaries?
Dr Goodluck will slug it out with the former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Bukola Saraki and probably Gen. Aliyu Gusau and a host of others. IBB and Atiku, as they are popularly called, appear to be the strongest of Jonathan’s opponents. But can Jonathan defeat them in the PDP primaries? President Jonathan’s supporters have strong confidence in his ability to rout his two strong opponents. His Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji, in a telephone interview with The Punch newspaper of August 30, 2010, said that former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, and ex-Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, would lose the presidential primary of the PDP. Equally, both IBB’s and Atiku’s camps have shown great confidence in winning the primaries. Atiku was recently quoted to have said: “The deal I have with IBB is that when this has been resolved (their interests), we will enter into a room and then, one person would emerge.” - hmmm, Nigerian politics is exciting.
Whichever way or sequence the PDP conducts her primaries; staggered or not, any aspirant who is serious about winning the party’s presidential ticket must work painstakingly to win the support of the State Governors and the bigwig politicians, in addition to putting in place a formidable political network that is extremely proficient in the art of reaching concession, honest engagement and collective bargaining. Moreover, the talent of sheer politicking is also required. The trio of Atiku, IBB, Jonathan and other contestants have the capacity to achieve the aforementioned, but Jonathan has a very vital advantage that none of the other aspirants has- the incumbency advantage.
Challenging and unseating a sitting President during his party’s primaries is a painstaking job, indeed very difficult. Incumbents traditionally win their party's nomination. The incumbent anywhere in the world is always the man to beat. In fact, the primaries are usually a walkover for him. He can always swing delegates’ votes with decisions which may appear ordinary.
It will be a political suicide for a political party to change its flag bearer who is already occupying the office. For instance, the PDP will not just throw away the many advantages Jonathan’s candidacy will offer the party. As the President, Jonathan is privileged to preside over national events and decision making, this frequently gives him favourable publicity, more name recognition and often receive more exposure in the media than those challenging him. Jonathan will have easier access to campaign funds as well as have structural advantages over his challengers during election. In addition to other advantages he has, the timing of the primaries may be determined by the PDP officials who naturally, will support him.
Jonathan is running as a symbol of generational shift and he is ‘untainted’ by any political or economic scandal. PDP delegates will compare and contrast the candidates' qualifications, issues, positions and personal characteristics in a comparatively clear-cut way. Jonathan will get his party delegates’ endorsement because the delegates have not been provided with a compelling reason to vote for someone else. Though, there exist situations in which the incumbency factor itself leads to the downfall of the incumbent, situations of this kind occur when the incumbent has proven himself not worthy of office during his tenure and the challengers demonstrate this fact. Jonathan is very lucky to have escaped such a scenario.
The odds seem to be so much in favour of Jonathan. Why? Researchers of western democracies, the U.S. in particular, have identified several factors which make sitting incumbents hard to beat and why most incumbents who run for re-election get re-elected. The research showed that since World War II, 90% of incumbents who ran for re-election were successful. The research further showed that the most important factors that help incumbents include: the “perks” of office, time, visibility, campaign organisation and finance, a highly organized staff, the power of the presidential office and facilities, the advantage of taking actions that are carefully timed to maximize political advantage and use of policies or decisions to display leadership as Commander-in-Chief.
The PDP presidential primaries would fundamentally be like a referendum on Jonathan. The PDP delegates will evaluate whether his challengers are acceptable alternatives. Political pundits are of the view that quality challengers do not typically choose to run when there is little chance and incumbents who are vulnerable do not always choose to run for re-election. In political party primaries involving an incumbent and challengers, the deck is always somehow stacked against the challengers. As the PDP presidential primary approaches, President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be like a moving train. You can’t stop a moving train!
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, firstname.lastname@example.org, 08036070980