Plot to anoint Jonathan as Buhari’s successor unsettles Nigerian politics

By Akin Irede

Posted on Friday, 27 May 2022 18:36
Former president Goodluck Jonathan on an electoral observation mission in Liberia in 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

A grand plot to anoint former President Goodluck Jonathan as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is unsettling other presidential aspirants in the APC including Lagos godfather Bola Tinubu, who is in pole position to win the primary. With a federal court giving Jonathan the right to contest the election, the former president must now cross one last hurdle to secure the ticket.

Ahead of the APC presidential primary, news has began to circulate that Jonathan may be favoured by President Muhammadu Buhari. The former president has not said whether he intends to throw his hat in the ring, and a spokesman for Jonathan has said he would seek the APC nomination in any event.

But The Africa Report has learned that a small cabal in the presidency led by Buhari’s influential nephew, Mamman Daura, has already endorsed the former president and begun leaning in to ensure that he gets the APC ticket.

On the other side of the continent in Kenya, much has been written about how two eternal rivals – President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga – have become soul mates of sorts. Their rivalry, which plunged the nation into a political crisis a few years ago, has now become a partnership with Kenyatta ignoring his own deputy, William Ruto, while looking to ensure that Raila succeeds him in the August election.

Nearly 3,000 miles away in Nigeria, a similar scenario appears to be unfolding between former President Jonathan and his successor, Buhari.

Foes turned friends

The election that led to Jonathan’s ouster and Buhari’s emergence in 2015 was described as one of the most divisive ever.

Jonathan, an Ijo Christian from the oil-rich Niger Delta, and Buhari, a Muslim from the Hausa/Fulani clan in northern Nigeria, went at each other all through the campaign. Buhari denounced Jonathan’s presidency as irredeemably corrupt, while Jonathan called the retired general an old man with outdated ideas.

However, this relationship soon changed after Jonathan graciously congratulated Buhari even before the results of the election were announced on 1 April, 2015. Jonathan also deviated from the norm by choosing not to challenge Buhari’s victory in court, a move which endeared him to the new president.

Since then, Jonathan has visited Buhari at least 10 times at the presidential villa, a record for an opposition politician.

Jonathan also became less visible in his own party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and even supported the candidate of the APC in his home state of Bayelsa during the governorship election in 2016.

The former president has also refused to criticise his successor despite constant attacks and criticisms from Buhari’s aides.

The plot

In a photo posted by the news site Sahara Reporters earlier this week, Jonathan was seen shaking hands with Daura after the current president’s nephew visited Jonathan at his Abuja home. The Africa Report has learned that the national chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Adamu, has also visited Jonathan at home twice in the past week, with both meetings happening at midnight.

Jonathan’s demand is simple: He will only join the APC if assured that he will be endorsed by President Buhari, who will in turn tell the governors to ensure that the delegates to the primary vote for Jonathan.

“Jonathan told them his condition for joining the presidential race,” an associate of the former fresident told The Africa Report. “He is new in the party and has no structures in place. He doesn’t have the kind of support the likes of Tinubu and Amaechi (former transport minister) have. So, he needs Buhari to do all the dirty work for him after which he will emerge as the candidate of the party.”

The fact that Jonathan is a southern Christian and can only serve one term in office has also been embraced by some northern elements who see him returning power to the north in 2027.

Legal hurdles

Apart from Buhari’s endorsement, Jonathan also needed the green light from a federal court because of the peculiarity of his ascension to the presidency. Jonathan had been elected as vice president alongside President Umaru Yar’Adua. Following Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, Jonathan was inaugurated as president.

In 2011, Jonathan ran for a full term and won. In 2015, while he was about to join the presidential race, the legality of his candidacy was challenged because he had already been inaugurated twice, which is the constitutional limit. However, a court ruled that he was indeed eligible.

Following his defeat, the constitution was altered in 2018 to bar vice presidents who succeed their running mate from serving more than one extra full term in office. Jonathan’s opponents believe this provision should bar him from running again.

In a bid to clear all doubts, some supporters of the former president asked the Federal High Court to weigh in on the matter. The court on 27 May ruled that Jonathan was free to run.

The last obstacle

With Jonathan now legally permitted to run, he still needs to be formally endorsed by President Buhari. The Africa Report has learned that Jonathan has been given a waiver to contest in line with the constitution of the APC.

Some 2, 300 delegates will be arriving from across the country in the coming days to choose their party’s nominee. These delegates are loyal to the governors who handpicked them for this assignment.

Buhari, the governors, federal lawmakers and other statutory delegates are not allowed to vote. The electoral law also states that for a consensus candidate to emerge, all aspirants must state in writing that they are ready to willingly step down.

Buhari must now rely on the governors to do his bidding. He will be expected to inform them of his preferred choice and pray that they follow through with his wishes.

“Getting the governors to instruct the delegates to vote for Jonathan is the most difficult part of the plan,” said an associate of the former president. “If the governors disobey the president, then he will become a lame duck with a year left in office. Also, Jonathan will be humiliated and become a laughing stock. This is the last and most difficult obstacle. The president will certainly back down if he sees he cannot pull it off.”

However, the governors are indebted to the president after he allowed them to impose their successors.

“All the governors who are running for a second term were given automatic tickets while those who are outgoing were allowed to impose their successors,” an APC chieftain told The Africa Report. “It would be hypocritical of them not to allow Buhari to impose his own successor.”

Fortunately for Buhari, some governors have already expressed their readiness to support whoever the president endorses.

“Borno State delegates will vote based on their conscience. But again, our leader, General Muhammadu Buhari, is very important in this political equation. We are still waiting for him to tell us what to do and we will follow,” Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, who controls 81 delegates, said earlier in the week. “His advice is very important so we have to wait for his advice.”

Likewise the governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, advised Tinubu earlier in the week to “go back to your friend Muhammadu Buhari and discuss with him”, an indication that Buhari’s decision will determine who he supports.

Man to beat

With support from many of the governors, Tinubu remains the man to beat. His supporters believe he is entitled to the presidential ticket having bankrolled Buhari’s campaign in 2015, and that it would be a betrayal of trust to give it to an outsider.

However, defeating the former president could be a tall order.

James Faleke, a federal lawmaker who heads Tinubu’s campaign group, told The Africa Report that Jonathan is free to run . However, he insisted that the primary must be free and fair and no one should be imposed on the party.

“Those courting Jonathan are free to do so. It is their right. But we are still very confident of victory even if Jonathan is in the race,” Faleke says. “All we are demanding is a free and fair process. This is the only thing that will prevent people from defecting from the party after the primary. We want an open contest. Consensus is not even in the APC constitution.”

Also, the pro-Tinubu South-West Agenda for Asiwaju 2023 (SWAGA’23 ) told The Africa Report that the imposition of candidates at the state level could not be replicated in the presidential primary.

The National Secretary of SWAGA, Bosun Oladele, said that consensus would not be easy to force.

“Don’t forget that when we talk of consensus, the law is very clear. For there to be consensus, all candidates must agree,” Oladele says. “What the governors are doing in the states cannot happen at the presidential primary.”

“We are talking of delegates from across the country. The winner will be the person with the highest number of delegates; the person who has been able to convince delegates to vote for him,” he says.”So, we are confident of victory because we have the states that have the majority of the delegates.”

Kayode Ajulo, a campaigner for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, insists Jonathan will not win the APC ticket. He also advised those supporting the former president that his court victory could yet be overturned on appeals.

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