Recognising Exemplary Leadership

By Godwin Nzeaka

Fifteen years into the Fourth Republic, Nigeria is currently enjoying her longest period of civilian rule. Although the history of the country is replete with a number of failed attempts at civilian rule, many are now beginning to believe that democracy has at last come to stay in the most populous black nation on earth. Not that there haven’t been the sort of crises that have in the past provided excuse for the military to seize power.

The festering Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east might have in the past prompted a fresh round of military adventurism, but it now appears that the armed forces have come to accept that one of their core responsibilities is the preservation of democratic freedom in the land. More encouragingly too, leading politicians are beginning to recognise the importance of avoiding the sort of skulduggery and brinkmanship responsible for derailing previous democratic experiments.

Only last week, the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, endorsed Dr Goodluck Jonathan to run for a second term in office as the party’s [standard]-bearer in the 2015 presidential elections. In justifying their decision to unanimously support Jonathan’s yet-to-be declared ambition, chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum and governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, commended the President’s efforts at curtailing the spread of the dreaded virus disease in Nigeria as well as recent successes by the armed forces in combating Boko Haram insurgents.

This laudable step by the PDP NEC signifies remarkable progress in our political evolution as a nation. Political successions are often messy affairs in Nigeria. About 11 years ago, then President Olusegun Obasanjo fell out with his vice president, Atiku Abubakar, over the latter’s reluctance to wholeheartedly support him for a second term in office. Although Atiku eventually brought his formidable Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, machinery to support Obasanjo, the then number one citizen took umbrage at what he construed as his being practically forced to beg for the ticket. During his second tenure, Obasanjo set about trying to systematically decimate Atiku’s political base – a campaign that literally made him take his eyes off the ball of governance.

The concept of the right of first refusal given by a ruling party to an incumbent Head of State eligible for a second term in office is a global standard. Indeed, there are very few countries in the world where an eligible incumbent is subjected to having to endure the arduous process of contesting for his party’s nomination.

Because in the long run, knowing that a first-term president is automatically guaranteed to be the party’s [standard]-bearer at the next election cycle helps rally members to ensure the success of that regime. Such continuity and consistency represent vital building blocks in establishing strong institutions, especially in a heterogeneous party like the PDP whose membership broadly cuts across ethnic and religious divides. Embracing the granting of this right of first refusal will help in entrenching much-needed ideals of honour and civility in our political culture.

President Jonathan on his part has described his adoption as a humbling experience. It is widely believed that his humility is one of his biggest selling points. His uncanny ability to connect and empathise with the average Nigerian has helped make him lovable and electable. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he demonstrated that he is not consumed by blind ambition when, in responding to his unanimous endorsement, he pointed out he still has a right to refuse the nomination. On the other hand, other party members aren’t formally barred from seeking for the party’s presidential nomination. Yet it will seem that in endorsing Goodluck Jonathan, the party leadership is trying to direct their members in the course of action they deem to be most sensible at this point.

Very importantly, the PDP has succeeded in further burnishing its respectability as a ‘centrist’ party in a political terrain dotted by parochial ethnic-affiliated parties. There were no suggestions that party members were being whipped into line to declare support for the President. It is a win-win situation for all sides. The President is afforded more time before he hits the campaign trail for the elections proper. The PDP on its part avoids the often messy and fragmentary politicking that characterises party primaries in Nigeria. And the electorate ultimately gets a chance to pass a verdict on Goodluck Jonathan’s stewardship so far.

The honour done by the PDP to President Jonathan does not come cheap, for it is usually based on hard work and performance in office. In the United States, US, for example from where Nigeria copied the executive presidential system, almost all the great presidents who rose to that height under the umbrella of political parties were so requited.

If we exclude George Washington, because the party system did not yet exist in America at his time, we recall that the 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809), had graduated like Jonathan from vice president to president in 1801. One of Jefferson’s great achievements was the purchase of the expansive Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, by virtue of which the country’s land mass almost doubled at a meager cost of $15 million. Jefferson took the initiative irrespective of the fact that the American constitution was silent on land acquisition. For this and other feats Jefferson was offered the right of first refusal by the Democratic–Republican Party and he went ahead to defeat his opponent Charles Pinckeny by an electoral margin of 162 to 14.

Ditto for Andrew Jackson, the president who got Britain to open West Indian ports to US Shipping; Abraham Lincoln, who prosecuted the civil war and dealt a crucial blow to slavery. Others are Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, Franklin Roosevelt the 32nd president, as well as Ronald Reagan and the incumbent President Barrack Obama. In fact, Roosevelt was given the right of first refusal for the unprecedented fourth time as a result of his achievements.

President Jonathan’s performance record speaks eloquently for him. In spite of daunting odds, since his substantive election into office in 2011, true to his pet Transformation Agenda, the country has witnessed remarkable changes in more areas than one. The right of first refusal offered him by his party is therefore a step in the right direction, for it will enable Nigeria to reap the fruits of his transformational initiative to the full. Besides visible strides in the social and economic spheres, by convoking the National Conference, Jonathan has scaled a major political hurdle, which no Nigerian leader before him could summon the courage to attempt for fear that it could spell the end of the union.

Today, the Nigerian union is the better for it. Emerging as it did with a new and widely accepted constitutional template for an equitable federation, next to independence, the conference was the greatest thing to happen here since 1914. It was Woodrow Wilson, another great American president and beneficiary of the same right of first refusal, who said that, “one cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to be supplied is light and not heat.” President Jonathan in his characteristic humility and level-headedness has remained a source of light and exemplary leadership in Nigeria’s most harrowing moment and therefore deserves to be so honoured by his political party.

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