Jonathan to contest in 2023?

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The decision by Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, to lead a delegation of fellow governors and leading members of the All Progressives Congress from across Nigeria, to felicitate with former President Goodluck Jonathan on his 63rd birthday has elicited reactions from across the country’s political space.

It was an unprecedented trip by leading lights of the former opposition, now ruling party, who ironically truncated Jonathan’s quest to return to Aso Rock in 2015.

Among the governors on Buni’s APC entourage were: David Umahi (Ebonyi State), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi State) and Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa State. Former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, was also part of the delegation.

It is instructive to note that Bagudu is the chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, an umbrella body of governors elected on the platform of the APC.

The party chieftains explained that the visit to the ex-President’s Abuja residence was to felicitate with him on his 63rd birthday.

Buni’s media adviser, Mamman Mohammed, while responding to inquiries about the visit, said, “His Excellency, the Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, and some of his colleagues in the APC were at the residence of former President Goodluck Jonathan to congratulate him on his 63rd birthday, nothing more.”

Speaking in a similar vein, spokesman for former President Jonathan, Ikechukwu Eze, explained that the APC leaders visited his principal to felicitate with him on his 63rd birthday.

He said, “He opened his doors to everyone to felicitate with him. People came from the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party. Will he use his birthday to be discussing 2023?

“People came from everywhere to give him a goodwill message. There were people from the APC and there were people from the PDP who visited him. The visit has no political undertone.”

However, the opposition PDP was not swayed. It argued that the visit was designed to “apologise” to the former President for the campaign of calumny waged against him in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.

The party stressed that the visit in itself was proof that the APC has admitted that the nation fared better when it was run by Jonathan, a PDP President.

In a statement titled, “APC governors’ visit to Jonathan affirms Nigeria is better with PDP,” and signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said, “The visit, which is a clear endorsement of the acceptability of the PDP administration also indicates that the APC, in 2015, only created artificial symbols of misgovernance, corruption and other alleged misgivings just to discredit our party and grab the levers of power to achieve their selfish desires.

“It is evident that the Jonathan administration succeeded in office basically because our party understands the nuances of our nation, which we translated into people-oriented policies and programmes, in line with the manifesto of our party, to make life comfortable for Nigerians.”

The PDP further said it “therefore receives the visit by APC governors as an apology by the APC to our party and Nigerians over the lies, beguilement and other irresponsible allegations deployed by the APC to grab power, only to lead our nation on a journey to nowhere.”

In response, the APC in a statement titled, “Why Is PDP rattled by APC governors’ visit to Jonathan?,” and signed by its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, said the PDP was simply rattled and disoriented by the courtesy visit.

He said, “At a time when the PDP and its leadership is grappling with a crisis of confidence, one would expect the failed opposition to focus on picking itself up. As a party for all progressives, the APC on its part will continue to consolidate on its national appeal and acceptance.”

But political pundits, who have seen beyond the rhetoric, have reached a conclusion that although the 2023 general elections are close to three years away, permutations as to who gets what, especially with regards to the presidency are beginning to take shape.

It was gathered that the visit unsettled members of not just the ruling party but also members of the opposition.

For those in the ruling party, there is more to the meeting than meet the eye for the simple reason that events leading up to the visit gave a lot of room for speculations.

A member of the National Working Committee of the PDP, who confided in our correspondent, said, “(Ex) President Jonathan has not identified with our party since leaving office in 2015. As a former president, by our constitution, he is a member of our caucus and Board of Trustees. He was neither at our last caucus meeting held on Thursday, nor was he at our NEC meeting on Friday.

“Unlike Chief (Olusegun) Obasanjo who came out in the open to express dissatisfaction over what was happening in the party in 2015, which we have since put behind us, Jonathan has been aloof. And to think that the Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, officially left the party barely 24 hours earlier, there is a lot of room to suggest something is happening.”

Also, a top-ranking member of the APC who equally spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said, “It’s just that in our country, every visit by our party leaders to any leader who is not in our party is given a political meaning. It would, however, not be out of place if political discussions were held.”

The spokesperson for a group of supporters of the APC under the aegis of Concerned APC members, Abdullahi Dauda, said, “Let us not deceive ourselves, a game is being played out by some people who want to play smart.

“The visit to former President Goodluck Jonathan which was done in front of cameras was for a reason. Some people want to dictate the terms on how things should be in 2023 and they have started their own calculations.”

Speculations are equally rife that some forces within the ruling party are seeking to get Jonathan to accept to return as President for a single term after which power will return to the North.

Those in this school of thought are of the view that the former President will be compelled to abide by this because of constitutional limitations.

They further argued that with power going back to the South, a new president will want to run for two unbroken terms thus prolonging the North’s time outside power at the centre.

There are, however, those who argue that this is not feasible because the constitution forbids a situation where an individual will take the oath of office and allegiance more than twice in his lifetime.

Jonathan was elected President in 2011 on the platform of the PDP.

Before then, he had been deputy governor and governor of Bayelsa State; Vice President and acting president, all on the platform of the PDP.

Jonathan had played host to the chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, Abubakar Bagudu, and the Jigawa State Governor, Mohammed Badaru, in his country home in Otuoke, Bayelsa State in 2019, shortly after the state governorship election.

They were on a thank-you visit to the former Nigerian leader for his support in the victory of David Lyon, the APC candidate in the election. Lyon was eventually sacked by the Supreme Court while Douye Diri of the PDP was declared the winner of the election.

Jonathan was elected president in 2011 and lost to Buhari in 2015, his concession call to Buhari which was first of its kind endeared him to many within and outside Nigeria.

In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, the PDP spokesperson, Ologbondiyan, said, “The fact that Nigerians are talking about the election of 2023, almost three years ahead, shows that they have given up on this government and can’t wait to vote out this regime, the APC and all it represents.

“Our economy is in shambles-we are the world capital of poverty. Security is zero; kidnapping, robberies and killings of innocent Nigerians across the length and breadth of this nation have become the order of the day. People are beginning to question whether we still have a government in place.

“Nigerians must not be deceived; the ruling party wants to distract us from the massive corruption and failure of governance they represent. We will continue to hold them to account for their misgovernance before Nigerians send them packing through the ballot box in 2023.”

A chieftain of the APC in Enugu State, Osita Okechukwu, while speaking on the issue, noted that there was nothing wrong with the ruling party reaching out to other Nigerians irrespective of their political affiliations.

He said, “Former President Jonathan, like all other former presidents, is a Nigerian statesman who deserves respect from all Nigerians. A visit by our party leaders to him should not be misconstrued. In any case, should he or any other Nigerian decide to join the progressive train, our doors will definitely be open.”

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