There are strong indications that President Goodluck Jonathon has kick-started the political manoeuvres to pave his way to contest the 2015 presidential elections. Just like the 2011 presidential elections, Jonathan’s splitting headache would be northern Nigeria, but this time around with a major difference – the opposition parties would be more united. PDP’s presidential primaries may not be tough for Jonathan, but the general elections would be. And, Jonathan has a painstaking task to change the belief by the Talakawas in northern Nigeria that his presidency is not different from that of the northern politicians who have failed the Talakawas.
With the political activities to herald the 2015 elections gaining momentum, President Jonathan’s worry would be how to gain the support of the Talakawas of the north. Before and after his election in 2011, the president has not applied strategies that can win the hearts of the people of northern Nigeria. With 2015 presidential election fast approaching, can Jonathan still win over the hearts of northern Talakawas before the elections? Does the president have enough time to show the people of the North that his presidency is different?
There is no doubt President Jonathan still has a running political battle with a certain clique from northern Nigeria’s political class. However, his attention appears skewed to the ‘politics’ of the battle that he has forgotten himself and ways to win over the northern Talakawas – the poor who make up the bulk of the northern populace and are the most important weapon for the battle. Jonathan could have taken advantage of the fact that the leadership of the North and the Talakawas are no more on the same page and thus win the hearts of the people of the North. But he has so much relied on governors for his political survival, now he is paying the heavy price. Though it is desirable for a president to have good ‘political’ relationship with all governors, in Nigerian politics, you don’t do such and go to sleep believing the governors would swim or sink with you.
For Jonathan to win the North over, he has to take careful and intelligent development decisions to solve the political problem he is facing in the region. Though he has taken some steps in that direction, they are not enough. For example, the Almajiri modern school programme is good, but the children in the North that go to the traditional Almajiri schools do so because they don’t have a choice. The agricultural transformation programme is also a welcome development; however, more efforts are needed to reach real farmers as well as make them feel involved in the programme. President Jonathan’s recent visit to troubled Borno and Yobe States was a good step, but it was belated – his failure to visit the area until the APC governors did so was a major political blunder. He should have done it earlier to show the people of the area he shares their moment of difficulties.
The president still has time to change northern Talakawas’ impression of his government. He has to design speedy but feasible policies that will break the poverty cycle in the North through economically empowering the poor. The government should establish a strong direct contact with the people in each state, instead of the heavy reliance on state governors – a presidential liaison person or point-man wouldn’t be a bad idea. Jonathan needs to free his government from the armpit of state governors.
The manner with which the president showed personal interests in the Almajiri school project should be extended to Lake Chad, Sokoto Basin and Benue Valley oil exploration project, as well as the Mambilla plateau hydro-electricity project. He should also launch special agricultural and poverty alleviation programmes – these are projects that would endear him to the northern Talakawas. This is because for nearly 40 years of northern political elite’s grip on political power in Nigeria, they have failed to proffer feasible policies in those areas which could have positively impacted the livelihood of the ordinary northerners.
Another way Jonathan can endear himself to both the northern political class and the Talakawas is making use of the historic political relationship and alliance between the North and the South-South. It appears surprising that the political alliance between the North and the South-South is at its lowest ebb at a time a Niger-Deltan is occupying the presidency. Jonathan should take advantage of the invaluable friendship that some individuals from the South-South have established across the Niger. People like Anthony Anenih, Peter Odili, Tonye Princewill, Donald Duke, Chibudom Nwuche, Oronto Douglas, etc have vast network of friends and political contacts in the north.
As the politics of 2015 gains impetus, just like during the 2011 elections, gaining support from northern Nigeria is President Jonathan’s major dilemma. However, it could be achieved effortlessly if the right strategies are employed. After all, the case against the president in the North is political and only requires introducing sound economic policies that impact positively on the Talakawas, if it is to be cracked.
ZAYYAD I. MUHAMMAD