He added that Nigerians in the Diaspora were itching to return home in order to cast their votes for PDP in the 2015 elections. The Political Adviser added however that President Jonathan would not declare his intention until next year because “he is still focused on reconstructing Nigeria.” Gulak’s statement was reiterated by the elders’ council chairman Senator Ibrahim Mantu, who said he had received numerous calls from political groups and media organisations on the council’s activities. You see, I am trying to choose my words carefully in this discussion because Alhaji Ahmed Gulak was my next door neighbour at Wuse for three years.
Now, in business and in social life, when a person says he is under pressure to do something, what he means is that he does not want to do that thing but social or other pressure is being brought to bear on him to do it. Let me cite one real life example of what we mean by social pressure. There was this young man in Gusau who was summoned home by his parents. When he arrived, he found that his parents, grandparents and all his uncles and aunties were holding a meeting. The most elderly person among them then told our friend that the elders of the neighbouring house had approached them with a suggestion, that in order to cement the warm relationship between the two families, they were offering their daughter to him in marriage. The young man did not want that girl and he said so.
The family’s grand patriarch then spoke. He said, “Our family and that family, we have always been together. There was never a day that we sought something from them and they denied it. May Allah never bring the day when they will seek something from us and we will deny it to them.” The implied threat of family excommunication was too glaring for our young friend to miss.
Being forced to enter into a race [in this case marriage] that you don’t want could be painful, but at least you must concede that the family elders were acting in good faith. They were upholding the high principles of good neighbourliness and a history of family friendships. Now, when a politician says he is under pressure to contest for a certain juicy political office, is he talking about the same kind of thing? If he were to tell the truth, what he actually means is that he is dying to contest for that office and he has succeeded in mobilising some persons and groups to come and plead with him in order to give the appearance that he is doing so on compassionate grounds.
Let us rework that statement a bit. Maybe he did not actually mobilise them but they mobilised themselves and came to him with the suggestion that he should run. Now, if you know the kind of people who do this in Nigeria, who go to other people and suggest to them that they should run for a certain office, you will know that they do not do it for the sake of God, to put it mildly. A cursory look at the people who were present at the meeting where Gulak made his declaration is enough to prove this point. Former Deputy Senate Presidents John Wash Pam and Ibrahim Nasir Mantu, former Ambassador to Spain Yusuf Mamman, former presidential spokesman Alhaji Abba Dabo and former Kano State Assembly majority leader Alhaji Lili Gabari were among those present.
To say that a politician is under pressure to seek an office is a variation of a cliché that became quite popular in the Second Republic when everyone who entered the race for any office said he was responding to calls from his people. Spokesmen for both the All Progressives Congress [APC] and the New Peoples Democratic Party [nPDP] were quick to dismiss Gulak’s claims. nPDP’s Eze Chukwuemeka Eze said it is only those who did not wish Nigerians well that were mounting pressure on Jonathan to contest. APC’s Lai Mohamed said, “Gulak should stop insulting the intelligence of Nigerians. We all knew since 2011 that Jonathan was more concerned about 2015 than providing leadership. It is only the likes of Gulak who are mounting such pressure.”
I say not so fast, Eze and Lai. Situations do arise where people genuinely seek to draft someone into a race for political office. You may actually see a person that you think could be a good ruler but who is not offering himself for election. In the run up to the US presidential election of 1980, many Democrats thought President Jimmy Carter was a hopeless case, so they began a campaign to draft Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts into the race. Matters didn’t end well; Kennedy entered the race and fought hard but he lost to Carter in the Democratic Party primary. When President Carter subsequently lost the election to Ronald Reagan, he blamed the loss on Kennedy’s “excessive attacks” during the primary.
In Nigeria, the most protracted case we ever had of drafting a person to enter a contest was in 1978 when some old NCNC people campaigned to get Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to abandon his pledge to retire from politics and instead contest for the presidency under NPP’s platform. The great Zik entered the race and finished third. On the other hand, the most inglorious case of attempting to drag someone into an election race was the 1997-98 Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha [YEAA] campaign led by Mr Daniel Kanu, which culminated in the Million Man March of April 1998. Jonathan has many examples to choose from.
Normally, a politician on his own sets out to seek political office in order to actualise a certain vision of governance. In Nigeria however, there are millions of “politicians” who are not seeking any office at all, at least not an elective one. Instead, they want to push someone else to go for a certain office in anticipation of reward. The more far-sighted among them expect these rewards to come in the form of appointive offices or juicy contracts. Most others expect instant gratification in the form of campaign money. They have their own good reasons for this; they say that a Nigerian politician cannot be trusted once he gets the office he is looking for. “He will make new friends and abandon his old friends.”
What criteria do they use to determine who to drag into the fray? It boils down to one thing: money, which an incumbent president is believed to have in abundance. Money is a political factor in most parts of the world but in Nigeria, it is the only factor. The 1600 plus groups that are lining up to campaign for Jonathan, including those of them from the Diaspora, did they conduct even a straw opinion poll to determine if he is popular? President Jonathan himself believes he is unpopular. He said at the NBA’s 52nd Annual General Conference in Abuja last year that “I think I am the most criticised President in the whole world but I want to tell this audience that before I leave I will be the most praised President.”
There is no evidence yet that he is the most praised ruler, so what is the clamour by 1600 groups all about?