Sunday, September 19, 2010

President Goodluck Jonathan Declaring Intentions to Join 2011 Elections

President Goodluck Jonathan declaring is Intention to run for the Presidency Come Year 2011 at Eagle Square Abuja

I will transform Nigeria, Jonathan promises

By Tolu Ogunlesi and Elizabeth Archibong
Nigeria Next

2010-09-18 20:29:35

By 9am, two hours ahead of the scheduled start of the event to formally mark the launch of President Jonathan's re-election bid, the Eagle Square venue had filled up. Armed security personnel, present in large numbers, struggled to control the crowd, and even in the VIP section several dignitaries were denied admission. By the time the event kicked off, the crowd had noticeably spilled beyond the grounds of the Square.

The atmosphere bore the hallmarks of a carnival; the Eagle Square grounds abounded with banners, dancers, acrobats, and ecstatic supporters of Mr. Jonathan. The PDP's colours - green, white and red- dominated the arena, and above the Square floated a "Jonathan Sambo 2011" blimp.

At 11.20am the President arrived the venue in a bus, accompanied by several state governors. There were twenty of them in attendance, in contrast to only three who attended the Babangida declaration four days earlier, at the same venue. The Chairman of the PDP, and his executives, all absent from the Babangida declaration, were present on Saturday, in addition to the federal cabinet, and several members of the National Assembly.

The opening remarks, were delivered at 11.45am by Dalhatu Tafida, currently Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and recently appointed Director of the Jonathan campaign organisation.

Following were speeches from several persons: representatives of Nollywood, representatives of the geo-political zones, former political office holders, state Governors, party officials, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Senate President - interspersed with performances from Onyeka Onwenu, Weird MC, Sammy Okposo, Daddy Showkey and D'Banj among others. Several music and movie stars were sighted onstage at various times. The situation onstage was often chaotic, with guests regularly jostling for space.

Unequivocal endorsements came from most of the speakers, who freely resorted to the use of superlatives - in speech and in song - to describe Mr. Jonathan, and to pledge their support for his ambition. "President today and president tomorrow," said Gbenga Daniel, Ogun State Governor. "We believe in your capacities. We want food and we know you can give us food," said Isa Yuguda, Bauchi State Governor.

However, Gombe State Governor, Danjuma Goje (one of the Governors who attended the Babangida declaration) and Aliyu Babangida (Governor of Mr. Babangida's home state, Niger) both chose their words carefully, refraining from saying anything that could be seen as symbolizing full support for Mr. Jonathan.

At 3pm, Vice President Namadi Sambo mounted the stage to deliver his address. Following this the President began to walk to the podium, accompanied by his wife, the Vice President and the Vice President's wife. The President's march, heralded by an enthusiastic performance by hip-hop musician Dapo Oyebanjo (D'Banj), occasionally broke into a dance. He smiled and waved vigorously to the wildly animated crowd.

Mr. Jonathan began his speech at 3:13pm, flanked by Vice President Namadi Sambo and First Lady Patience Jonathan. There were at least two tele-prompters from which he read his speech, and he spoke with a confidence absent from the speeches of his early days as President.

Mr. Jonathan presaged the subtext of the speech by chanting "transformation" thrice as he began to speak. Acknowledging the crowd, he said: "This is more than a crowd; it looks like a revolution." He narrated the story of his rise to power, recalling the "very trying times" that the country went through in the months preceding his assumption of office, and thanked "the National Assembly, [state] Governors and especially the civil society and mass media" for the roles they played in helping to resolve the crises. He asked for a minute of silence in honour of former President Umar Yar'Adua.

He cited the ongoing electoral reform, improvements in infrastructure, oil sector reform, a renewed anti-corruption war, "bold steps to confront our security situation" and a new vigour in diplomatic relations as testimony of his commitment to the "transformation" of Nigeria.

At 3:24pm, he made the declaration. "I, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan have decided to humble offer myself as a candidate in the Presidential Primaries of our great party, the PDP", thus formally joining the 2011 presidential race. Minutes later, while he was still speaking, a copy of his speech went up on his Facebook page. (Within two hours the speech had drawn more almost 2,000 comments).

The portion of the speech in which the President listed his achievements stood out for the preferential use of the pronoun "I" instead of the royal "We", as though to leave no one in doubt of the driving force of the transformation he touted.

"In the last few months, I embarked on monumental projects in our road infrastructure to end the carnage on our federal highways. I began several projects to make our water resources available for drinking and farming. I targeted our educational system to return quality and competitiveness to them. I re-addressed our drive for self sufficiency in food production. I have taken bold steps to confront our security situation.

"I set the stage for free and fair elections by constituting an electoral commission comprising of Nigerians with impeccable credentials for firmness and incorruptibility. I charged our anti corruption agencies to speed up the war against corruption, and respect no sacred cows in the process. In the management of the economy, I advocated a more transparent banking industry, price stability, low inflation, and aggregate increase in productivity as a way to drive us to a more prosperous economy. In International Relations, I advanced the respectability accorded our country by effective engagement in global fora."

The latter part of his speech revealed influences by American President Barack Obama and the late American civil rights activist Martin Luther King. He told a story of very humble beginnings, his reference to a journey from "Otuoke, a small village in the Niger Delta" to Aso Rock echoing Barack Obama's narrations of making the improbable transition from inauspicious beginnings to the White House.

"I was not born rich, and in my youth, I never imagined that I would be where I am today, but not once did I ever give up. Not once did I imagine that a child from Otuoke, a small village in the Niger Delta, will one day rise to the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I was raised by my mother and father with just enough money to meet our daily needs.

"In my early days in school, I had no shoes, no school bags. I carried my books in my hands but never despaired; no car to take me to school but I never despaired. There were days I had only one meal but I never despaired. I walked miles and crossed rivers to school every day but I never despaired. [I] didn't have power, didn't have generators, studied with lanterns but I never despaired.

"In spite of these, I finished secondary school, attended the University of Port Harcourt, and now hold a doctorate degree. Fellow Nigerians, if I could make it, you too can make it!

Mr. Obama's "Let's be the generation that..." from his February 10, 2007 declaration speech became Mr. Jonathan's "Let the word go out..."

"Let the word go out from this Eagle Square that Jonathan as President in 2011 will herald a new era of transformation of our country; an era that will end the agony of power shortage in our country. Let the word go out from here that I will be for the students, teachers and parents of Nigeria, a President who will advance quality and competitive education. Let everyone in this country hear that I shall strive to the best of my ability to attain self sufficiency in food production.

"Let the word go out that my plans for a Sovereign Wealth Fund with an initial capital of $1billion will begin the journey for an economic restoration. This restoration will provide new job opportunities and alleviate poverty. Let the word go out that our health sector will receive maximum priority in a new Jonathan administration, a priority that will ensure maximum health care and stop our brain drain."

Mr. Jonathan went on to sketch a "dream for Nigeria", a part of his speech that it would have been impossible to listen to without recalling King's August 28, 1963 Washington speech. He spoke of his dream "that any Nigerian child from Kaura-Namoda to Duke town; from Potiskum to Nsukka, from Isale-Eko to Gboko will be able to realize his God-given potentials, unhindered by tribe or religion and unrestricted by improvised political inhibitions."

After Mr. Jonathan's speech, he was draped in a PDP flag, and he left the stage as D'Banj entertained the crowd; after which the event came to a close with prayers and a rendition of the national anthem.

The array of politicians and dignitaries that turned out was intriguing: from former Bayelsa Governor Diepriye Alamieyeiseigha (in whose administration Mr. Jonathan started his political career, as Deputy Governor, before going on to succeed him after an impeachment resulting from a conviction for money laundering); to businessman Femi Otedola, an ardent Jonathan backer who has been on self-imposed exile abroad since July, after alleging threats to his life; Mr. Ojo Maduekwe, former Foreign Affairs Minister (who in a January 2010 BBC interview strove to advance reasons why ailing President Yar'Adua was not under any obligation to send a letter to the National Assembly formally handing over to then Vice President Jonathan), and the immediate past Chairman of the PDP, Vincent Ogbulafor, who reportedly lost his position because of his insistence on the party adhering to a zoning policy that would have ruled Mr. Jonathan out of the 2011 elections.

There were a number of notable absentees, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Kwara State Governor, Bukola Saraki, who has been reported to have presidential ambitions of his own.

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