Jonathan: An exceptional statesman at 59
It is to the glory of God that, while some politicians at that age may still be struggling to get into their first public office, Jonathan has exceptionally checked the boxes for Deputy Governor, Acting Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President and President; the only African, dead or living, to have navigated such astonishing political trajectory. Add to this the fact that at 59, he is relatively young, compared to the average age of Africa’s surviving ex-heads of state.
But then, the character of his peculiar odyssey is even much more nuanced than that; for it resonates more in the subtlety of Jonathan’s modest disposition, than in the uniqueness of, what some may see as, providentially coursing through all key governance positions in the land, at a young age. The truth is that Jonathan’s love for humanity, as well as his humble and compassionate nature, eminently stand him out.
Today he remains the most loved, decorated and recognizable face of all African statesmen, not only because of his development strides in office, but because of his simplicity and unflinching commitment to his belief that Africa will become great if the people are truly given the opportunity to choose their leaders and realize their full potentials.
Jonathan came into politics with a master-class outlook that redefined love for nation, selflessness, inclusion and non-violence. For him, the famous declaration that “my ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian,” was not just a creative catchphrase or rousing rhetoric, it was an article of faith that epitomised his craft.
In a clime where a leading politician obsessively described our politics as ‘do or die’, Jonathan chose to be different, by putting peace and progress of country above self. He clearly distances himself from violence and politics of division, such that when he proudly declares, as he did at a recent lecture in Oxford University, that Nigeria recorded no political prisoner under his administration, the world could not but agree.
Perhaps, no other policy distinguished Jonathan more in office, than his honest and transparent outlook on election issues. He started by not only cleaning up and standardizing the electoral process, but by also ensuring that the principle of one-man-one-vote became the main pillar of the nation’s democracy. He set about implementing his vision for a credible electoral system by first appointing Professor Attahiru Jega as boss of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), strictly on his own merits, without having ever met him.
The result was that, under Jonathan’s Presidency, elections were evidently free and fair because of the Government’s policy of non-interference. INEC’s independence became so prioritized, such that the ruling party lost major elections, even at great pains to Jonathan and his party men.
Those who make light of Jonathan’s historic telephone call to concede the 2015 Presidential election to his rival, President Muhammadu Buhari, even while the votes were still been counted, fail to realize the import of that gesture, in a clime where the roots of democracy are still very fragile.
In the first place, it takes great courage to concede like Jonathan did in the face of beckoning ample opportunities for contestation, especially when his second term bid and legacies were at stake. Even in advanced democracies, it is a tough choice.
Don’t forget that it took Hilary Clinton of the United States so much soul searching and sleeping over, and even a nudge from the media, before she came round to call and concede to President-Elect Donald trump, and subsequently address her marooned supporters.
This is more significant in our own shores where simple gestures or unguarded pronouncements by those in commanding positions of authority could set off a conflagration. The best way to fully appreciate how Jonathan saved Nigeria from a consuming fire is to closely look at the situation in Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Burundi, Syria, Iraq and Libya.
It is not for nothing that the Jonathan example is already being cited as a standard for politicians seeking elective positions in other African countries. Last year, just before Tanzania’s presidential elections, The Guardian of Lusaka wrote a perceptive editorial, advising the local politicians not to go below the standards already set in Nigeria. It said: “Jonathan’s voluntary handover of power to the opposition wrote a new chapter for Nigeria’s democracy, given the fact that it is rare for sitting presidents in Africa to hand over powers to winning opposition parties.”
Out of office, Jonathan’s statements have remained tame and he has continued to preach peace, even in the face of extreme provocation.
Some other former leaders would have flown off the handle, and proceed to abrasively call the bluff of his traducers, but Jonathan has maintained a respectable and dignified demeanor.
Today, every step he takes is either intentionally misjudged or maligned. When he said he fought corruption quietly with technology, the unrelenting antagonist propaganda machinery labored to puncture the assertion. Yet, they couldn’t successfully repudiate the fact that beyond the current clatter about the obviously one-sided ant-corruption fight, the only measurable and sustainable mileages recorded so far, came through the public financial management reform measures introduced by Jonathan.
These included Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), which has so far eliminated over 50, 000 ghost workers in public service and saved hundreds of billions; the biometric verification of bank customers (BVN) which made it difficult for people to hide their loot within the banking system; as well as the Treasury Single Account (TSA), a unified structure of government bank accounts, which Jonathan introduced to keep a watchful eye on federal revenue. The sad thing about the well-conceived TSA is that it is unfortunately, being currently misapplied.
It is instructive to note that the Government has now buckled under public pressure to take the blame for the crippling recession unleashed on the land by poor economic choices, rather than continue to blame Jonathan.
However, it appears to be an admittance undertaken reluctantly, particularly as “the responsibility dodgers” are now changing the narrative, by seeking to give credit for the phenomenal economic growth recorded under Jonathan, to high crude prices.
That ludicrous claim surprisingly was made last week by Power, Works and Housing minister, Babatunde Fashola, an otherwise well informed legal mind, who you would usually associate with rigorous analytical aptitude. It is obvious that by that comment, Fashola chose to sell cheap by the roadside, especially after having earlier conceded that Jonathan meant well to have built roads infrastructure, and privatised power assets.
But no matter what they say, Nigerians can always connect to the former President’s broad-based Transformation Agenda, which pursued policies that expanded opportunities for economic rebirth. At an average GDP growth rate of 7%, the Transformation Agenda recorded tremendous progress in key areas of the economy by tackling the challenge of youth employment and entrepreneurship, transforming agriculture, enhancing ICT development, growing Nollywood and the entertainment industry; while generally keeping inflationary pressures down to single digit.
They also would not want the people to remember that Jonathan’s industrial revolution and auto policies extended a lifeline to local production, at a time that global economic down turn would have worsened a difficult situation. Let us not also forget that the Jonathan administration drew a roadmap for the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP), which it backed up with an executive bill on Development Planning and Project Continuity. Unfortunately, even this laudable initiative, designed to irreversibly return the nation to long term development planning, has now been abandoned.
In other climes bitter campaign rhetoric gets discarded once elections are concluded, as is currently playing out in America. Despite his despicable divisive campaign method, President-Elect Donald Trump, who once described President Barack Obama as America’s worst President, has not only turned round to embrace him as one of the country’s best, he has begun moves to unite the American people, even before assuming office.
Nigeria seems to be different as the bitter campaign against Jonathan has continued, almost two years after he left office.
The truth is that despite what is going on today in the camp of those who desperately seek to pour odium on Jonathan’s records, history will be kind to him for his valuable contribution to national development, and substantial effort towards entrenching democracy on the continent.
In Zambia while tension was rising over a recently concluded contentious presidential election, the heads of the various observer missions looked up to Jonathan for direction. The former President who was the leader of the African Union Group rose up to the occasion, by activating his diplomatic antennae, which eventually calmed nerves on both sides.
His iconic admonition in Lusaka that “If Africa can’t yet send men to the moon, we should at least organize elections that are free and fair of which the whole world will be proud,” has continued to plague the conscience of all dishonest politicians on the continent.
Like the previous year, this birthday will probably come through as one of Jonathan’s best in recent time. This because it will afford him the opportunity of a quiet reflection, without the usual distraction from self–seeking politicians and rent seekers, who would have been competing to outdo themselves in mindless exhibitionism, had he still been in power.
Last year, Jonathan’s first birthday out of the Presidential Chair coincided with the time he leading the Commonwealth negotiations for the resolution of the political crisis in Zanzibar. The lot fell on him from Commonwealth to resolve the logjam, shortly after he had led the international body’s election observer team to the general elections in Tanzania.
This year anniversary has also come at a time the former President is fully engaged; splitting his time between honouring international speaking engagements, working on his memoirs and attending to programmes of the nascent Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF).
I join millions of other Nigerians, who daily throng his social media pages for his messages of peace, love and hope, to wish His Excellency a happy birthday.
• Eze is Media Aide to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan