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JONATHAN: Drawing strength from weakness

By Jide Ajani

2015 Doomsday scenario: The Niger Bridge at Onitsha has been bombed.  Igbo are being slaughtered in some states of the North.   The militants have taken over 10 oil platforms at the last count and  Nigeria is now only able to produce about 250,000 barrels of crude per day.

vanguardBanks have not opened for business for three weeks  now and may not open very soon because of looting and street wars.   The USA, Britain and about 40 other countries have stopped their citizens from visiting Nigeria until a travel ban is lifted.   Protesters are being killed on the streets of Lagos, Kano, Ibadan,   Kaduna, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Uyo.  The whereabouts of President Jonathan is unknown.

former President Goodluck Jonathan,

Muhammad Buhari and Attahiru Jega of INEC have gone into hiding.   The remainder of the 2015 elections can no longer hold. Schools have been shut,  universities closed. Three newspaper offices have been petrol-bombed while two broadcast stations have been on fire since yesterday.

All these making the headlines between March 31 and  April 4 after the March 28, 2015, presidential election results were disputed by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.   But perish the thought.   God forbid.   These never happened.   Nigerians are living in peace and moving on because Jonathan conceded victory to Buhari.

Immense strength

Who says you cannot draw immense strength from weakness?   At a time when destruction, carnage and mayhem were listening with rapt attention and waiting for possible orders, orders whether there would be incitement and call to arms, or equanmity; whether brashness, or good sense, would prevail; and, whether disapproval would give way to concession, former President Jonathan, a man described generally by many as weak, did the not-too-familiar in this clime: He conceded victory to Buhari.

But that, in the warped estimation of some, can be termed a manifestation of weakness – not being able to  ‘fight for it’; or, lacking the will to make it a ‘do-or-die’ matter, as those before him had declared.

With what happened to Jonathan on election day when the card reader failed to identify him, and the changing of the rules mid way in the presidential  election   he had good cause not to concede.

Yet, some have even pooh-poohed the gesture as not amounting to much because  Nigerians would have  forced him out any way.   True.   But, at what cost?

Psychologists would have to carry the burden of unravelling – or, better put, deconstructing – the type of persona Jonathan really was as President and Commander-in-Chief on the one hand; while, at the same time, attempting a clinical psycho-analysis of the ordinary boy from the dingy, sleepy backwaters of Otuoke, Bayelsa State. Both ways, he would come across as a classical guineapig.   The boy who wore no shoes to school and who used to put his books on his head was Nigeria’s President for about five years.    Grace and good luck don’t come any easier!   He was a  simple, very simple man by nature and the story of his ascendancy is too familiar to be retold here. He was born on November 20, 1957.

But we can, as well, continue to take it for granted – the tranquility of the moment, that is.   In a polity of contentious and unimaginably clashing socio-political and economic interests, it does not take long to ignite the fire of hate, acrimony and general disturbance of peace.

General disturbance of peace

It does not take long to incite the public and call out people who quickly transform into a mob.   It happened just after the declaration of results of the 2011 presidential election because the loser let loose on the polity, his acolytes who did not agree with the result of the election.

But for Jonathan, a man on whom many negative expletives were heaped during the presidential campaigns, he turned out to be one in possession of a rare strength of character which  is alien to Nigeria, by accepting his loss at the polls and conceding victory to Buhari of the then opposition All Progressive Congress, APC.

For the first time in the history of Nigeria the one who lost an election called the winner to congratulate him.

For the first time in Nigeria, a sitting President accepted defeat.

In fact, the telephone conversation between Jonathan and Buhari, even before the last batch of results were announced, went thus:

Caller: Your excellency, sir. Hope I’m speaking with General Buhari, sir. President Goodluck Jonathan would like to speak with you, sir.

Receiver: Yes. Okay, hold on.

Jonathan: Your Excellency

Receiver: Hold on, sir.

Buhari: Your Excellency

Jonathan: Your Excellency, how are you?

Buhari: I’m all right.

Jonathan: (Laughter) Congratulations

Buhari: Thank you very much, your Excellency.

Jonathan: So, how are things?

Buhari: Well, I’d congratulate you more because you….

Jonathan: In a few days find time to come so that we can sort out how to plan the transitional period.

Buhari: Alright, Your Excellency. Thank you very much

Jonathan: Okay, congratulations

Buhari: My respects, Your Excellency. Thank you.

This gesture was followed with uncommon candour, when Jonathan told a palpably anxious nation in a broadcast that “I promised the country free and fair elections.

“I have kept my word.   I have also expanded the space for  Nigerians to participate in the democratic process.   That is one legacy I will like to see endure.   Although some people have expressed mixed feelings about the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, I urge those who may feel aggrieved to follow due process based on our constitution and our electoral laws, in seeking redress.   As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any  Nigerian.   The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else…”

This, at a time when some hawks in the leadership cadre of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, his political party, did not want him to relinquish power.   Up till the last moment Jonathan called Buhari, some leaders of his party and government did not  want to concede.

More, the embarrassing and frightening public spectacle of a former  minister, one Godsday Orubebe, who attempted to stifle the process by enacting a show of shame in the full glare of klieg lights and the world press, shouting and attempting to draw the Chairman,  Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC,    Attahiru Jega, into an altercation, while results were being collated, sent the signal that, perhaps, Jonathan would not accept defeat.   The emotional intelligence deployed by Jega, doused tension as he was unmoved by Orubebe’s provocative dramatisation of frustration.


Provocative dramatisation

In an  interview with Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and former Director of Publicity for Buhari’s presidential  campaign organisation, after the inauguration, he disclosed that the apprehension in the opposition camp bordered on whether  Jonathan would accept defeat or not.

Now, in the book  ACTION LEARNING, Reg Revans argues that there is a solution to a puzzle, it only needs to be found out but the solution to a problem needs to be worked out.

However, Nigeria, ever so negatively inventive, had created a problem of transition since early elections after independence because the one who lost an election would not agree and, therefore, pursue litigation, whereas, the solution, like that of a puzzle, existed.

But why would an individual who lost an election not be ready to concede victory to the winner?   Good question – even to the incumbent President who had lost elections three times before but never agreed with the result and challenged, through the courts, the outcome.

In Daniel Goleman’s  EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, we learn that  “the ability to control  impulse is the basis of will and character”.   Under immense pressure, Jonathan was able to let go.

With revelations coming out about the wanton waste of public funds from the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, under the last President, why should Jonathan be worthy of any mention per personality of the year?   Interesting question.

Historic inauguration

But no other individual appreciated the concession of Jonathan than the beneficiary, President Buhari.

At the historic inauguration on May 29, 2015, Buhari had this to say of Jonathan: “I would like to thank President Goodluck Jonathan for his display of statesmanship in setting a precedent for us that has now made our people proud to be Nigerians wherever they are. With the support and cooperation he has given to the transition process, he has made it possible for us to show the world that despite the perceived tension in the land we can be a united people capable of doing what is right for our nation.  Together we co-operated to surprise the world that had come to expect only the worst from Nigeria. I hope this act of graciously accepting defeat by the outgoing President will become the standard of political conduct in the country.”

Jonathan’s tenure from 2011 to 2015 would raise many questions about his choice as Personality of The Year.   He made flashes of  statesmanlike conduct by expanding the political space and allowing the opposition to blossom in a country where his predecessors had practically emasculated and muffled the voice of opposition.   While some hawks around him wanted toughness and brute force, Jonathan opted for conciliation. But there are those who would argue for him; while many would argue against him so much so that the air of status quo was so repellant at the time of election that some just wanted anything but Jonathan.

This is 2015 and Nigerians are still living in peace because one man conceded power.

He cannot be held responsible for the insurgency and the activities of Boko Haram but he can be blamed for the way he handled the abduction of the over 200 Chibok girls.

True, there may have been political undertones at the commencement of the insurgency but when the presidency was quick to splash the tar of politics on every act of insurgency, it belied the fundamental issues which were related purely to a lack of capacity from the seat of power.

Lack of capacity

Yes, he was not perfect.   In fact, were perfection to be a factor in the choice of Vanguard Editors, the toxicity of Jonathan’s mention would have had an annihilating effect on the senses. An example  was laid bare in February by otherwise intelligent people, largely in the opposition, who chose to look  the other way in the face of a  shambolic pre-election distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, the main legal instrument that would allow you  vote.   It did not matter that just a week to the first  presidential election date of February 14, about 40% of PVCs were yet to be received (not collected as INEC would want Nigerians believe because you collect what is ready for collection).

The postponement made the contest all the more fierce.   Post election  doomsayers   predicted that whatever the outcome, crisis would follow.   The international community lent its voice to the need for calm after the results are announced.  The Washington Post Bestseller, ‘POWER PLAY, Win or Lose – How history’s great political leaders play the game’, written by Dick Morris, Fox News Channel Political Analyst,  is a compelling read for those who may not appreciate the last humble act of Jonathan as President.

Examining 20 leaders as “early as Abraham Lincoln and as recent as Junichiro Koizumi, George Bush and Tony Blair”, Morris looked at “how Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Winston Churchill succeeded and Lydon Johnson failed in mobilizing their nations at a time of crisis”, noted that “politics is the pursuit of power and history is the story of that pursuit”, and insisted that “there is nothing new in politics; there are only ingenious reinventions of the wheel”.

Pray, former Heads of State, Yakubu Gowon (postponement of handover date), Ibrahim Babangida (June 12 annulment) and civilian President Olusegun Obasanjo (Third Term pursuit), in spite of all they achieved while in power, lost all because of the charming yet potentially destructive lure of power and a determination not to know when to allow a process of transition manifest.

At each turn, doom loomed.   The over 500,000 lives lost in Rwanda can be traced to the latent power struggle that went out of hand.  There was Samuel Doe who refused to relinquish power in Liberia – Liberians are still recovering from the war that followed almost a quarter of a century later. Zaire, Central Africa Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone are countries that have gone through needless wars because of power struggle.

Nigeria should by now have become a more stable, prosperous democracy had the June 12, 1993 presidential election not been decidedly made controversial by the military junta that refused to relinquish power.

22 years after, the nation has not  fully recovered from that hurt.   Lives were lost during the struggle to return the country to democracy.   There was the Peace Committee that ensured that both Buhari and Jonathan signed a deal that would ensure that the outcome of the election would be accepted by either man. It had no legal backing.   So, it could have as well been a fool’s errand.

Jonathan, with a demure demeanour, verdant and unacquainted, for sparing Nigeria and its over 180,000,000 people the chaos, war and loss of many lives, things that had been predicted to happen after the 2015 general elections, as well as the possible dismemberment of the country – not forgetting that a chaotic  Nigeria would have meant an unstable West African sub-region – and by conceding  victory to Buhari in a presidential contest, we have chosen him as Vanguard’s co-winner of the Personality of The Year.   His joint winner is President Buhari.

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