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Goodluck Jonathan: An exceptional statesman at 59

By The Citizen
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By Ikechukwu Eze
Not many Nigerians would easily reconcile themselves to the fact that former President Goodluck Jonathan will be turning 59, on November 20.

Obviously, going by his vast leadership experience and record of landmark achievements, he appears to have flown so high, in so short a time, way ahead of his years.

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 African 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, echoed selflessness, championed inclusion and

promoted non-violence. For him, the famous declaration that 'my

ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian,' was not just a

creative catch-phrase or rousing rhetoric, it was an article of faith

that epitomised his craft.
In a clime where a leading politician obsessively described 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 merit, without having ever met him.

The result was that, under Jonathan's Presidency, elections were

evidently free, fair and transparent. INEC's independence and

Jonathan's policy of non-interference became so prioritized, such that

the ruling party lost major elections, even at great pains to the

former President 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 being counted, fail to realize

the true 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 looming Armageddon, 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, reminding 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

proceeded to abrasively call the bluff of his traducers, but Jonathan

has maintained a decent 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 ongoing 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.
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 one would usually associate with rigorous analytical

aptitude. However, 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.
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 boosted 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 spur growth,

create opportunities for mass employment, and irreversibly return the

nation to long term strategic development planning, has now been

abandoned.
In other climes bitter campaign rhetoric gets discarded once elections

are concluded, as is currently playing out in the United States.

Despite his despicable divisive campaign method, Donald Trump the

President-Elect, who repeatedly 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 also 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 esteemed 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 times. This is 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 was leading the Commonwealth negotiations

for the resolution of the political crisis in Zanzibar. Given

Jonathan's credibility and democratic credentials on the continent,

the lot again fell on him from the 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's 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 inspiration, to wish His

excellency a happy birthday.
*Mr. Ikechukwu Eze is media aide to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.