Goodluck Jonathan: An exceptional statesman at 59
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.