Jonathan at 60: An Exceptional Statesman Quietly Enters the Diamond Pantheon
By Ikechukwu Eze
Former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, marks his 60th birthday this week. Many other politicians, especially those of his soar-away status, would otherwise seek to bring down the sky, to loudly let the whole world know they have entered the Diamond pantheon.
But in his characteristic modesty and exceptional self-effacing disposition, ex-President Jonathan had resisted all entreaties to mark this important milestone, in a formal ceremony. Quiet commemoration had always been his style until a successful foray in politics and national leadership peeled off his cover, like the proverbial gold fish.
On November 20, the very day of his Diamond Jubilee, Goodluck Jonathan will be in his country home in the sleepy idyllic ambience of Otuoke, his village, in the wetlands of Bayelsa State, surrounded only by family members. There might also be a handful of close friends and well wishers who may personally call to offer their felicitations and prayers. But that is as far as it will go, as there will be no formal dinners, banquets or spectacle linked to this event.
For him, the quiet time with family on this occasion, will also serve as a welcome break from the grind of an unending run of international engagements, as the world continues to seek his attention. For instance, in a time span of about a month, beginning from September this year, ex-President Jonathan had had a busy run, beginning from Malaysia where he delivered a keynote address at a World Peace Summit, and Greece where he served as a key panelist and main media attraction at the 2017 Rhodes Forum Dialogue of Civilisations; to South Africa where he moderated the main session at an education conference that brought together many former African heads of Government. Two weeks ago, Jonathan was just getting ready to travel to Liberia as head of the National Democratic Institute Election Observer Mission to the Presidential run-off when the supreme court of Liberia suspended the process.
There is no doubt that ex-President Jonathan is being courted and serenaded like an A-list celebrity by the rest of the World, ostensibly because of his great achievements and deep democracy footprints while in office, even if the story is different at home. If some Biblical verses equate the former President’s post office experience, they have to be those sections that dwell on how a prophet is without regard at home, and how the world did not understand the mission of Christ until they hung Him on the Cross.
Since Jonathan left office on May 29, 2015, he has remained a hot item on the global invitation list, winning numerous awards, performing electoral duties and speaking at several high profile international events. It appears an appreciative world can’t get enough of his aura and attractive narrative; that of people-centred governance and politics without bitterness; both rare commodities in African corridors of power.
No matter how some people may view his time as President, the truth is that the Nigerian political space may not remain the same for a very long time after the tenure of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Dr. Jonathan at 60 casts on the public space a bright ray of light that illuminates the dark recesses of the nation’s dirty and divisive politicking. It is an account of the life of a man who has been there, seen it all and done it all, and at the end of the day, gave it all up for the good of the country.
The former President is by all accounts, a child of destiny. This is because at 60, Jonathan’s leadership experience, political trajectory and record of achievements, uniquely surpasses that of any other political actor in Nigeria. He had uniquely been Deputy Governor, Acting Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President and President. Amazingly, he wears no air of self-importance around him, despite his astounding and exceptional political odyssey. Goodluck Jonathan has remained enigmatically human and humble.
There is no doubt that Jonathan emerged from the crucible of Nigeria’s leadership pressure-cooker a better and stronger man. In his wake, he left a united and peaceful country. Under his watch Nigerians remained happy, proud, united and prosperous, at least up to the time he left office.
After his record-breaking stint in governance and massive infrastructural development across the country, Jonathan’s engaging days in the Nigerian political space did not only positively impact the nation but also changed the narratives of politics in Africa.
He remains today the most adored and recognizable face of all the living African statesman; not just because of his exceptional accomplishments and the ease with which he gave up power, but also as a result of his rare candour and selflessness.
Today, without equivocation, he is seen all over Africa as the apostle of free and fair elections; the one who stripped a continent of that unprogressive affliction of a long-existing sit-tight syndrome. Even his traducers admit that it is a rare privilege for a past Commander-in- Chief and President of Nigeria, a nation hitherto reputed for flawed elections, to easily emerge as the toast of the international community, especially in the area of democracy and electoral reforms in Africa.
Never in the history of party politics in Nigeria had a level playing field been created, by the main actors in a race in which they were involved. Ex-President Jonathan did that effortlessly by reforming the electoral system and ensuring that only those with proven competence served in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
I had pointed out in another piece that 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 realise the import of that gesture, in a clime where the roots of democracy are still very fragile. That conclusion, in my view and in the estimation of majority of Nigerians, remains the truth. President Muhammadu Buhari himself could not hide his joy when this happened. In one of his numerous commendations of Jonathan’s rare gesture, he said: “What I will say is since the telephone call you made you have changed the course of Nigeria’s political history. For that you have earned yourself a place in our history, for stabilising this system of multi party democracy system and you have earned the respect of not only Nigerians but world leaders.”
Early this month, United Nations had commended Jonathan for the electoral reforms he initiated during his tenure, and for his good works towards promoting peace and stability in Africa.
Ambassador Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa who lead the UN delegation to solicit the former President’s support for the world body’s peace effort across Africa, also prayed that “the institutions Jonathan built and the high standards he established in organising credible and peaceful elections are maintained and sustained in Nigeria.”
Two years ago, just before Tanzania’s presidential election, The Guardian of Lusaka wrote a perceptive editorial, advising local politicians not to go below the standards already set by Jonathan. 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 power to winning opposition parties.
“It must be said that Jonathan rewrote the narrative of Africa’s leadership struggles by selflessly handing over power to the opposition, despite obvious reasons for contestations, a road if taken would have not only prolonged the transition process, but would have also heightened the tension in the land.”
We must not lose sight of the essence of the foundation of our peace today and the new model of patriotism which Jonathan symbolises. Nigeria must consolidate and imbibe this rare spirit of selflessness, tolerance and the love for a country, if our country is to make meaningful progress.
Jonathan emerged from the obscure village of Otuoke and beat all odds to become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If anything, this shows the smile of the Almighty over a man is no respecter of tribe, background, time and space.
At 60, Jonathan’s life symbolizes the Nigerian dream. The echoes of the now iconic aphorism “My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian”, backed by a rare courage in statesmanship; has become the clarion call for responsible citizenship and patriotism. That is the foundation that has made Jonathan a reference point for democracy and good governance; it is his legacy that will outlive all of us that witnessed this change.
More importantly, as he marks his birthday and the world continue to celebrates his legacies in style, it is expected that his example will stir up new passions amongst the younger generation; that a life of true sacrifice for the cause of the nation is worth it after all.
As the former President devotes his time and post-presidential life to inspiring more co-operation and commitment towards improving our societies, and making a change in the lives of the ordinary people in our various countries, through the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, there are obvious signs that forces out to extinguish the touch he lit, are at work. However, in the face of extreme provocation, he has remained incredibly calm and unfazed.
Despite the desperate efforts that feed into the plot to put the former President and his former appointees under unnecessary pressure, there is no doubt that history will be kind to him for all he has done to uplift the status of his country and people.
*Mr. Eze is media adviser to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, President, Federal Republic of Nigeria (2010-2015)