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The lesson from former President Jonathan – by Olusegun Adeniyi

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Image: Olusegun Adeniyi

“You look good, Sir”. That was my first comment when I met former President Goodluck Jonathan about three weeks ago and I meant it. Unlike the last time I visited him in July last year at the Villa, he was refreshed and relaxed this time. “Looking good? When your people in the media have almost cut my neck?” he replied, laughing.

Now in Tanzania as leader of the Commonwealth Election Monitoring Group, an assignment for which, all factors considered, he is most suited, Jonathan yesterday asked whoever loses at the election to accept defeat. I doubt if there is any leader in Africa today who has as much moral capital as Jonathan to give such admonition; so the political leaders in Tanzania are bound to take him very seriously. 

However, beyond the international engagements that will surely come his way by virtue of the way he left office, Jonathan must also reflect on his stewardship as President of Nigeria—the mistakes, the squandered opportunities as well as his modest achievements. And if he would be honest with himself, he must be regretting certain things that he did, or were done in his name by those who cynically, and with gross impunity, abused his (Jonathan’s) trust and that of the Nigerian public.

As spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua between May 2007 and May 2010, I worked closely with Dr. Jonathan, then in his capacity as Vice President and later as acting president. But our relationship began to sour at the point when my boss (now late) was ill and some of his (Jonathan’s) Ijaw kinsmen were pushing him to force the issue, without consideration for Nigeria’s precarious ethno-religious fault lines. Luckily, and to the eternal credit of Jonathan, he refused to bow to the goading of these time servers. Ultimately, God resolved the crisis in his favour and he became President of Nigeria for five years. The question now is: what did Jonathan do with that opportunity?

Today, the jury is out about the stewardship of President Jonathan and the manner in which he was practically hijacked by some power mongers. But then, where are these people today? The super minister whose words were laws in a critical sector of our national life that was turned to a personal fiefdom; the self-appointed Ijaw “father” who is now squealing after exploiting the former president to the maximum in pursuit of his own pecuniary interests; the licenced thug who was given free rein to verbally terrorise and libel about just anybody; the AGIP businessmen who swarmed round Aso Rock like bees to nectar as well as those officials who were regaling Nigerians with tales of how “President Jonathan brought Facebook to Nigeria”. Just where are they?

In my recent encounter with him, President Jonathan told me that he is writing two books, the first one on his last days in office and a latter one on his entire political/public service experience from deputy governor to the presidency. He definitely has a compelling story to tell. But in his reflections, I hope he will have the courage to speak to the issues that are now defining his era and the role played by some of the characters who, for all practical purposes, may have moved on because he (Jonathan) is now, like the rest of us, another yesterday’s man.

However, whatever may have been the failings of President Jonathan, we owe him a debt of gratitude for having the good sense to accept that the market was over after it became clear that Nigerians had voted to oust him. I am aware that many now dismiss what he did with a wave of hands but it was very significant at the time as it helped to save our nation from what could have been a monumental catastrophe. Incidentally, some of the Ijaw people now speaking of President Muhammadu Buhari in superlatives, and talking nonsense about their kinsman, would never have approved of Jonathan conceding defeat if they had any say in the matter at the time.

That for me is where the lesson really is. In our country, an office holder, at any level, is as good as his powers to dispense patronage. And that should be a lesson for President Buhari himself. In his own case, he was in power before and must reflect on what happened to him after he left office the last time. Were “his people” gravitating towards him as they do today?

The ultimate message is a simple one: on the matter of support and solidarity enjoyed by successive Nigerian leaders, we can hazard a pattern. Without naming names, the more popular leaders tend to be those whose appeal extends beyond their specific geopolitical enclaves. On the contrary, the leaders who allow themselves to be hijacked by ethnic cabals end up as divisive figures and their trail is battered by such division.

Therefore, what the nation needs, especially at such a time like this, is a unifying leader in order to defuse the sectional pressures that threaten our collective patrimony. I hope President Buhari gets the message.

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi:  olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

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