EMAMEH GABRIEL, recaptures the intrigues that trailed the recent launch of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s book, “My Transition Hours”.
On Tuesday 19 November 2018, world leaders, joined their Nigerian counterparts in Abuja at the Trancorp Hilton Hotel to celebrate one of Africa heroes of democracy, former President, Goodluck Jonathan, on his 61st birthday. The event coincided with the public presentation and official launch of his book, “My Transition Hours.”
Among those in attendance were President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, as a special guest of honour and former president Olusegun Obasanjo as the chairman of the occasion.
Former Heads of State Gen.Yakubu Gowon, Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar, TY Danjuma, former Ghanian president, John Mahama, former vice presidents Atiku Abubakar and Namadi Sambo and other dignitaries were also guests of honour.
Other notable persons at the event were the Senate President Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; former Senate President, David Mark; former Senate minority leader; Godswill Akpabio; PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus; and his APC counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole.
It was the first time Jonathan was revealing what transpired during the intense few moments before he made the famous phone call that heralded his transiting power to President Muhammadu Buhari and a newly elected democratic government, after the 16 years reign of his party, PDP.
The 15 chapter book was Jonathan’s account of the circumstances surrounding his loss at the polls, the defeat of his party and the reign of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The book evoked memories and perhaps for the first time, gave a glimpse of how Nigeria’s immediate neighbours and the world percieved events in the build up of the 2015 general election. What’s more, the gathering created an interesting scenario where principal actors who worked against Jonathan’s ambition in 2015, took turns to praise him for his statesmanly act of conceding defeat and saving the country from being engulfed in a major security crisis.
Prior to the election, there was palpable fear that the country was heading for major security crisis. With hate speech taking over the social media space predictions that the country was heading for division was rife. There were accusations and counter accusations from the then ruling PDP and the opposition APC which by this time had formed a successful coalition with the sole aim of ousting the ruling party.
Such fears provoked a debate as to whether or not the military should be deployed to monitor the polls. A Lagos Federal High Court, however ruled that it was unconstitutional to deploy the military to monitor elections, stating that it is the function of the police.
While that debate lingered, the menace of insurgents in the North-east raged. Still there were allegations of bias in the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC).
The election was however shifted from the February 2014 period as initially slated, sparking protests from the then opposition parties. After all was said and done the election held in March.
As results from the presidential polls trickled in, the polity became more intense, heightening fears of doom.
The former president, having noticed that the odds were against his party and despite pressure from some associates both home and abroad, conceded the 2015 Presidential election to his rival, President Muhammadu Buhari, even while results were still being counted, a very rare gesture in a clime like Africa.
Jonathan has since been ascribed the standard for politicians seeking elective positions in other African countries. During Tanzania’s last presidential elections, The Guardian of Lusaka, in one of its editorial, reminded the local politicians not to go below the standards already set in Nigeria.
“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’’, the paper had noted.
As such, Abuja on November 19 came alive as African politicians joined their Nigerian counterparts to extol Jonathan’s virtues at his book launch.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha, praised his immediate predecessor, declaring that his best days are yet ahead. He saluted Jonathan’s statesmanship and courage at conceding defeat even while collation was ongoing. “I thank you for being a true democrat,” he said.
Buhari said Jonathan has carved his name in gold in the history of Nigeria which has earned him popularity before world and African leaders.
“You (Jonathan) are a leader of the past, of now and of the future; you will rise again. I wish you the best you wish yourself.”
On his part, former President Obasanjo recognised Jonathan as one of the best Nigeria has produced.
Obasanjo, who interestingly opposed Jonathan’s presidential bid in 2015, welcomed him to the league of authors and congratulated the celebrant for enjoying a peaceful retirement. He charged Jonathan and other former leaders to discharge their “residual responsibility by continuing to serve the people.”
“There is still no substitute to democracy when all is said and done because it unifies”, said Obasanjo who warned that “if democracy gets to the hands of hooligans in politics, it can be abused and misused.”
Former Head of States, Abdulsalami Abubakar, described Jonathan as an ambassador of peace whose singular action has unified the country. He thanked him for setting Nigeria on the part of peace. “We cannot thank you enough for the peace we are having in the country today, for the peaceful transition we had when you freely and voluntarily conceded defeat. By your decision, you have shown that you love your country more than you love power.”
A glimpse of how the world viewed the 2015 events were revealed. Former Ghanaian President John Mahama thanked Jonathan for his invitation, saying the former Nigerian president is not a typical politician and that could largely be responsible for his success in politics.
He described Jonathan as a very reserved man. He said his country, Ghana, and Nigeria have similar political history.
“For Jonathan politics was not a matter of life and death. His decision to hand over power peacefully in 2015 was not surprising to me. He said the same scenario played out in Ghana when he too lost election to the opposition in the country.
“This actions’’, according to him, ‘‘have consolidated the democracy in our countries and when the history of democracy is written in Africa, the name of president Jonathan would be carved in gold’’.
Former vice president, Namadi Sambo described Jonathan as a lover of merit who is always on top of his game. “He picked me from among many who struggled to occupy the seat of vice president. Another example is the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”
Senate President Bukola Saraki said: “The book is not just about your transition hours but it deals with Nigeria’s and Africa’s finest hours. We should all entrench the spirit of the book. Jonathan has set a standard that we all should embrace.”
In his birthday message, former Military President Ibrahim Babangida said Jonathan scored a momentous achievement by conceding defeat. According to him, “He demonstrated absolute leadership by example through his ability to play the game of politics by obeying the rules.”
Dogara told the celebrant: “Your excellency, we celebrate you. Those who chose not to do what you did today are not being celebrated. As a matter of fact, if they were to organise an event like this, nobody will attend. I guess the high point would be the events in Cote d’Ivoire involving Laurent Gbagbo. We all know where he is currently; where he has been confined. That is a lesson to anyone who will not want to follow this legacy of honour and dignity that you have established as a standard.
“We celebrate you today because your executive powers conferred on you the authority to take a seat among the demagogues and the narcissists of Africa. But you refused. You chose instead to take a seat at the table with all those statesmen of Africa. And today, you are celebrated. That singular gracious call you put to your opponent was what brought our democracy to maturity and conferred legitimacy to our political process. Nobody ever is going to change that. We celebrate you today because by doing that, you have brought honour to yourself and you have brought honour to all those that will identify with you.”
Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson and Chief Host of the event, thanked all Nigerians who graced the occasion “to celebrate what is best among us.
He said public service is about commitments and ideas that are bigger then individuals. “That is what Goodluck Jonathan has done”, he said. He called on Nigeria to improve on the quality of leadership in the country.
The friction points
By the time the book became available for public consumption, old disputes were revived. Jonathan in the book while commenting on how he lost, blamed the former President of United States, Barak Obama of being at the heart of the opposition against his 2015 presidential ambition.
While Obama is yet to publicly react to the former president’s claim, the Borno State governor, Kassim Shettima, who Jonathan also accused of working in cohorts with US to use the Chibok Girls kidnap for political gains at the time, had dismissed the book as being economic with the truth.
The governor described the former president’s allegation as a clever attempt to sweep incontrovertible facts surrounding the April 14, 2014 Chibok abduction under the carpet.
Also, presidency was forced to thrash claims made by Jonathan in his book on status of corruption in Nigeria. A statement by President Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, while responding to a claim by Jonathan that corruption has increased since he left office in 2015 and handed over to Mr Buhari, said, “Finally, as evidenced from a fleeting look at the book, the former President had nothing to say about his own achievements. If there was a recession, and yes we had a moment in it, was it due to one year of President Buhari’s government?”
Besides that, while claims by Jonathan that some PDP governors and stakeholders betrayed him during the polls were largely unanswered, Northern leaders under the aegis of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said it had no regrets voting against him in 2015.
The group in a statement signed by its national publicity secretary of ACF, Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, noted that the former president’s habit of not keeping to his words caused his defeat. The statement read: “Northern leaders and the socio-political group worked against him in the 2011 & 2015 elections noted that the former leader didn’t keep to his words and that was responsible for his defeat.”
What’s more, the controversy over whether those present at the time Jonathan made the famous phone call to his successor also provoked a response from the former president. This is against the backdrop that he made the call without any proding by some aides who were with him at the time. Also, the narrative as contained in the book, where he hinted that those with him were proferring alternatives at the time it was clear he was losing, was intepreted by some analysts, to indicate that they were opposed to his making the phone call to concede defeat.
Jonathan however addressed the insinuation as reports started emerging on the media, through anonymous sources, claiming that those present at the gathering actually prevailed on him to make the call, which seemed to puncture his claim that he was not forced to make the call.
Nevertheless, the essence of the book launch was captured, not just in the gathering of former world leaders but in light of what it portends ahead of the 2019 general election.
Pundits, aver that the precedence set by Jonathan in handing over even before election results were formally announced sets a standard for the political class ahead of 2019 and above all the stability of Nigeria and Africa as a whole.