Some writers aptly described his 61st birthday as his finest hour, while others insisted that his recollections as contained in his ‘My Transition Hours’ are mere lamentations that can best be dubbed as a fiction from an elementary book. For many Nigerians, former President Goodluck Jonathan is seen in many perspectives. For those who want to see the saint in him, there are many deeds he displayed in office that justified the saintliness in him. As for those who prefer to see nothing good in him, there are equally many inactions to justify the incompetence of his administration.
The emergence of Jonathan in May 2010 as president after the demise of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, offered an unprecedented opportunity to a candidate from the South-south geo-political zone to preside over the affairs of the nation. Political analysts then noted that if there was anyone who knew the pains and feelings of the victims of the Nigerian system, that person was Jonathan. He was best seen as the man for the job to right the wrongs.
Preparedness for a task is an essential ingredient. On emerging victorious at the 2011 after a rancorous polls that led to loss of lives, especially in the North, it was obvious that the core North was opposed to his reign after been short-changed from the power equation since the dawn of democracy in 1999. Aware of this feeling of marginalisation from the corridors of power, the Bayelsa-born teacher turned politician commenced a deliberate policy of surrounding himself with core Northerners in order to give them a sense of belonging. Among key appointments he conceded to the North were that of the Inspector General of Police, National Security Adviser and Minister of Defence and National Chairman of the PDP.
The new power owners ensured his alienation from former President Olusegun Obasanjo who, like a jealous wife, was determined to extract his pound of flesh. One of his undoing is the lack of understanding of the dialectics of national politics. He failed to surround himself with people who could be trusted to be loyal when necessary. Despite acknowledging the fact that he had become a prey in the hands of his aides, the then president could not rise above the flood and take charge of the circumstances. Simply put, Jonathan ran an administration that had no character and colour. Everything was possible as he allowed his ministers and aides uninterrupted access to power. While the nation burned, our then president found refuge in following the books and constitutionality. While the United States of America may practise democracy of the books, in Nigeria, our politicians need constant knockings to checkmate their greed and salvage the system from total collapse.
The Jonathan Presidency was a jolly ride into the peak of corruption, as most ministers and aides turned their offices into oil blocs and sleaze became so profound and unstoppable. It is this absence of supervision from the top that led to Nigerians’ accepting the ‘Change’ mantra from the All Progressives Congress (APC). Those who orchestrated his defeat have long returned to the PDP they rejected in 2015. They have now realised that the more things change; the more they remained the same.
The incapacity or deliberate refusal by Jonathan to take the right decision constituted yet another problem. He proved incapable of taking decisions that could turn things around and resolve some of the issues. If Nigerians were patient with him in the first one year, after his election in 2011, they expected an invigorating capacity to turn things around. After leaving the nation’s treasury open to aides whose depth of greed was unfathomable, the outcome was devastating. The war on Boko Haram suffered and morale of soldiers at the war front went to its lowest ebb. Murderous gangs of herdsmen took commanding positions in some states of the North central states, with over 160 killed in an attack on a single day in Kaduna state. Funds meant for purchase of arms were diverted and gloom stared at the people. Solution seemed too far as anarchy was set to be unleashed on the citizenry.
He was abandoned by even those who had facilitated his emergence on national politics. Jonathan failed because he was not adequately prepared to take responsibility. While he was too afraid to take decisions on certain issues in order not to offend the so-called sensibilities of some Northern elements, he preferred to succumb to the moral uprightness of motives to work out for the good of the nation. Beyond good intentions, a leader must show the courage to lead, no matter whose ox is gored. Jonathan was too good a man to hurt a fly. By believing that everyone should be allowed to play his role as enshrined in the books without let or hindrance, he assumed everyone was like him. That was his greatest undoing. Those close to the then Presidency would tell you that no one was in charge. Everyone had a field day and that largely accounted for his defeat. All these talks about President Barak Obama and the roles of Western powers in his defeat mean little to the outcome of the 2015 poll. Many even muted that considering the indecision of Jonathan, he was forced to join the 2015 polls. That is fittingly demonstrated when, at the slightest poll lead of Muhammadu Buhari, he quickly conceded defeat.
However, he was a jolly good man who wanted everyone to be happy. He refused launching full scale military operations on Boko Haram for fear of Northern politicians. He had all the solutions in crippling corruption and curbing leakages but kept on postponing the commencement of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). It is this singular trait that made him to be unable to control aides and ministers, among others, who constituted clogs in the wheels of progress. In his Presidency, Nigerians were only exposed to a fearful government that was too afraid of taking decisions for the advancement of the national good. Governance is not only for good people; governance is for people who can be good to those who obey the laws and brutal to those who seek to destroy society.
As Nigerians continue to react to ‘My Transition Hours’, let it not be forgotten in a hurry that the legacies of President Jonathan will continue to excite robust discourse in the years ahead. The Shakespearean quotation as uttered by King Lear sums up the character trait he brought into governance, “We are not the first who with the best of intentions have incurred the worst.”
I think, as my friend and brother, Ibrahim Musa, would always say, “let us problematize the issue” in order to appreciate the legacies of a man whom much was given but ended given too little to our exasperations. However, the failures of today have ennobled the administration of President Jonathan. Therein lies the relevance of a presidency that have assumed the toga of saintliness made possible from the fiery present of frightening uncertainties over our future.