“To safeguard democracy, the people must have a keen sense of independence, self- respect and their oneness, and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only such persons as are good and true” – Mahatma Gandi.
Nigeria, ordinary should not be bold in describing her democracy as nascent. This is founded on the fact that since October 1, 1960 when she gained Independence from the British colonial government, democracy was entrenched.
We may excuse the tardiness in democratic development to incessant military interventions in the politics of Nigeria, however, there are younger democracies that have gone further than Nigeria in entrenching real and tested democracy.
A major set back in Nigeria’s democratic development was the annulment of the June 12, 1993 general election by the then Military leadership, but not without the tacit support and connivance of some politicians in Nigeria. It was a major setback because that election was adjudged the freest and fairest Nigeria ever witnessed. It was one election that ignored tribes, religion, class or creed. A muslim/muslim ticket was overwhelmly voted for the office of the President and Vice but truncated by an annulment. Nigeria has never been the same again since that time and those divisive considerations of religion, tribe and ethnicity have denied Nigeria a true democracy thereafter.
The nearest manifest to ensuring that the people’s voice through the ballot was respected came in 2015, when an incumbent President – Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, called to congratulate his opponent – Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, even before the electoral empire declared the winner of the said Presidential election. Many were astonished. Many wondered where such a personality could have come from knowing that there was so much he could have done on the contrary as was at the time prevalent in the African sub region.
The then incoming president, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), was not any more surprised and had this to say about Dr. G.E. Jonathan:
“I did not expect it because after 16 years in government, the man was a deputy governor, a governor, a Vice-President and was President for six years. For him to have conceded defeat even before the result was announced by INEC, I think that was quite generous and gracious of him.”
Though the mantra of the political party (APC), which brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power was “Change”, President Goodluck Jonathan’s phone call congratulating Buhari had severally been described as “the phone call that changed Nigeria”. WHY? Prior to that very phone call, drums of war were sounding all over the nation. Some political players had openly described the success of their preferred candidate as “a do or die” affair. There was palpable tension everywhere, while innocent and defenseless Nigerians seemed to have sat on kegs of gun powder waiting to explode.
One incontrovertible fact about politicians is that flowery languages are never in short supply in the oratory rhetoric’s; they are wont to say what they don’t mean and would of course do the opposite of what they say. This man- President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR (fondly called GEJ), was to redefine a true politician and made a few of us think again. He is known to have repeatedly said – “My political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian”. He lived this talk. When it was obvious that there were possibilities that the outcome of the presidential election may lead to blood bath and loss of lives of Nigerians, he elected to sacrifice his ambition by making that call conceding to PMB and congratulating him. Many political players who thought less of the greater Nigerian populace have not forgiven GEJ for that lives saving phone call. Many more blame him today for all the disappointments they must have experienced in the present Federal Government.
Since May 29, 2015 that GEJ handed over to PMB, he had remained committed to the role of a true statesman and ambassador of peace, not speaking against nor interfering with the running of the Nigerian government. That takes me to seeing another stance of living what one preaches. In political and democratic development, GEJ once said – “Democracy is a journey that every nation mindful of advancing the liberty of its citizens must undertake” While appraising the gains of democracy he stated – “The air of freedom we breathe today is the result of the sacrifices of thousands of pro-democracy activists, human rights campaigners and others who organized as civil society”.
We, as a country have witnessed twenty – two years of unbroken democracy. In these years, we have had four Presidents – Great Nigerians who are eminently qualified and in their respective rights have contributed and /or still contributing their best in the Nigerian government. Apart from Umaru Ya’adua, GCFR whose tenure was cut short by his demise, the other two Presidents – OBJ and PMB had a few things in common. They were both former Military Generals who have ruled as Military Heads of State and Civilian Presidents. Both had their full tenures of eight years unbroken, affording them ample time to complete developmental projects that were dear to them. That of GEJ was however not so. He became a President at the demise of the President with whom he ran on a joint ticket. He suffered acceptance by the cabal who never wanted him to ascend the seat of Presidency. Suffice it to say that for the greater part of the two years he had to complete the residual tenure of President Ya’adua, he was clearly distracted.
GEJ won the 2011 election, he dedicated those years in making marks in all sectors of the economy. He it was who introduced 125 Almajiri schools in 13 northern states, strengthened the Basic Education, built more polytechnics and Universities while extending grants to university Dons for researches. The transport sector was not left behind as he began and indeed awarded and paid for contracts in road infrastructural developments, revamping the rail transportation and enhancing capacity of our aviation Industry. Jonathan Government was noted for listening to the Nigerian people while ensuring an all-inclusive government. He, it was who initiated and created the office of the coordinating Minister of the economy and his government is reputed to have had the best in the several ministries and agencies of government. It was having round pegs in round holes in the GEJ era that got Nigeria to being the largest economy in Africa. There was food sufficiency as hunger was squarely tackled through feasible and realistic Agricultural policies, our currency witnessed some level of stability while exchange rate was also largely stable. Businesses witnessed boost as opportunities for wealth creation were abound. Measured all indices of progressive governance, the GEJ administration scored very high.
As Nigeria marches to 2023, what are the lessons for us. We asked for change, GEJ made that historical call that changed Nigeria. The government of Change had a second tenure which it termed “another level”. Truly, so much moved to another level. Like I said before, all our Presidents have undoubtedly contributed their quota to the development of the country, and I do not intend to judge. However, I do not think we have gotten the best out of the man – Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR.
While the 2015 electioneering campaign was on, he promised Nigerian a breath of fresh air. At the time we felt all we needed was change. Today, the pandemic has polluted the air. We now wash our hands regularly and dress like Ninja to escape the scourge of the pandemic. It is true that the Pandemic is a health concern, but it has also affected our politics. Nigerians are hungry. Nigeria, now, more than any other time, yearns for a breath of fresh air. Recall the EBOLA scourge, we survived it. We were not choked, and life returned. The man at the helm of affairs at the time? GEJ!
It seems to me that the only reason the GEJ government was not returned was for sentiments that were never attributable to bad governance but more for the sheer desire for a change clothed is selfishness and inordinate quest for power by a few politicians. Whereas the incoming President showed open desire to make Nigeria better, it appeared that not all who stood with him reasoned along that noble path.
I am not sure the gentleman statesman and Peace envoy – GEJ would want this but I am inclined to asking well-meaning Nigerians to look to his direction as we entrench a new government in 2023. We need to salvage our nascent democracy. It is time to access all those we have brought into office and dispassionately decide who loves Nigeria more.
A mistake repeated severally cannot be one but stupidity in auto replay. We need to get wiser. Let us eschew tribalism, nepotism, ethnicity and religion. We need to actualize the dream of our founding fathers. The labour of our heroes past must not be in vain. NIGERIANS, THINK!