Government of the people, for the people and by the people. This is perhaps democracy’s most widely known definition spanning decades of human political history. Combined with the popular assertion that politics is a game of numbers, it simply boils down to one thing: democracy as a system of governance is anchored on popular representation. Stretching it further, it is in effect an ‘arrangement’ where the minority may have their say but the majority will always have their way.
But by sheer stroke of what may be termed divine happenstance, something happened in Nigeria in 2010. It was the first time it was happening in Nigeria’s democratic history. A sitting president, elected from the majority Hausa-Fulani tribe of Nigeria died in office and in consonance with the laws of our land, his second-in-command, a descendant of Nigeria’s minority Ijaw tribe became president. What was supposedly politically impossible in a nation where the minority tribes were practically and perpetually shut out of the nation’s number one seat of power suddenly became a reality. Standing on the cusp of history, face to face with destiny, was the man Goodluck Azikiwe Ebele Jonathan, saddled with the extraordinary assignment of steering the ship of the Nigerian state, the fate of over 170 million Nigerians in his hands.
Fast forward to 2011, it was the dawn of the Goodluck era. Goodluck was the name on the lips of every Nigerian. Here was a man, thrust from the dust of humble beginnings, where he literally had no shoes, into the heights of global consequence. Goodluck Jonathan was elected president. In a momentous record of history, the voice of the people had spoken, yet for many, it was even more significantly, the voice of God speaking. Who would have thought that an Ijaw minority Nigerian from the village of Otuoke in Bayelsa would be elected Nigeria’s president in 2011? It was unbelievably epic!
The sentiments that powered the election of Goodluck Jonathan as president in 2011 would remain for decades to come, signposts in Nigeria’s political history, lettered in two words: ‘destiny’ and ‘possibility.’ Jonathan for millions of Nigerians like me represented the audacity of faith; faith in the possibility of the Nigerian dream. For millions of Nigerians, Jonathan was an ideology of freedom from oppression, a metaphor of a nation that was being set free from the shackles of the old order, a symbol of disconnection from Nigeria’s ugly past and a poignant reminder that the minority tribes of Nigeria were not hopeless and helpless, and that they were equal stakeholders in the Nigerian project.
STORY CONTINUES AFTER THE PHOTO
There are many who argue that Jonathan’s eventual undoing was that he became Nigeria’s president before his time. They say Nigeria was not ready for a president like him. A comprehensive study of the factors that conspired against his presidency, leading to his exit in May 2015 may further help dispassionate observers establish this theory.
In all, one thing nobody could take from Jonathan was his commitment to democratic ideals. It was his biggest strength and it was his greatest weakness. Jonathan in his style of leadership was a democrat to a fault. He was Nigeria’s most criticized president, yet the most tolerant to criticism. Under his leadership, freedom of speech by all classes of citizens was guaranteed. The Freedom of Information bill was signed into law, opening up the mystery of governance systems to public scrutiny and accountability. Perhaps, the biggest crime he committed as president was his commitment towards building and strengthening institutions. Jonathan believed in his government and the people he selected to work with him. And he gave them a free hand to function, expecting the best results in return. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Prof. Attahiru Jega is a clear example of “Democratic Jonathan”. That INEC under Jonathan was truly independent and Jega was given the support and free hand to conduct the March 28, 2015 presidential election without interference pays glowing tributes to Jonathan’s commitment to the rule of law and democratic ideals.
His critics may disagree, and they are free. But Jonathan, more than any other person who has led Nigeria as a democratic president or military head of state till date, has displayed the brightest qualities of what it takes to govern a 21st century state like Nigeria. In democratic ideals, Jonathan outclassed his predecessors and contemporaries. In performance, he left behind shoes his successors are finding too gigantic to fill. Perhaps, Jonathan’s unassuming approach to leadership and governance pushed many of his critics to a point where they took things for granted. Barely eight months after he left office, it is not coincidence that the parable of his exit is a striking paradox of a people who did not value what they had until they lost it.
When Jonathan declared during the presidential campaigns of 2011 that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian, little did Nigerians realize how that statement would later stand as a memorial to the safety, protection and preservation of the lives of millions of Nigerians that could have been lost in the aftermath of the March 28, 2015 presidential election.
Putting Nigeria first, in a rare moment of selflessness, Jonathan took the high road choosing to vacate office despite evidences of an election fraught with widespread illegalities and electoral malpractice. That singular act of conceding defeat to Muhammadu Buhari without a fight saved millions of Nigerian lives who could have been wasted in the ensuing violence just like Nigeria witnessed in previous elections when the losers refused to accept the verdict of the people. It was an unprecedented act of vainless valour. That singular act translated Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s greatest president yet, into Africa’s global hero of democracy.
I join The Trent Newspaper in celebrating Goodluck Jonathan as Person of The Year 2015. This is one honour well-deserved.
Ohimai Godwin Amaize is a communications professional who has served as a ministerial aide (2011 – 2015) in four federal ministries; Ministry of Youth Development, Sports, Defence, and Foreign Affairs. He is CEO of an image consulting firm, Olivier Pope and publisher of online newspaper, Signal. Connect with him on Twitter @MrFixNigeria.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.