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Opinion: Jega Is Not The MVP Of The Nigerian Elections

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by Folorunso David

I knew I was no longer in Lagos when I looked out from the plane and saw a shanty town with huge acres of farmland and ranches separating households. I was onboard a commercial Bombardier Q400 plane flying to Abidjan, Ivory Coast from Lagos, Nigeria. An aerial view of Lagos metropolis would outline an intricate network of roads with a throng of citizens going about their daily hustle and bustle. What I was viewing from about 24000 feet was a village in the outskirts of Lome, Togo.

This was a couple of days after Nigeria’s historic federal elections. The All Progressive Congress (APC) and its candidate Muhammadu Buhari were declared victorious after a rigorous campaign that featured ample mudslinging and pockets of clashes between rival political parties. What’s more intriguing, however, is that Mr. Buhari’s victory comes at the expense of the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan’s who was seeking a second term in office.

It is, however, very remarkable that in the wake of the result Goodluck Jonathan lived up the peace accord he had co-signed with Buhari before voting began and conceded defeat. He went one step further by ringing up Buhari to congratulate him on his nascent victory at the polls. The BBC ran a story in this regard titled ‘Goodluck Jonathan’s Phone Call That Changed Nigeria.’

Perhaps, ‘changed’ is misleading but this act by Nigeria’s leader who has been variously characterized in local media as ‘clueless’ evoked the commendation of leaders from all over the world. More importantly, it drew sympathies from many Nigerians.  On Twitter, there was already a running debate over how to characterize him. Some people were labelling him hero; others even suggested that for his statesmanship, Mr. Jonathan is deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize. There have been counterarguments.

The population of the entire Ivory Coast is about 20 million which is only about 3 million more than the figure ascribed to Lagos in 2014. Abidjan is less dense than the commercial capital of Nigeria. The city has new set of roads and bridges abuzz with red and yellow taxis. When I arrived what first struck me was a military plane stationed at the international Airport. I am not exactly sure why it is there (and, self-admittedly, I did not make any enquiry) but for whatever intent, construction or purpose, it had the trappings of a relic of Ivory Coast’s violent past.

On December 2nd, 2010, Youssouf Bakayoko, the head of Ivory Coast’s electoral commission announced Alassane Ouatttara as the victor in the West African country’s presidential election. However, Laurent Gbagbo, who, at the time, had been president for 10 years and was seeking reelection refused to accept this result asserting victory for himself. Amid international backlash, the country’s military quickly announced that it had closed the country’s borders for security purposes. The security situation soon deteriorated. With both Ouattara and Gbabgo insisting on victory at the polls a civil war ensued. It claimed the lives of about 4000 people. More than 10,000 people were displaced from their homes.

I am very wary of drawing analogies between African countries. The particularity of each nation is astonishing in every ramification. But there are always lessons to draw from standalone narratives.

With the largest population and economy in Africa, Nigeria stands head and shoulder above most countries in the African continent. However, there has always been tribal tensions in the self-styled Giant of Africa. The elections of March 28th highlighted an inkling of this strain. Most of the votes garnered by Muhammadu Buhari came from the North where he is from; whereas Goodluck Jonathan had overwhelming victory in the southernmost states where Nigeria’s staple export product, crude oil, can be found. He originates from Bayelsa State in the South. While many political commentators tried to focus on issues in health, security, and the economy for instance, there was no doubt that a majority of the votes would be cast based on ethnic affiliations. This is not unexpected especially as the memory of the civil war of the 1960s still rankles sometimes.

Any suggestion of war is often construed as warmongering but it would only be practical to suggest that if Goodluck Jonathan had failed to accept defeat and clung to power like Laurent Gbagbo did in Ivory Coast, Nigeria would possibly be in the throes of civil unrest now and my flight may not have made it out of Lagos. This is especially true because of suggestive misdemeanors and statements by a handful of politicians.

For instance, a former Minister under Goodluck Jonathan, Peter Orubebe, held the announcement of the election results – and by extension, the entire nation – to ransom when he besieged the stage with other loyalists of the Goodluck Jonathan’s party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and accused Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of being bias. The expression he used was “tribalistic”. Fortunately, this particular situation was controlled. But, again, one can only imagine what would have happened if it had escalated and the election was rendered inconclusive.

Goodluck Jonathan was being preemptive when he made that phone call. The significance of it may not be apparent now. After all, the doctor who performs a successful heart surgery receives ample plaudits but the one who actively counsels patients against a lifestyle that might damage their hearts is not similarly applauded. It is understandable: As humans, we seem to only value peace when we have witnessed its alternative. Still, to suggest that Goodluck Jonathan’s phone call to Muhammadu Buhari even before the final announcement of the election result is anything but lionhearted is blatantly myopic.

A political commentator on Twitter quipped that Goodluck Jonathan deserves no commendation for conceding victory, after all, “is [Aso Rock] his father’s house?” My response: No, it isn’t but like the taxi driver who picked me up at Abidjan airport insinuated in rusty English, Nigeria won’t need to go through what Ivory Coast did courtesy of Goodluck Jonathan.

It is not for me to decide whether or not Mr. Jonathan is deserving of a Nobel Prize. It is also not for me to give the verdict on his heroism. As I stated in a recent post on Twitter, perhaps, ‘hero’ is not the word we are looking for; but as far as the recent election is concerned Goodluck Jonathan is the Most Valuable Player.

Folorunso David tweets from @funsodavid

Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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