by Simon Kolawole
Frankly, I felt for President Goodluck Jonathan after the results of the March 28 election were announced. Let’s be honest: no normal human being wants to lose. We can philosophise about losing with dignity, but Jonathan would rather be the winner consoling and commending the loser. If a challenger loses, that is understandable. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari lost thrice between 2003 and 2011 and it was not considered a disaster. He simply dusted himself up each time and gave it another go. However, we cannot say the same thing of a sitting Nigerian president with all the powers at his disposal. His ego would be bruised, except he is an angel.
But Jonathan does not have to be ashamed of anything. He does not need to go back home with his head bowed. He does not have to cook up any excuses. He does not need to harbour any bitterness. When all this is over and he begins to pin perspectives on what transpired on March 28, he should hold his head high. He would look back next year or in four years and be happy with himself, having implemented an electoral reform that eventually made it impossible for him to be returned to power, and having swiftly congratulated the winner. He always said he wanted to leave a legacy of credible elections. This may turn out to be his biggest achievement.
I have listened to some supporters of Jonathan complain bitterly about his “naivety”. They said if it was under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the All Progressives Congress (APC) would not have been registered at all. He would have decimated the opposition by any means, as he did for eight years. They said Obasanjo would never have allowed someone like Professor Attahiru Jega, a known “radical”, to head INEC. They said Obasanjo would never have allowed the use of card readers. They said the PDP governors who defected to APC would have been impeached. They said Jonathan did not play the political game as viciously as the Nigerian environment REQUIREs.
We are all entitled to our opinions, but I beg to disagree with those peddling these negative vibes. Change was bound to happen under one president someday. Nigeria has always desperately needed a turning point in its democratisation. That point at which something will give. That point at which the will of the majority of the people as expressed through the ballot will be allowed to prevail. That point at which a ruling party would lose an election. That point at which a sitting president would be defeated. That point at which a defeated presidential candidate will pick up the phone and congratulate the winner. That point of political puberty.
For us to get to this point, some conditions were necessary. One, the people must be completely fed up with the status quo. Nigerians are often described as docile, but I have never agreed with this characterisation. I just thought the conditions were not ripe enough for the people to chart a new course politically. There was the need for a viable alternative vehicle and a credible candidate to unseat the ruling party. The formation of APC and the candidacy of Buhari fulfilled these conditions. And then, we needed two other ingredients: a reasonably credible electoral process and a fairly liberal political atmosphere. Jonathan allowed those.
Some will continue to argue over the role Jonathan played in the liberalisation of the political space which led to the events of March 28 — especially because of certain incidents that heated up the polity in recent years. However, when the dust settles, we will realise that Nigeria has just taken a quantum leap in her democratic journey and Jonathan deserves commendation. Nigerians voted for change, and we should be thankful that the people’s will has been allowed to prevail. Our history is littered with subverted electoral processes, annulled hopes and aborted dreams. We’ve seen incumbents set the house on fire and damn the consequences before.
To refresh memory, the elections of 1964/65 not only ended in killings and arson, the first republic was eventually terminated and a civil war later descended on the land. The wounds are yet to heal properly. In 1983, President Shehu Shagari’s re-election bid caused a crisis after his “landslide” victory, and there were riots and killings. That dispensation was terminated exactly three months after inauguration. The June 12 crisis of 1993 hurt the spirit and the soul of Nigeria. With all sorts of predictions that Nigeria was going to break up in 2015, it was very convenient for Jonathan to stoke a crisis rather than leave Aso Rock wounded.
Let’s look at the counterfactual. What if Godsday Orubebe had succeeded in sending Jega back to his office to stop announcing the results? What if one insane judge had packaged an injunction granting Orubebe the legal right to stop the announcement? What if Jega had been arrested and kept in an underground cell? What if Jonathan had then made a national broadcast announcing the cancellation of the result because the election was “inconclusive”? What if people had taken to the streets? What if the military had started killing them — as we have well seen before? Nigeria would be on fire by now. It would be sorrow, tears and blood all over again. We’ve been there before.
Fellow Nigerians, we have reasons to be thankful. We don’t have to lose our peace before we begin appreciate what we had. If we maintain this atmosphere and our politicians begin to behave responsibly even when results don’t go their way, then the future of our democracy is bright. We now enjoy a measure of credible elections — aided largely by what Jonathan has done. In Yoruba, it is said that if your head was used to split coconut, you will not be alive to partake in the eating. Jonathan’s head has been used to crack the coconut of credible elections, but he need not weep: one day he will be glad with his historic role.
There is nothing wrong in commending Jonathan. This is not the time for hubris or mockery. I have heard people say those commending him are celebrating mediocrity, but we need to understand our history in order to appreciate what has just happened — that a sitting president would lose and promptly congratulate the winner. I dreamt it would happen one day, but never knew it would be so soon. Even when I was making this proposal in my article weeks ago, I thought I was just having fun. I was telling myself it would only happen in 2020. But here we are experiencing it and yet some people are unhappy. I hope Jonathan wins some international prize for this unNigerian gesture.
Meanwhile, big congratulations to Buhari, whose story must now command serious academic interest, especially among political scientists. But for Buhari, Nigeria would have become a one-party state since 2003. He has consistently been the standard bearer of opposition politics in Nigeria, even when other opposition leaders were doing deals with the PDP. He is the first and only Nigerian to have contested for presidency four times. It takes a lot of mental stamina and belief to keep going. In his victory, Buhari has been very charitable to Jonathan — unlike some of his supporters who still carry on as if the presidential campaign has just started.
Above all, congratulations to all Nigerians. It is now time to move on. God bless Nigeria.
And Four Other Things…
SERVANT OF PEACE
When are we going to give Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, former head of state, some credit for his role in stabilising our democracy? He came in at a perilous time when Gen. Sani Abacha died in 1998, and was so quick to conduct a transition-to-civil rule programme as if some bees were chasing him out of Aso Rock. He has since been a steadying hand. He played a key role in breaking the logjam created by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s sickness in 2010. He was a major figure behind the peace accord to avoid post-election violence in the 2015 elections. Statesman.
SHOW OF SHAME
Although he has apologised for his show of shame, Elder Godsday Orubebe is everything but an elder. I could not believe my eyes when he decided to embarrass himself before foreign and local journalists on Tuesday in an attempt to stop further announcement of the presidential results, apparently because President Jonathan was losing. He created a scene, accusing Prof. Attahiru Jega, INEC chairman, of “tribalism” and asked him to “go back” to his office. One big factor that alienated Jonathan from the rest of Nigeria was the rascally behaviour and incendiary statements of these Niger Delta elders and militants. Counterproductive.
THE NEW PDP?
Are you noticing the trend? The popularity of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has helped the APC so much that they will now control the two chambers of the National Assembly. They have well over 60 senators and over 200 reps. They may end up with 21 governors next week. This is exactly the political monster that the PDP became in 1999, ending up conceited and uncontrollable for 15 years. Nigerian politicians, as fickle as they are, will now start rushing to APC — and we may soon be faced with a ruling party being the only opposition to itself, like PDP. Frightening.
So the presidential campaign is over? Thank God we can breathe again. I could not wait for the acidic media attacks to be over. The use of vile language, contrivance of patently false stories, calumnious personal attacks, fabrication of facts, provocations, baiting and bitterness that characterised the campaign should rank among the most unconscionable, desperate and tasteless ever seen in this part of the world. It got so depressing I avoided the media for days. I guess many people were simply justifying their PAY, but I hope we will never see this sort of thing again in our lives. Sickening.
Simon Kolawole is a columnist with Thisday Newspapers.
Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.