by Azuka Onwuka
Imagine if Nigeria had an egocentric, greedy and myopic person as President on March 28, 2015 when the presidential election was held. A couple of things would have happened. From the beginning, the electoral umpire would have been made loyal to the President and his party only and antagonistic to the opposition parties. Therefore, the President’s party would have won the elections, no matter the voting wishes of the electorate. If the opposition did not like the results, it should go to court.
Secondly, if by any shred of luck the electoral umpire had announced that the opposition had won the election, the President would have countered it by announcing his own result showing that he won the election.
Thirdly, a crisis would have broken out across the country, leading to killings and arson. Businesses would have closed shop. Many Nigerians and expatriates would have fled the country. Some investors and would-be investors would have been scared away. The international community would have concluded that Nigeria had behaved like most African countries: Always eager to cling to power.
But fortunately, on March 28, our President was a certain Goodluck Jonathan, a man with a different attitude to power.
Just read some statements he has been making since the 2011 elections when he contested the presidency for the first time and see that he has consistently been emphasising that he is peace-loving and not power-hungry:
“If I lose this election, of course, I will go back to my village. The country is not my father’s estate.”
“My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”
“Let nobody rig for me.”
“Yes, nothing will really ruffle me because I am willing and ready to serve but I am not desperate to serve. That is what keeps me going.”
“All of us who want to hold offices from the least: a counsellor of a ward or a chairman of a council, a member of the state House of Assembly or member of House of Representatives, Senate, Governor or the President – if all of us are always ready and willing to serve our people but we are not desperate in that our mission, then of course, Nigeria will be a better place for all of us.”
In the same vein, his concession speech was all about the peace and stability of Nigeria, not about his ambition. Here are excerpts from that speech:
“I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word. I have also expanded the space for Nigerians to participate in the democratic process. That is one legacy I will like to see endure.
“Although some people have expressed mixed feelings about the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, I urge those who may feel aggrieved to follow due process based on our constitution and our electoral laws, in seeking redress.
“As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country are more important than anything else.”
Since the 2010 Anambra State governorship election, which Jonathan supervised when President Umaru Yar’Adua was hosptalised in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria’s elections have consistently been experiencing a boost in transparency and credibility. Interestingly, that 2010 Anambra election was conducted by Prof Maurice Iwu as the Chairman of the same INEC, which had been seriously criticised for conducting flawed elections, especially from 2003 to 2009. In addition to the much criticised 2007 elections Iwu organised when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was still the President, he had also organised the much-condemned Ekiti State re-run election in April 2009 while Yar’Adua was hale and hearty. Therefore, the obvious improvement in the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election in February 2010 when Jonathan was in charge was not a happenstance. It proved that the low standard of elections is caused by the meddlesomeness of whoever is the president of the country. If the President does not interfere in the electoral process or does not put undue pressure on the electoral umpire, the electoral body can be fair to all the political parties and allow the wishes of the electorate to stand.
That was what the coming of Jonathan has done to the country’s electoral process. He has truly allowed the “Independent” in the name of INEC to be true. And Nigeria has been the better for it. Also, in all the state elections conducted under his watch, he promptly congratulated the winner, even when his party’s candidate lost or was still protesting the outcome of the election. It was, therefore, not out of character for him to have congratulated Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. Doing so even while the results of the March 28 election were still being collated was just a matter of adding some icing on the cake.
It seems so distant when the cocksure era of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party lasted. It was the era when the Chairman of the PDP, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, boasted that the party would rule Nigeria for 60 years. Ogbulafor knew that however the people voted, the results would be announced to favour its party. It was not surprising that within that period, the court upturned electoral victories in Anambra, Rivers, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti, and Osun states.
However, since Jonathan took over as Acting President in 2010 till today, there have become fewer electoral court cases. And courts no longer upturn election results because they have become more transparent and credible.
In addition, unlike in the recent past when top political figures were assassinated, Jonathan’s tenure has been devoid of such assassinations in spite of Obasanjo’s allegation in December 2013 that Jonathan was “training snipers and other armed personnel secretly” to take out political opponents. Ironically, it was during Obasanjo’s tenure that political figures like Chief Bola Ige, Chief Funsho Williams, Chief Harry Marshal, etc, were killed without their killers found till today. It is obvious that the allegation against Jonathan was part of the grand design to demonise him and get him out as president, a plot which went according to plan.
It is gratifying to see that this Jonathan example is being imitated by other politicians. The prompt way politicians like Jimi Agbaje and Nuhu Ribadu of Lagos and Adamawa states respectively conceded defeat on Sunday immediately the governorship results of their states were announced was soul-lifting. This was also how Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State conceded defeat last June, even though some other controversies trailed that bold and commendable act.
By May 29, 2015 when the tenure of Jonathan will have elapsed, he will have spent five years and three months as the commander-in-chief of the nation, having been made the Acting President on February 9, 2010. He has recorded some positives and some negatives. His chief albatross is the Boko Haram insurgency, especially the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. The other point is the issue of corruption, which was hyped in the media as worse than before, but Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index actually shows that Nigeria has been less corrupt under the Presidency of Jonathan than in the years of 1999 to 2007.
The exit of Jonathan will usher in Buhari and a new era. As President, Buhari will seek to make a difference. That is the prayer of anyone who loves Nigeria. But one snag is that he and his party have over-promised, and expectations are sky-high and maybe difficult to meet. The urge for change after 16 years of the PDP made many to refuse to acknowledge any achievement of Jonathan for the simple reason that such an acknowledgement could make him popular and easier to re-elect. But by the time the euphoria over the change in government ebbs, there will be a more dispassionate assessment of Jonathan’s era, especially in comparative terms.
Therefore, this is no prophecy. By May 29, 2016, when Buhari will have been in office for one year, many of Jonathan’s harsh critics will have changed their views about him. There will be nostalgic feeling about Jonathan with comments like: “If it were during Jonathan’s tenure.”
Given the crisis and bloodshed Jonathan has saved Nigeria by refusing to act like other power-hungry African presidents, it will not be surprising if the organisers of awards like Nobel Peace Prize and the Mo Ibrahim Prize come looking for the man from Otuoke who went to school as a child without shoes.
Azuka Onwuka writes on Twitter @BrandAzuka.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.