On May 29, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan left office as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He did so after the embarrassment of being the first elected incumbent president who ran for, but lost, re-election—losing to a candidate of the runner-up opposition party. President Jonathan conceded defeat and called to congratulate his opponent even before the end of the electoral process.
Since he left office, former President Jonathan’s profile has risen sharply in the global community. He has been lauded by local and foreign media, as well as the foreign government for that historic phone call that conceded defeat and averted a much expected bloodshed that would have ensued had he won the election. To many, Jonathan has become an icon of peace, hero of democracy, and a beacon of hope for a better future, not only for Nigeria, but also for Africa as a whole.
A dispassionate appraisal of his administration shows that in many respects, Goodluck Jonathan was not only a sterling democrat, but also an exceptional president that Nigeria has ever had based on his achievements. These qualities are the reason why our Editorial Board has named former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan The Trent’s PERSON OF THE YEAR 2015.
On the domestic front, former President Jonathan had done a great service to Nigeria’s economy to the extent that six months after he left office, his successor’s flagship ministers shocked Nigerians by publicly admitting that rather than embark on new projects in 2016, they would only endeavour to build on Jonathan’s achievements. What are the facts?
For a country that had witnessed a rot in infrastructure, President Jonathan’s silent revamping mission, through his Transformation Agenda, had been constructing roads and bridges, building dams for electricity and agriculture, resuscitating the railway, revamping the airports and equipping them, equipping hospitals, creating new schools and universities, especially the almajiri schools in the north, among others. In addition, Jonathan’s government had started the diversification of Nigeria’s economy away from its mono focus on oil. For example, during Jonathan’s administration, services contributed 52 per cent to the economy, while oil’s contribution to the GDP declined to 14 per cent from over 33 per cent.
Agriculture, which used to be the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before the discovery of oil, was given a big boost by Jonathan’s government. He dealt a blow on the racketeering in the fertiliser distribution, ending the N50 billion per annum fraud in less than 3 months. Jonathan’s government introduced e-wallet system to bypass corrupt middlemen and deliver fertiliser and seedlings to 12 million farmers is an innovation that has attracted the attention of the world. The United Nations, World Bank, the African Union, India, China, Argentina, and other countries are all adopting the pioneering initiative of Jonathan’s government.
Jonathan’s government gave strong encouragement to local production of food, which increased food production in Nigeria in all fields: rice, cocoa, palm oil, cassava, sorghum, etc. Nigeria is now 85 percent food sufficient. Our export bill on food had dropped from N1.4 trillion per annum to below N700 million. This had created a new crop of young farmer millionaires. That the 2012 flood disaster did not cause any food shortage in Nigeria was a testimony to President Jonathan’s boost in agriculture. Furthermore, that the global downturn and devaluation of the Naira did not affect food prices in Nigeria confirms that there was surplus food in the market. These did not happen by accident.
During the Jonathan administration, manufacturing sector’s share of the GDP had climbed from 4 per cent to about 7 per cent. What is particularly significant is that his administration’s automotive policy had given a fillip to local vehicle manufacture and assembly. In addition to Innoson Motors that had started local manufacture of vehicles in Nnewi, Anambra State, other big auto companies like Nissan, Toyota, Honda, etc, which hitherto were importing fully assembled cars into the country for sale, have changed their policy by setting up plants in Nigeria. Automobile imports have dropped by 20%, even as 20 other auto makers had either begun exploration or indicated an interest to set up plants in Nigeria. This had boosted the economy by creating jobs and reducing capital flight.
Furthermore, Jonathan’s government policies and practice had placed Nigeria as the number one destination in foreign direct investment in Africa as Nigeria’s economy was placed as the 26th in the world and the biggest in Africa, surpassing South Africa.
Since he left office, the former president has been summoned for several high profile international assignments, not because he conceded defeat after serving only one term but based on his democratic credentials while serving the one term. The most important of these credentials is his passionate belief in the transparency of elections, which he executed since he came to power.
Through a deliberate policy of granting autonomy to Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and non-interference in the judiciary process, the “Jonathan effect” had taken power away from incumbent political office holders (including, ironically, President Jonathan himself), political god fathers, and electoral officers and returned it to the electorate. The trust the President fostered in the electoral system had encouraged more trustworthy and visionary people to venture into politics, to contest and win in the last (2015) general elections, as attested to by the improved quality of men and women who presently sit in the 8th National Assembly and among the state governors as well.. The trust in the electoral system also makes elected officials to concentrate on satisfying the electorate with superior performance to be returned.
On the foreign scene, several months after he left office, former President Jonathan was appointed leader of the 33-nation Commonwealth International observer mission to monitor the Tanzanian general elections held in October 2015. The Daily News of Tanzania reported that Tanzanians were happy that the former Nigerian leader, whom they described as “a hero of free and fair election in Africa” would lead the observer mission believing that Jonathan’s presence would bring credibility to the polls.
Yet, another of former President Jonathan’s democratic credential, which has raised his stature within the international community, was his commitment to the multiparty democracy; there were no political assassinations, no political prisoners, and no harassment of opponents or critics of his administration as were obtainable before President Jonathan came to power—and after he was voted out of office. Compared to his predecessors and successor, Goodluck Jonathan’s respect for the rule of law, individual liberty, and freedom of expression had raised the bar as the reference point in the political and social climate of our country.
For example, it is on record that while he was the Commander-in-Chief, former President Goodluck Jonathan was attacked by miscreants twice during his re-electioneering campaign in Katsina and Bauchi. The miscreants went beyond barricading his convoy to actually stoning him. Yet, no single shot was fired at the attackers; nobody was injured other than some of the President’s security details who were wounded by the attackers and hospitalised. President Jonathan did not order his security details to open fire on the miscreants on the spot. Neither did he ask that their leadership be fished out from their homes and shot—because President Jonathan believed that his political ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian citizen, including those miscreants who attacked his convoy and stoned him in Katsina and Bauchi.
It is instructive to note that no Nigerian politician alive commands the enormous goodwill, followership and dignity that Jonathan attained in a moment of history bestowed upon him by destiny and fate. By leaving the stage when the ovation was loudest, Jonathan opened a golden page in the chapters of democracy’s history, showing clearly to the world that Africa was not a continent of incompetent leaders and despotic rulers who sit tight in office at the expense of their nations’ future. Jonathan demonstrated rare leadership where others failed to lead, putting him in the class of greatness where leaders only in the mold of Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Theodore Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill belong.