BY SEUN JOSEPH
It remains for me the most memorable moment in the movie. The captain was informing the ship owner (who had bought into the lie that no force on earth or in heaven could sink the Titanic) that the ship had hit an iceberg. “From this moment, no matter what we do, the Titanic will founder,” he said. Having put so much faith in his own propaganda, the ship owner retorted: “But this ship cannot sink.” Without missing a beat, the captain responded: “She is made of iron, Sir. I assure you she can. And she will. It is a mathematical certainty.”
Because those who survive on rent in our country are adept at marketing their greed, they always succeed in selling to whoever occupies the number one office in Nigeria at any period that he is not only above the law, he is so powerful that he can never be defeated in an election. But with the current defeat of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), it is now very clear that the president of Nigeria is human, afterall and he can be ousted by the same people whose votes put him in power. That message has been most eloquently passed and our country will never remain the same again. It is a new day!
For sure, the president of Nigeria has enormous financial resources he can mobilise at any given time while the security agencies and critical institutions of state work at his pleasure regardless of what is written in the Constitution. And he is forever surrounded by clowns and jobbers of all sorts—I was privileged to have seen many of them at work in the Villa—who sing the mantra that, as “President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”—a title that is so needlessly repeated for his pleasure almost as if it is a line in the national anthem—he has such unlimited power that he can even turn a man into a woman. Now we know better.
Having never bought into the scam that a president of Nigeria cannot be defeated, I have since about four months ago been telling some people very close to President Jonathan that he was electorally vulnerable. But they never took me serious. In my personal encounter with the president in his office on July 23 last year (he sent for me), I particularly explained to him that he was increasingly being perceived as “anti-North” and that it could hurt him at the general election. I recall the president interjected by saying “but Segun, you know me…” to which I replied that it was not my view but a perception challenge he should deal with. If he made efforts in that direction, they were either too little or too late, going by the results of the presidential election across the entire Northern zone where Buhari won outright in 16 out of 19 States. Details of that private encounter I had with the president will come in my coming book on the 2015 general elections in Nigeria that should be out before the end of the year.
Needless to say, I am not one of the people surprised by the outcome of the presidential election. In the fourth instalment of my 2015 election series, “A Time to Choose”, on 29 January this year, I wrote: “as the incumbent, Jonathan will run on his record which unfortunately would include not only his performance in office (which is not as bad as being projected) but also mismanaged relationships that may have been more costly in terms of the eroded support base. We may never know how much political damage the president inflicted on himself by his failed bid to install a Speaker for the House of Representatives in June 2011 and the refusal to accept defeat gracefully thereafter; the futile attempt to oust Rotimi Amaechi as the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) Chairman and how that eventually led to the split within the ruling party; the ill-feelings from aggrieved party members who lost out at the recent PDP primaries; the unfortunate Chibok ‘Waka-Come’ theatrics at the Villa by the president’s wife that went viral internationally; the saga of the ‘unaccounted for billions of Dollars’ in oil receipts that is yet to be conclusively resolved and the accompanying drama with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that played out from the CBN Governorship office in Abuja to the Emir’s palace in Kano; the presidential redefinition of corruption as being different from–and perhaps more tolerable than—stealing; the evident contradictions inherent in the fact that those who once ran a vicious media campaign against Jonathan, baptizing him with the moniker, ‘clueless president’ are now the ones speaking for him etc. The thing about elections is that choices are usually made by most voters on the basis of sentiments (and emotions) such as the foregoing and that is why the incumbent is often disadvantaged, especially when the public mood is as fouled as it is in Nigeria today…”
I wrote that three months ago and I have been proved to be correct. However, despite the bitterness that characterised the 2015 presidential election campaigns, President Jonathan redeemed himself when it mattered most not only by the way he gracefully accepted defeat and congratulated Buhari even before the collation of results was concluded on Tuesday but also by the manner in which he rose to the occasion last Saturday.
Despite the discomfort of having to stand in the heat, Jonathan comported himself very well as the president, not a partisan, as we all watched on national television how three card readers failed to read his biometrics and accredit him for voting at his home town, Otueke, Bayelsa State. At a time television camera could project very clearly that his wife was already boiling with anger, the president said he was prepared to wait for as long as it would take for it to work before he was eventually accredited manually. Calm in disposition and measured in his utterances, Jonathan refused to be goaded by the reporters who were asking him leading questions about the use of card reader, knowing where he stood on the issue. “President Jonathan is just one person, so if we have problem with one person, as far as the election is going on well nationally, I am not worried. There might be a delay, my interest is that we conduct a credible election,” he said.
At the end, even if he lost the election, President Jonathan has turned out to be a man of his word. The fact most people ignore is that given the objection of his party to the use of the card reader, if the president had stormed out of the polling unit at Otuoke when three card readers failed him, that probably would have been the end of the election. And by now, Nigeria would be on the boil. Fortunately for all of us, Jonathan chose not to travel that familiar road often trudged by African leaders and history will forever be kind to him for it.
That Nigerians are today proud of Jonathan is not in doubt and it is a shame that it would take a defeat for him to approximate to the president many had wanted to see in recent years. But in the days and weeks to come when he begins the self-introspection as to how he lost the presidency, Jonathan should look no farther than his immediate environment. From his overbearing wife who used the campaign podium to preach hate, forgetting that there indeed is a God in heaven who promised in the Bible to “overturn, overturn, overturn… until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him” regardless of whether such a person is “analogue” or “brain dead” to people like Godsday Orubebe who made a disgraceful public show of himself on Tuesday not to mention Chief Edwin Clarke and confederates who, forgetting that politics is a game of addition, imagined they could abuse and blackmail the whole of Nigeria into re-electing their Ijaw kinsman.
How and why Jonathan lost will be a subject of interrogation in my coming book but it is a pity that his handlers paid scant attention to my warning of 19 January 2012, in a piece titled “Their Son, Our President”, which rankled Aso Rock and for which someone procured the services of hacks to attack me. I hope that Jonathan’s people will go back to read and reflect on what might have been had they taken counsel in the Yoruba adage that when your tuber of yam is growing too big, you use your hand to cover it.
For an election that had been predicted to be the end of our country, Nigerians have every right to be happy about the turn of events but there are just too many heroes and the first to be commended is the ordinary voter who stood under the sun and in the rain to exercise his/her franchise. And then the much-maligned chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega. Calm under pressure, mature in his approach to issues, serene in the face of provocation yet so firm and resolute in his conviction, Jega has written his name into the history books by delivering when it mattered most. With any other person, it is doubtful if we would be where we are today as a nation. And of course we must commend our president-elect, Buhari, not only for his tenacity of purpose (having lost three previous times) but also for the maturity with which he handled the campaign irritations from some PDP bigwigs and the president’s wife.
Finally, the biggest accolades go to the president who conceded defeat so that his nation can move on. By that simple but important gesture of patriotism, honour and nobility, Jonathan has earned the status that one old man imagined he could confer on himself just by the theatrics of tearing his party card before television camera. I just hope that the leaders of the victorious APC would have the decency to treat the president with respect in the remaining period of his tenure and after he leaves office. He deserves it.
I will be a bloody hypocrite to say that I was praying for Jonathan to win the presidential election. To be honest, I felt the country could do with some Change (even if I still don’t know its content) because of the way Jonathan mismanaged a couple of serious national issues, especially the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. There was also this academic interest about whether the proposition in my May 2011 research paper ‘Divided Opposition as Boon to African Incumbents’ on factors shaping incumbent elections in Africa with special focus on Nigeria, would prove to be correct. Now that my thesis has been validated, I enjoy no real satisfaction that Jonathan is leaving office this way because, despite my misgivings about some of the people around him or his mixed stewardship, I still have a strong affection for the president who I consider a very good man.
If the president needed any validation that he acted wisely, it is by the outpouring of congratulations to him from all over the world and the way he has practically repositioned our country for business. Perhaps nobody has captured the situation as succinctly as Mr. Mo Ibrahim, one of Africa’s wealthiest men and philanthropist, who said yesterday: “The news from Nigeria today is wonderful. Africa’s largest country has concluded a peaceful election process. Furthermore, the incumbent has already gracefully conceded and congratulated his successor – a first for Nigeria and a benchmark for other African countries to follow. Today, we Africans are all proud of Nigeria and President Jonathan. Thank you Mr. President. If you are seeking a legacy, you have definitely achieved it.”
Last Saturday in my HOTEL ROOM in Lagos, my friend and research assistant, Dipo Akinkugbe, with whom I was watching on television the drama of Jonathan and the Card Reader as the election accreditation exercise unfolded, said after the president had fielded questions from reporters and left: “This is a rare display of statesmanship that I have not seen in President Jonathan for a long time.”
That, I told him, is the essential Jonathan whose Ijaw handlers and a few power mongers from other parts of the country did not allow to blossom. But in falling from power through the electoral process, Jonathan has risen in the estimation of Nigerians for his statesmanlike concession to General Buhari.
Perhaps, in this final moment of loneliness, the President finally acted as Jonathan, unencumbered by the hidden motives of the army of power merchants and ethnic salesmen who have held him hostage all these years. Perhaps it is this last act of selfless submission to the will of the people that will eternally redeem Jonathan in Nigerian history. This end, then, could justify the murky path of this humble man from Otuoke who started life without shoes but has risen to great power and now to the honour roll of great Nigerians.
The message from the foregoing is profound yet so simple: In losing power, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has finally found himself.