That singular act of statesmanship saved so many lives who would have been killed by ethnic and religious jingoists who see politics as a do-or-die affair and rulership of Nigeria as their birth right
All over the world, people choose their heroes for different reasons. Some designate legendary creatures from every historical epoch and every field, such as Christopher Columbus, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Louis Pasteur, Alfred Nobel or even Napoleon Bonaparte. Yet, there are also those who believe that some heroes are unknown to the general public, their heroic deeds unrecognized but far from insignificant. These heroes include school aides, foster parents, security and medical personnel – all kinds of people who struggle, often against daunting odds, to make life better for others. As Victor Hugo said, “Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields which have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than illustrious heroes”.
In choosing former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the reigning King of African Democracy, a successor to the famous Nelson Mandela of South Africa, this writer believes that, like every other hero, he is a human being, with everything that it implies. I also believe that recognizing a hero – warts and all – makes it possible to become a hero and to encourage others to do the same. In 1944, as Franklin Roosevelt was running for his fourth term as President of the United States with World War II still raging, Harry Truman was nominated for the position of Vice President. Just eighty-two days into the new term, Roosevelt died. Shocked to his foundation, Truman said, “I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me”.
No one ever thought he was equal to the task of replacing a beloved Commander-in -Chief. But Harry Truman weathered the storm. So it was Truman who helped establish the United Nations, negotiated the German surrender, attended the Potsdam Conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. It was also Harry Truman who made the contested decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thereby ending the war. He it was who fought the first battles in the Cold war; established the Truman Doctrine, which opposed the Communist aggression; and backed the Marshal Plan. When asked who his hero was, this great American leader posited that his hero was no less a personality than the Confederate General Robert. E. Lee, who was admired by a generation of Americans for being gracious in defeat. Like Truman, Jonathan became President against all odds following the untimely death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010. He thus became the first Nigerian from the minority to assume such a position in a democratic dispensation on May 6, 2010 when he was sworn in. He ran and won the 2011 presidential election widely accepted locally and internationally to be free and fair, the first minority to be so elected in the history of Nigeria.
He is from the minority Ijaw in the oil rich Niger Delta of Nigeria. Yet he has had a cult following by the Igbo who occupy the South Eastern fringe of the River Niger, second only to their Civil war leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu who died in 2011, and to whom a state burial was given by Jonathan. And like General Robert E. Lee, Truman’s ultimate hero, Jonathan conceded victory and graciously accepted defeat through a heroic call to his opponent even before the announcement of the final result of the March 28, 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria.
That singular act of statesmanship saved so many lives who would have been killed by ethnic and religious jingoists who see politics as a do-or-die affair and rulership of Nigeria as their birth right. These people never gave Jonathan a chance from the very first day he stepped in as Acting President because they saw him as a stranger. Some of them even openly vowed that they would make the country ungovernable for him; and they did. Yet, Jonathan succeeded in recording more ground-breaking achievements than most of his predecessors. Indeed, when the time comes for historians to offer a kind of formal review of the Jonathan years in Nigeria, the task is likely to be morally complicated.
Given the role the immediate past President played in the effort to extricate the country from the jaws of establishment political pythons most of whom had employed the services of a section of the media to annihilate his political career for daring to challenge them, an unbiased verdict might be difficult to come by. Yet, we fancy that beyond the diabolical antics of political opponents, there is a latent eagerness in the public mind to be done with an absolutely sadistic political witch-hunting to allow for a free reign of liberty, which may have more of it for the fulfilment of hope and restoration of dignity to our nation. For, the last six years of Jonathan in the saddle, if not greater than any other era which preceded it, certainly did secure for Nigerians some elements of freedom and liberty. Not only did Jonathan rebase the Nigerian economy to becoming the biggest in Africa, he rebased politics in Nigeria to the fundament of a virile and an unfettered opposition, freedom of speech, of association and above all, the freedom for Nigerians to choose their leaders.
What is more, no Nigerian, including his opponents who mistook his magnanimity and democratic temperament for cluelessness, can finger Jonathan in any case of political assassination which was the norm during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s misbegotten civilian dictatorship. In every democratic society the idiosyncrasies and failures of presidents are as diverse as their accomplishments. Even in the United States of America from where we copied our Executive Presidential system of government, where the President is assumed to be the most powerful man in the world, where almost all of their modern presidents have acted in what they believed to be the country’s best interests, most of them fell short of the challenges of an impossible job. Therefore, to treat the modern presidency as a complete success story anywhere in the world is to falsify the historical record. Even though Jonathan was blissfully unaware of the ultimate decline of the party system and the increasing importance or inevitability of the media in modern democracy, resulting in the rise of the role of the President as celebrity, he nonetheless made remarkable strides in the annals of our political development.
Consider: our mission since 1999 had been a fruitless one, for it had led to no positive growth in the political culture, to no unifying ideal for the Nigerian nation, and had generated no spark to kindle the fire of genuine progress and liberation. But Jonathan has brought all these self-inflicted negatives behind us by changing the course of our political engineering. No president or head of state since our nationhood, could be more fun than Jonathan. No one more appealing with impulses of irony, bravado, gentleness and vulnerability so curiously intermingled in his vivid but unassuming personality. As president of Nigeria, Jonathan held a promise as a symbol of the national emblem even in his disarming simplicity. Without necessarily being a strong man, Jonathan’s personal frailties or weaknesses, as the case may be, were essential parts of his strength.
At crucial moments, he acted in the light of what he conceived to be the highest interest of the nation as a whole: against party, against section, even against the will of his constituents. It is this intrinsic quality which has established his common nature and essential humanism. The unpopular traits common to rulers with messianic impudence – egomaniac, untrustworthiness, coarseness, mean of spirit, unforgiving, and I-know-it-all bravura – are very far from Jonathan. Yes, he was a neophyte or green horn in the gallery of power, but as a thoroughbred ivory tower intellectual on the exalted throne, who had been a deputy governor, governor, Vice President, Acting President, and President, he was not a mediocre. Rather, he learned fast on the job. His place is firmly secured in the pantheon of global political history. Such is the stuff heroism is made of.
•Amor is an Abuja-based journalist and public affairs analyst. Email: email@example.com Tel: 08063246289 ( sms only).