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Comment, Opinion

The man of the decade

Posted: Apr 10, 2015 at 2:20 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Tochukwu Ezukanma


Tears dripped from my eyes as I watched President Goodluck Jonathan’s nationally televised address. His speech was short but momentous. He conceded defeat, and accepted the electoral victory of his political opponent, Mohammadu Buhari. In the lawless and unprincipled milieu of Nigerian politics, that concession of defeat by an incumbent president was unparalleled, almost, inconceivable. With that speech, President Jonathan levitated from a politician to a statesman; he left a footprint in the sands of time.

I wondered at my effusion of tears, which I thought was a strange reaction to a TV footage of a presidential speech. It occurred to me that the speech I watched was extraordinary. It was transcendent; it transcended selfish ambitions, arrogance of power, contempt of the popular will, etc. It subordinated personal ambitions and clique interests to the collective good of the country. It encapsulated honor, courage and patriotism. By the vindictive and vicious standards of African politics, it was hagiographic – just plainly saintly. It was the pride that that honorable act of the president evoked in me that explained my tears; they were tears of pride. I am proud of Nigeria and Nigerians. Ours is a great country and we are a great people. Democracy, the best form of government, is bringing out the best in Nigerians. President Jonathan’s concession speech was an apogee of the Nigerian best.

There was at least one earlier prediction that Nigeria will disintegrate in 2015. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, it seemed as though the Third World War loomed in Nigeria. With the tension, political desperation, partisan frenzy and the bawdy and hate rhetoric that marked the political campaigns, election violence seemed imminent. Pessimists thought that Nigeria was edging dangerously towards the predicted 2015 disintegration. And optimists thought that there will be violence – massive violence – but that it will not precipitate the dissolution of Nigeria. In anticipation of the impending doom and a total breakdown of law and order, many Nigerians made contingency plans and preparations. They stockpiled on food and other necessities. Some left perceived trouble areas for supposed safe havens. On the day preceding the election, some businesses shuttered their doors, and those that opened operated half day, so as to allow their employees enough time to scamper home before the outbreak of the brewing violence. Refreshingly, to the credit of Nigerians, no violence attended the election.

Over the years, African politicians made nonsense of elections, and showed utter contempt for the popular will. A onetime Sierra Leonean president Siaka Stevens, in his disdain for the electoral process, asked rhetorically, “How can the pieces of paper we printed (ballot papers) remove us from office”?  In Ivory Coast, an incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, in repudiation of the collective will of Ivoirians, refused to accept the victory of his political opponent, Alassane Quattara. It plunged Ivory Coast into political tumult and an armed conflict. Quattara was finally inaugurated president after the motley of fighters that supported him defeated military forces loyal to Gbagbo. The then Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said that his party’s victory in the 2007 presidential poll was a do-or-die affair. Incontrovertibly, do-or-die politics is contemptuous of the rule of law and the tenets of democracy. It countenances no defeat. It disdains the electoral verdict of the people. Thus, it could not have respected the electoral triumph of an opposition presidential candidate.

Therefore, it seemed paradoxical that an incumbent Nigerian president would, so graciously, concede defeat and congratulate his triumphant political opponent. Isaiah Berlin once wrote that, “Greatness is the ability to change a paradox into a platitude.” President Jonathan literally turned a paradox into a platitude. He made that which seemed contrary to reason, and even, almost impossible, commonplace. With that speech, he restrained his crestfallen and agitated supporters, and stunned and sobered his overjoyed opponents. He made good on his earlier affirmation that (his) “ambition is not worth the life of any Nigerian”, and saved Nigeria from what would have been a protracted, gruesome and bloody armed conflict.

There will always be men and women to lead Nigeria in future. For the good of the country, it is extremely important that these leaders be guided by magnificent examples. Goodluck Jonathan exemplified that Nigerian politics can be premised on the rule of law. It does not have to be a do-or –die affair; there is room for humility, honor and the spirit of sportsmanship in politics. And that no political ambition should be advanced at the expense of any Nigerian life, thoughtless, of the peace of the country.

Acts of greatness can be appreciated by the number of lives they affected, directly and indirectly. By readily accepting the people’s verdict, President Jonathan guaranteed the peace of the country. He facilitated a peaceful transfer of power, not just from one president to another, but one political party to another. That entrenched democracy and reinforced political stability in Nigeria, and burnished Nigeria’s badly battered international image. And these are of most beneficial effects on the lives of 170m Nigerians.

Goodluck Jonathan is a great man, the greatest Nigerian president, thus far. Some Nigerians have called him the Man of the Year. In my estimation, he is more than the man of the year. He is the Man of the Decade.


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