It may sound ironic for anyone to claim that President Goodluck Jonathan was the true winner of March 28 presidential election. After all, we all know the result.
Both in terms of popular vote and 25 per cent spread, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, trounced Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It was a tsunami.
Buhari defeated Jonathan convincingly in four of the country’s six zones.
But in a rather uncanny way, Jonathan won the hearts of the people – not only Nigerians but the world over.
It does not matter whether you were a fan of the outgoing president. Right now, he is the poster boy of Nigeria’s democracy. The hero of this enterprise, the prince of our collective resolve to ensure that never again will the country be governed by anyone without our mandate.
History will be very kind to Jonathan not necessarily because of what he achieved in office in the last five years. No! History will be kind to him because, from the jaws of defeat and possible humiliation out of office, he snatched an uncommon victory by deciding to play the statesman.
What did he do? He summoned the courage and the presence of mind to make a call that saved Nigeria and shamed the country’s detractors who predicted Armageddon. That is what leadership is all about. Symbolism!
I felt proud of Jonathan after I listened to his five-minute telephone conversation with Buhari, conceding defeat even before the final result was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Even in defeat, he had the grace to laugh while inviting Buhari to make out time for discussions.
“In a few days, find time to come so that we can sort out how to plan the transition period,” he told Buhari on the phone.
I even felt prouder of Nigeria. Many people had thought the election would be the proverbial last straw that would break Nigeria’s resilient back, the little spark of fire that would ignite the gunpowder it has been sitting on for years. After all, isn’t this year supposed to be Nigeria’s last as a corporate entity?
Now, it is easy to understate what Jonathan did, his labour of love for country that pulled Nigeria back from the brink.
Some people will argue that he had no choice but to tread the path of peace. That it was a no-win situation for him. Maybe! But is that the whole truth? I doubt.
While it is true that at the time he put across that fateful call to Buhari, he had lost the election; while it was also evident that for whatever reason, the international community, particularly Europe and America and even some African countries, were against his government and were in no mood to brook any hanky panky that would have led to violence; while it was obvious that any attempt to disrupt the democratic process by halting the announcement of the result, annulling the result as Ibrahim Babangida did in 1993, or sacking INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, would have led to unprecedented violence, and it would have been foolhardy to embark on any of these suicidal missions; yet, he would have if he wanted.
The possibility that he may decide to tread the path of self and by extension national destruct was the singular reason why the country and, indeed, the international community was on edge.
After all, this is Africa, the continent of big men, who, the moment they access power, become their countries’ writ large. After all, is it not said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?
Nobody should make any mistake about what happened. Jonathan was under immense pressure by hangers-on not to do what he did. He was told that to concede defeat would be an act of cowardice.
There were characters who reminded him that he was still the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who had absolute control over the instruments of coercion and, therefore, should not allow himself to be stampeded out of office.
They told him that if he refused to accept the result and sack Jega, nothing would happen. They told him that even if there was violence, it would be restricted to the North, as it was the case in 2011, and could be quelled within two weeks and thereafter the people would be pacified and Buhari would be out on a limb.
I was in Abuja shortly after the postponement of the election from February 14 to March 28 and had discussions with some supporters of the president who claimed that everything had been taken care of and that just as nothing happened after the postponement, so would nothing happen if Jonathan was declared winner even if he lost.
One person told me that Jega had been purged of his heresy and sufficiently frightened that he cannot but do the bidding of Aso Rock. Another claimed that the election would be “free but not fair.” How?
He explained that the president would win no matter what Nigerians said and that the most important determinants of the result of the poll would be not the millions of registered voters but two people – the Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba, and the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Kenneth Minimah.
He claimed that the two officers would be so compromised financially that after the elections, they would no longer have any need to work for the rest of their lives.
A governorship aspirant told a group of journalists that the only election that mattered was the presidential because if Jonathan lost, then our democracy would go up in smoke because both the president and the military establishment had sworn not to hand over to Buhari even if he won.
So, there were really, issues. And I could imagine the pressure brought to bear on the president not to cave in. And then, the unexpected. Jonathan, just as Jesus Christ admonished Peter in the Bible, said to the naysayers, ‘get behind me Satan.’
I can imagine the very moment he summoned the courage to make that fateful call to Buhari and how relieved he was thereafter.
He capped it all with his formal concession statement. “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 (INEC), 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 is more important than anything else.”
Nothing can be more statesmanlike.
And today, Jonathan is being celebrated all over the world. United States President, Barack Obama, said: “I look forward to working with President Jonathan throughout the remainder of his term, and I thank him for his many years of service and his statesmanlike conduct at this critical juncture.”
But, in my view, the essence of what Jonathan achieved is best captured in the tribute of Mo Ibrahim, African businessman and founder of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, who lauded the peaceful election.
“The news from Nigeria today is wonderful,” Ibrahim wrote. “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.”
Nigerians, indeed, owe their outgoing president a debt of gratitude.