A Tale of Two Jonathans
Two recent stories about former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan are likely to have conflicting impacts on his supporters and also on the trajectory of his postpresidency life. The first story is a report that Tanzania is agog with excitement that former President Jonathan would lead the Commonwealth Election Observer Mission to the country’s election billed for October 25 2015. The second story was a letter from Jonathan to his former political godfather Olusegun Obasanjo updating him on what he has been doing with his life since handing over power to Buhari and informing him of his plans for the future, including a plan to set up a foundation next year.
Let me expatiate: In Tanzania, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party which has been in power since the country’s return to multiparty democracy in 1992 is up against a united opposition that many believe has a realistic chance of scoring an upset during the elections. Jonathan is leading the Commonwealth Observer mission. It was reported by ThisDay of November 19 2015 that Tanzanians consider Jonathan as ‘a hero of free and fair election in Africa’.
I am among those who strongly believe that if Jonathan’s decision to concede defeat is rewarded well, it will be an incentive for other African leaders to also willingly concede defeat when they lose elections. In 1979 Obasanjo, as a military Head of state, became a global statesman by handing over power to elected civilians – a rarity in the continent at that time.
There are some parallels between Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the USA (1977-1981) and former President Jonathan. For instance the former Georgian peanut famer was criticized by some Democrats for conceding defeat “too hastily” to Ronald Reagan just as some PDP apparatchiks accused Jonathan of doing to Buhari in the March 2015 presidential elections. When Jimmy Carter conceded on 4 November 1981, it was barely an hour and half after the first network projections of Reagan’s victory. At that time, polls in California had not even closed but Carter said he didn’t want anyone to think he was sulking in the White House and insisted that he wanted to “get it over with.” Jonathan conceded defeat even before the official announcement of the results. When Carter conceded, some Democratic candidates running for offices that year blamed their defeat on Carter’s “hasty concession”. Similarly some PDP sympathisers believe that if Jonathan had delayed his concession until after the Governorship and State Assembly elections, the bandwagon effect from Buhari’s victory would have been stemmed and the PDP would have been stronger today. Before Jonathan, no major presidential candidate in Nigeria’s political history had ever conceded defeat- even when evidence of such defeat appeared overwhelming.
There are other parallels between former President Jonathan and Jimmy Carter. Like Jonathan whom his critics nicknamed “clueless”, Carter is often ridiculed by some Americans for being at best a mediocre president. Again when Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan he was 57 years old. Jonathan was also 57 years old when he lost to Buhari. Similarly both Carter and Jonathan lost to ‘no-nonsense’ senior citizens - Reagan, the cowboy was 60 when he defeated Carter while Buhari a former military dictator, was 72, when he beat Jonathan.
Though Jimmy Carter’s presidency was regarded as lacklustre, post presidency he became one of the most respected global statesmen of our time. The Carter Centre he formed in 1982 was for instance very active in promoting human rights, conducting peace negotiations, observing elections and preventing diseases in the developing world. In 2002, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Carter Centre. Can Jonathan, who has announced his own Foundation, follow on Carter’s footsteps? I believe
The Sahara Reporters of October 16 2015, reported of a “Dear Baba”, letter written by Jonathan to Obasanjo, informing the Ota farmer of what he had been doing since handing over power to Buhari and his plans for the future, including a plan to set up The Goodluck Jonathan Foundation. The letter also informed Obasanjo: “I have set up an office in my home state of Bayelsa where I can be reached and members of my staff are poised to serve you and respond to your inquiries at all times”. In the letter Jonathan concluded by saying that he looked forwarded to Obasanjo’s “continuous support, counsel and cooperation”. Really?
Honestly the tone of Jonathan’s letter to Obasanjo, one of his most determined nemeses during his failed re-election bid, must be quite disappointing to the ‘Jonathanians’. Certainly their grovelling and diffident tones are not exactly what one will expect from a former President about to enter the global stage as a world statesman.
The letter in fact raises additional questions about Jonathan’s political skills or lack of it: What was the letter really meant to achieve? Even if Jonathan wanted to show respect to his former benefactor did he really need to do so in a letter format? What happened to telephones or even arranging to be on the same event as the Ota farmer and then dropping the hints during a chat? Given the general belief that Obasanjo never respects an enemy that tries to suck up to him, why did Jonathan embark on that letter writing, especially given the failure of his earlier rapprochement? What will be the impact of that letter on the morale of those still trying to defend him from what they consider an unfair media assault by the APC?
With all sorts of allegations of financial impropriety being levelled against the Jonathan regime – some of them clearly deliberate political demarketing of the PDP - there is a risk that the letter could be misconstrued as Jonathan’s indirect way of begging Obasanjo to intervene on his behalf – which would then imply that those allegations were true. And by the way who leaked the letter and why? The “Dear Baba” letter in my opinion, and with all due respect, shouldn’t have been written at all and does not in any way help former President Jonathan’s political image.
Related to the above is that it is also unclear whether it is political naivety or placing the national interest above everything else for Jonathan to keep mum while he and his party are being effectively de-marketed by daily staples of corruption allegations and sleaze against him and officials under his regime. Whatever may be his real motive, keeping mum will continue the emasculation of his party while some of his trusted loyalists may get fed up and also de-link from him.