A Tale of Two Jonathans

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

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.

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