After former President Goodluck Jonathan launched his memoir My Transition Hours on Tuesday, he might have heaved a sigh of relief. It might not be because the ordeal of writing and preparing to present the book to the public was now off his shoulders. Nor because he was now luxuriating in the catharsis of dislodging the single narrative that de-privileges his role in nation building and the 2015 elections. Rather, it could be because of the sweet contemplation of the fresh horizon of possibilities that had opened before him. Now, he realised that it was not all gloom – he might not have been denigrated as an irredeemable villain after all.
For over three years, Jonathan might have been shocked by how his legendary good luck has mutated into a source of personal tragedy as he was weighed down by the thought of his now being eternally identified with a dark role in the crisis of development of the nation. He might have felt that he and his government were held in utter disdain by the President Muhammadu Buhari government that has continued to afflict them with a rash of allegations of sleaze. The Buhari government has been unrelenting in portraying the Jonathan government as presiding over the unconscionable despoliation of the country. It seizes every moment to catalogue the depredations wrought by Jonathan and his co-travellers.
In this regard, the Buhari government portrays almost every person who served in the Jonathan government as an active participant in the grand heist of that era. But there are those who have stood out because of their alleged egregious acquisitiveness: Jonathan’s wife and the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. Like others, these ones are being prosecuted in law courts. Their property that are considered as proceeds of corruption have been confiscated by the Buhari government. The Buhari government has gone further to begin the process of extraditing Alison-Madueke from Britain to Nigeria so that she can answer for her corruption charges and perhaps vouchsafe details unknown to her prosecutor concerning her swanky property and bank accounts at home and overseas.
Even Jonathan at a time was accused of being directly involved in the corruption. He was at a time threatened that if he did not bury his head in shame, eternally keep quite and refrain from criticising the Buhari government, his role in the pecuniary atrocities perpetrated on his watch would be exposed. Yet, the tragedy that the Jonathan era poses to the Buhari government is that the latter is in a dilemma as regards how to categorise Jonathan: Is he a complete villain or he has some redemptive attributes? But the sense of tragic fix might have been attenuated by the Buhari government’s resolution of this dilemma by categorising Jonathan’s governance as reeking of corruption while his politics are an exemplar of an accommodating spirit that is much-needed in a nation like ours that is bursting at the seams with centrifugal forces.
As early as the moment of his inauguration, Buhari made known this categorisation. That was when he acknowledged the noble role of Jonathan in his emergence as the president. During the launch of Jonathan’s memoir, Buhari reiterated the glorious role Jonathan played in staving off the crisis that could have plagued the nation’s democracy if he had demurred at that moment of accepting that he had been routed by the opposition. Having vouched for Jonathan’s unimpeachable democratic credentials signaled by calling him and congratulating him while the votes were still being collated, Buhari expressed the optimism that he would once again blossom.
To be sure, it is not only Buhari who has acknowledged the role of Jonathan in stabilising the nation’s democracy. But the difference is that when this acknowledgement comes from Buhari, it seems to carry more credibility. People like Bishop Matthew Kukah who acknowledged this earlier were dismissed as those who were lamenting the end of their parasitic existence that was energised by the Jonathan government. Those who concluded that Kukah was a moral burden on the ecclesiastical community even thundered why the Catholic church should not de-robe him for daring to suggest that the smooth political transition that Jonathan facilitated was too great that he should not be bothered with an investigation into the financial transactions of his government.
Of course, it is possible that Buhari has only become enamoured of this feat of Jonathan because he might have wondered if he would not have repudiated the electoral verdict if he were in Jonathan’s shoes. But we should not consider such tragic foreboding as far-fetched. After all, Buhari has demonstrated how much he would applaud impunity in order to achieve electoral victory. This was demonstrated in the cases of Osun and Ekiti states where the Buhari government had to allegedly rig its way into electoral success.
We must not dismiss the above foreboding. If Buhari’s people insist on snatching victory from an election that they have lost, does Buhari have the courage to stop them? Would his cronies not have their way in a manner that would starkly remind us of his helplessness in the face of the two presidencies in Aso Rock where he is presiding over only one? Buhari is said to be credible. It is said that it is the people serving in his government that are corrupt. And when they `are found to be corrupt, Buhari is not willing to sack them. In the same vein, when these corrupt aides insist that Buhari has won the election even though he has lost it, can he say no to them? It is equally possible that Buhari’s generous praise of Jonathan’s politics is a way of rebranding himself for the 2019 election. Buhari could have been repulsed by the prospect of being seen as still not accommodating if he had again inveighed against the propensity for corruption of Jonathan. In that case, the best he could do in a public event of such magnitude was only to praise the politics of Jonathan.
Jonathan is said to have demonstrated courage in defiance of his aides. His aides wanted him not to accept defeat. But before the counting was even finished he quickly called Buhari to accept defeat. No doubt, it takes courage for Jonathan to take that step. Yet, this kind of courage that Jonathan demonstrated has also become a source of his demystification. Is this courage real ? Or was it externally induced?
The fact is that if Jonathan had that kind of courage, it did not show in his government. He did not demonstrate this courage by making his aides to avoid stealing from the treasury. Even if this kind of courage only attained maturation in the twilight of his government, there could have been its incipient demonstrations. In that case, the courage that Jonathan demonstrated in the face of defeat could have been borne out of conviction, or pathological weakness or apprehension. Jonathan could have well understood the perils of insisting on electoral victory. Was he apprehensive of the Gbagbo treatment? Was he apprehensive of being forcibly evicted from Aso Rock knowing full well that Barack Obama’s United States was poised to support Nigerian citizens to humiliate him?
But while it is obviously problematic in canonising Jonathan as the nation’s gold standard in accepting defeat during elections, we must credit him with succeeding in dissembling if the courage he demonstrated was not natural to him. The challenge now is for succeeding presidential contestants, led by Buhari, to go beyond just eulogising Jonathan to naturally manifesting courage or pretending to be magnanimous in defeat if only to stave off the dogs and the baboons from being soaked in blood. It is in doing this that Buhari and other citizens can pay the highest tribute to Jonathan for not plunging the nation into a crisis because of his selfish political ambition.