To Jonathan, A Man of Courage


Dear Goodluck Jonathan, please forgive me if you feel unhappy about this public letter to you. I had to do it as your witness and on the occasion of your 60th birthday. Again, if you noticed, I have called you for the first time by your name instead of brother or daddy as I am used to.

In the past, I have read public letters of people who have written plenty untruths about you including, allegedly, children, that have amazed me and the entire family. One alleged you had snipers in the villa. There are many reasons which made it impossible for us to publicly come out to defend you. It’s not your style. But that is a story for another day. While I’m still developing my memoirs about you and your presidency, I feel obliged on the occasion of this your 60th birthday to write you this letter and say ‘hello, brother!’.

Sir, for five years of your presidency, I was privileged to bid you good morning and goodnight every other day. You lent me your ears as a good brother would and I spoke truths to you. I stood on moral ground with you. I never sought for any appointment from you even though, as a lawyer of 20 years standing then, a former social activist, and astute businessman, I was imminently qualified for any political position. I never, any day, used your name in vain. I never collected any bribe from anybody for any purpose whatsoever to procure your favour for anyone. As it was then and now, I still boldly say that every person’s matter I whispered to you was based purely on its merit. And I challenge anybody to say or prove otherwise. Not that people did not offer unmerited favours though, in fact a lot, but I rebuffed them all. As I did not have any query about any of these matters from you, I believe I acquitted myself very well.

Brother, I am told a lot of times by a lot of people that I’m a man of great courage. But in you I have seen a man of courage which dims mine infinitely. I am filled with enviable nostalgia about your insurmountable courage. I bear witness, Sir. For five years, you were the President. Before then you were deputy governor, governor, Vice President and Acting President. But you came out not a wealthy man. You detest insane wealth acquisition by politicians and public officials. You dealt with every file that came to your table on its merit. I salute you, Sir. You are poor in worldly material wealth but you are very, very wealthy in spirit.

Nigerians know that the easiest way to get rich quick is through petroleum deals. Yet, for the billions being bandied around, nobody has ever mentioned any of your relatives as a beneficiary of any. All of them are Lagos people. Yes, Lagos! Sir, I am fully amused at the folly of humans when I hear them call you corrupt.

But yes, my brother, you are man of immense wealth, not in silver and gold, naira and kobo. You have no foreign bank account. You have no private jet, no mansions, no shopping malls, no hotels, nothing – just a self-contented modest man rich in spirit.

Brother, you are one of the most courageous men I have ever read, heard of or come across. Nothing could be more courageous than you signing the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) into law. The Nigerian media and civil society desperately wanted it. You gave it to them. I call it the Goodluck Act. Generations of Nigerians will be thankful to you, Sir, for your will to sign this law which nobody agreed to do.

Nothing could be more courageous than you acknowledging Moshood K.O Abiola’s place in history and naming the University of Lagos after him. Since 1993 till date, no other President, to my knowledge, publicly mentioned Abiola’s name in any good light until you became President. Not unexpectedly, even those who campaigned for the actualisation of Abiola’s June 12 mandate suddenly came out to oppose you. I saw hypocrisy in its raw form! Abiola’s spirit will remain thankful to you, Sir. Your action has left a very huge moral burden in them that pretentiously used Abiola’s name in vain while pushing their own agenda.

You set out to assimilate the Igbo finally into the Nigerian society after the civil war. Was it not you who summoned the courage to appoint the first Igbo man as Chief of Army Staff since the end of the civil war? Was it not you who gave Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu a full military/national burial? You ordered is casket draped in Nigerian flag and buried him in glory. Ojukwu is happier in his grave because you were the president.

Nothing could have been more courageous than ordering the military to admit girls to Nigeria’s premier National Defence Academy (NDA) and as combatants in the Nigerian defence forces. For the first time, our girls proudly kit fully in Nigeria’s camouflage. Someday, Nigeria will produce a woman Chief of Army Staff who will thank you for the opportunity.

You exhibited uncommon courage when you decided to mop up Almajiri kids from the streets of northern Nigeria and give them quality education. I always watched you when you spoke about it with passion. Don’t worry brother, in two to three decades, maybe, just maybe, one of these youths could emerge a leader of Nigeria and thank you for your noble deed.

It was courage to sign anti-gay bill into law. The day you signed that law you knew the West and the all-powerful anti-gay movement and their media establishment will come after you. You had your fears but decided to go ahead and do it for God and for Nigeria. That law became one of the reasons Barack Obama mobilised the West against you. Even the Vatican questioned you. They knew you were not corrupt, Sir. The allegation of corruption was the smokescreen they sold to Nigerians to enable them edge you out. Signing the anti-gay law was one of the reasons you lost their support.

Throughout your tenure you pushed gender balance and gender equality too far to the distaste of the male-dominated Nigerian traditional societies. Then you boasted to, in your second term, push your appointments to not less than 55:45 ratio of men against women. The more than 35% appointments to women in your government was already, to them, courage taken too far.

Majority of those around you were too bothered that you insisted “too much” on qualification for every appointment you made. Your often-repeated phrase was, ‘is he qualified?’, or ‘is she qualified?’ It was this passion of your insistence for qualifications that more than 70% of your ministers were non-politicians who couldn’t help you in your re-election bid. Your most intellectually grounded ministers, including Olusegun Aganga, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Akinwumi Adesina, Professor Chinedu Nebo, had little electoral value. But you brought them in to transform Nigeria.

You always encourage and celebrate education and excellence. You dreamt of Nigeria going to the moon. You got the best of the first-class products of Nigerian universities and sent them to the best universities abroad under your Presidential Scholarship Initiative Project (PRESID) so they could come back and rebuilt Nigeria.

You set out to ensure Nigeria makes its own cars through the Nigeria’s National Automotive Council. You had a robust campaign. You were the first president that drove a Made-in-Nigeria car. Sometimes I think. Was it naivety that you didn’t know that the Nigerian market was too large for the western car manufacturers to let you do that? I felt for you. For an African country, it is death sentence to boast to want to achieve technological advancement in any area of endeavour. It is better not said.

Your love for the media, media independence and freedom is legendary. You always preached about the need for democracy to encourage free press and divergent views. That surely emboldened you to give Nigerians, nay the Press, the FOI Law. You embraced social media like no other and expanded its frontiers. Today Nigerians freely express themselves through their own media. All thanks to you. You don’t believe in ownership of media houses by political officeholders, nor control of any. Often, I ask some of your hardened critics to mention to me any media house you own or control in Nigeria after 16 years in Nigeria’s political space. None!

Brother, each day I gaze at you, I have no doubt you are a meek of the earth. Your forgiving spirit is legendary. Your unblemished love for even your hardened haters is ‘unpolitician’. In short you are not a politician. As I often told you, those who hurt you hurt their spirit.

In the build-up to Obama’s second-term election, you assured his emissaries and prevailed on the National assembly not to pass the anti-gay bill until after his elections. You didn’t want to hurt him. After the election, the law was passed and you signed it. Then, he turned against you. He meddled in your elections, Sir! He sent his campaign strategist David Axelrod to come design an anti-Goodluck Jonathan campaign strategy. Then, he mobilised the West against you.

Brother, not that am a fan of Trump, but don’t worry. God has taken care of them in Donald Trump. He’s been crying foul Russia meddled in his ‘third term’ bid. His signature programmes are being dismantled one after the other. David Cameron lost out in the UK so soon after in the wake of Brexit. Jacob Zuma has not known peace since then in South Africa. Not even his Owerri statues!

When I tell you, you are a man of courage you laugh it off. Wait. Was it not you who warned that nobody should rig elections for you? Was it not you who instructed your aide to source for a most credible Nigerian to appoint as chairman of INEC instead of someone you knew that could have done your bidding? Was that not how Attahiru Jega emerged and you appointed him without ever meeting him? Was it not you who stood in queue, for hours, in public glare and cameras on March 28, 2015, to vote, and your finger print was rejected? Was it not you who vowed to respect the result of the elections whichever way it went? Was it not you who created and lived the now popular phrase: “My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian”? What more courage would a man in power have than that?

Sir, nothing could be more courageous than you calling your opponent to acknowledge defeat before election result was declared. History will remember you for being the first to do so in Africa. Several generations will be inspired and remember your nobility wherever and whenever there is an election in Africa.

Still you refuse to agree you are a man of infinite courage? Ok, wait. Was it not you who listened to the yearnings of Nigerians to restructure the country and convened a national conference without influencing the membership or outcome? Don’t worry, someday that document will become the bedrock of Nigeria’s progress. Was it not you who refused to go to court to challenge the result of the elections in spite of hug pressure to do so? Was that not the first in the history of our country and, indeed, in Africa? You have set records that will live for ever in the memory of Nigerians, nay, the world!

You are resilient. A man who always acknowledges is mistakes and retreats. You always consult far and wide to take a decision. Even though you are an embodiment of intellectual power horse, you do not betray any all-knowing attitude but you rather listen to the best of opinions and experts. You too often acknowledge your weaknesses as if you are the only one with weaknesses. Don’t worry, everyman has his weaknesses and yours not near those of lot of men near your status.

Was I not the one who announced to you on March 30th, that you lost the elections? That evening, you were seated alone in your very small guestroom. Waripamowei Dudafa and I were the only ones with you. We knocked the door and entered. The smile you beamed at us, the conveyor of the bad news, lives with me till eternity. I thought what a God that created you! That you did not betray any sense of ill feelings at the news of losing elections to remain the most powerful officer in Africa! Such a calm, cool gentleman! I’m one in a million, lucky having you as my brother.

Sir, on 29th May, I was the last of your relatives to leave the Villa. As your motorcade rolled bye I gave it a salute. I was filled with mixed feelings – a feeling of joy that finally you have been liberated from the evil machinations of hawks whose only primary unquenchable lust is to serve their insatiable, pecuniary desires, and the feeling of departure of a good man who honestly has Nigeria as his only project.

Sir, I’m your brother and, even again, now and ever I bear you witness. History will remember you as one of the most detribalised Presidents Nigeria ever had.

Living under your shadows for five years of your Presidency without any public outcry of overbearing influence in your government, without ever entering and flying your presidential jet or going close the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport for that matter, without harassing or abusing the rights of any Nigerian, etc, are, indeed, acts of courage. For that, I am proud I acquitted myself very well. It was not for you I did this. It was to disprove historical misconceptions. In my early adult life as an activist, I vowed that if ever I found myself in or around power, I would prove that it is possible to be in or around power without abusing it. I proved it, Sir. For that I am also a man of courage. Am I not?

Happy Birthday to you, my brother, the uncommon Nigerian!

• Robert, cousin of former President Goodluck Jonathan, is a lawyer, businessman, former human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner