At 60, former President Goodluck Jonathan remains undaunted and unbowed, even in the face of scathingÂ criticisms, writes Emmanuel Addeh
His life is what blockbuster movies are made of. A character from nowhere emerges in a fictional work, wafts his way through a few scenes and ultimately becomes a hero or heroine in a well-scripted work of art.
Whether or not his detractors accept it, Former President Goodluck Jonathan is a phenomenon, a movement, a standard against which present and future Nigerian, nay African leaders would be judged in terms of their disposition to and use of political power.
Many African leaders, who have left power, aside just a handful, become either reclusive after holding office or even go on self-imposed exile, because they cannot bear to face the people they once ruled for fear they would be physically abused. But Jonathanâ€™s case appears different.
From Gusau to Ado- Ekiti, from Umuahia to Asaba, the reception he gets everywhere he goes, more than two years after he left office remains unprecedented in spite of his self-effacement and abhorrence for wanton adulation, deserved or not.
His was the quintessential lowly background, having been birthed in a relatively unknown community in Otuoke, Ogbia Local Government of Bayelsa State by Lawrence Ebele Jonathan, a canoe maker and a farmer mother, Eunice.
Educated at St. Stephenâ€™s Primary School, Otuoke; St Michaelâ€™s Primary School, Oloibiri; Mater Dei High School, lmiringi; Ogbia, and University of Port Harcourt, where he received his Bachelor of Science degree, Masterâ€™s degree and Doctorate in Hydrobiology and Fisheries Biology, Jonathan has never forgotten his trajectory or â€œwhere he is coming fromâ€ as Nigerians would say.
It would be almost boring recapping his meteoric and remarkable political career, after all, this has been the subject of many articles, books and television documentaries but suffice it to say that his political career effectively took off in 1998, when he was picked as running mate to the late Diepreye Alaimeyeseigha.
With the success of the Alaimeyeseigha/Jonathan ticket, he became the first civilian deputy governor of Bayelsa State on May 29, 1999 until December 12, 2005, when he was sworn in as governor after Alaimeyeseigha was impeached.
In the thick of his campaign for election as governor of Bayelsa in 2007, Jonathan was nominated as vice presidential running mate to then Governor Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua of Katsina State. The joint ticket succeeded and he became the vice president.
How Jonathan became Acting President and later Nigeriaâ€™s 14th President, how he lost his re-election bid to now President Muhammadu Buhari and how he gracefully conceded defeat to his opponent has become a piece for the history books.
However, what has become noticeable about his seemingly extraordinary life is that after leaving office, the former President has devoted all his energies and resources to preaching peace and amicable resolution of knotty issues, rather than licking his wounds or making governance difficult for the succeeding administration like his ilk are wont to do.
After all, he comes from a region that supplies 90 per cent of Nigeriaâ€™s revenue and could have easily stoked or incited the boys from the region to crumble the economy. But in all his engagements, the former president has always appealed to the militants to sheathe their sword in the interest of peace and Nigeriaâ€™s continued prosperity.
Never known for being a power monger, the essential Jonathan has continued to push the frontiers of â€˜soft powerâ€™, a concept developed by Joseph Nye, a Harvard Professor, who believes that persuasion, moral suasion, consultation rather than brute force works better in building consensus.
From Africa to Europe, Jonathan has carried the beacon of democracy and democratisation through his message of strict observance of the rule of law, respect for human rights as well as conduct of free and fair elections like the example he showed in 2015.
As President, his enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, electoral reforms, even the card reader, which many believe eventually led to his ouster and his non-interference in electoral outcomes, gender inclusion and equity remain major strides even by world standards.
Jonathanâ€™s â€œnobodyâ€™s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerianâ€ singsong ensured that in the run-up to and during the 2015 presidential poll, despite the prediction by a section of the international community that the election would be bloody, ended peacefully.
Unlike other politicians, who will never acknowledge anything good about their political opponents, Jonathan was magnanimous enough when asked by a journalist a few weeks ago, on his assessment of the Buhari government.
â€œHonestly speaking, they have tried in the area of security and fighting corruption, even if theyâ€™ve tilted more towards usâ€, Jonathan said in what appears his usual fair judgment of events.
He was also quick to add a few of what he achieved in office. â€œBut we did a lot in our time in the area of agriculture, transport, managing the economy, rule of law, free and fair electionsâ€. The rest, he said, will be left for Nigerians to judge.
Even some of his most ardent political opponents, including former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, on Jonathanâ€™s 60th birthday could not help but highlight his glowing features, describing him as the â€˜face of democracyâ€™
â€œA very happy 60th birthday to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Face of Democracy in Africa. Your words that your ambition isnâ€™t worth the blood of our citizens will stand forever. I wish you continued good health and wisdomâ€, Atiku wrote.
President Buhariâ€™s birthday message to Jonathan at 60 was largely empty, but that of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) appeared to have recognised the place of the former President in Nigeriaâ€™s political history.
The APC believed Jonathan demonstrated love for the country during the 2015 Presidential election, describing him as a patriot.
â€œWe join well-wishers in celebrating a statesman, whose life and politics have been defined by patriotism and humility.
â€œThe APC recalls the commendable and exemplary conduct of Dr. Jonathan before and after the 2015 presidential election, which demonstrated his patriotism and love for Nigeria.
â€œThe party urges Dr. Jonathan to remain steadfast to the positive ideals he stands for and continue to support the development of the country. The party wishes Dr. Jonathan many more happy, healthy and rewarding years of service to the nationâ€, a statement by Bolaji Abdullahi, the partyâ€™s spokesman noted.
Jonathanâ€™s party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also took time out to eulogise him, saying they were extremely proud of him.
â€œYou are sixty years today and we are proud that you have made wonderful contributions to the stability of our democracy and the overall development of our country, Nigeria during the prime of your age.
â€œYour Excellency, Nigerians will remember that under your administration our economy became the largest and number one in Africa. Nigeria witnessed unprecedented infrastructural development in all areas of the economy. Inflation was at single digits and we had a stable foreign exchange regime.
â€œYou consolidated Nigerian democracy by ensuring free and fair elections culminating in the historic presidential election of March 2015 in which you graciously conceded defeat and congratulated your opponent even when there were substantial grounds to dispute the outcome.
â€œMost importantly the rule of law and the human rights of Nigerians were greatly respected. For these and many more, you have written your name in gold in the hearts of all Nigerians and you will be remembered as one of the greatest leaders of Africa.
â€œWe miss you and Nigerians will be forever grateful for the period you were in the saddle as the President of Nigeria. We love you and share in every moment of your joy and pains. May the Almighty God continue to protect and guide you in every area of your lifeâ€, a statement by Dayo Adeyeye, the partyâ€™s spokesman said.
But whatever anybody thinks of Jonathan as a person or as a political leader, the man himself feels he made great sacrifices for the country, though he wouldnâ€™t shy away from his own foibles.
Addressing some youth groups that trooped to his house last Monday in Otuoke, on the day he marked his birthday, Jonathan said he did his best for the country. He decried the â€˜persecutionâ€™ of his lieutenants by the current administration, stressing that despite the turn of events, the youths of the country should not be afraid to join politics.
â€œSo, I am speaking to the future of this country, whatever sacrifices I have made as an individual or I discussed with my political party and others, because elections is not only about one person, we know a number of persons that are in court, not even me yet, who are suffering because of me.
â€œPolitics is all about the people, so the decision I took, though I made the pronouncements, but it affected everybody. So, if we have made this kind of sacrifice and people are still sacrificing now, my plea with you is that you know that this country is in your handsâ€, he told the youths.
Jonathan is hopeful that Nigeria would lead the world in the not-so-distant future if the youths take their proper position and continue from where he stopped.
â€œSometimes things could be so challenging that we begin to think that it is over but with what I have seen today, I am convinced that we still have a country. All of your speeches centre on the position I took especially when I surrendered in a way and made sure there was peace in the country, because the tension was quite high.
â€œWhatever sacrifices I have made, be willing and ready to make similar sacrifices whenever itâ€™s your turn. Make similar sacrifice for the collective interest of our nationâ€.
As his many supporters clink glasses to him to his 60th, many Nigerians believe there might just still be a future in politics for Jonathan, in whatever capacity, even if advisory.