Dear Brother, on your 60th birthday, I wrote you an open letter titled, To My Brother, A Man Of Courage, Happy Birthday!. Two years have gone by since then and today you are 62 years. Happy birthday brother again! As I was a witness to your Presidency story, I have promised to tell it in instalments, as much as I know it. On your 62nd birthday, I am minded writing you another piece: ‘My Brother And His Civil Society,’ as part-fulfilment of my promise. As it is customary in your nature, you may not again find this palatable, but you know I, too, will be 51years in few months and should have the right to my views without deferring to you on this.
Dear brother Goodluck Jonathan, it is my pleasure to once again salute you in honour of your immortal being; peace-lover, nation builder! Lover of all tribes. You tried to make Nigeria work as a unified entity. And in spite of everything, you still love it! This year, I want to tell a story of your Presidency and the civil society. I hope you will agree with me that your government was the government of the civil society, which also helped ‘burnt’ it down. Please let me expatiate.
Needless to remind you that by 1993, the Nigerian civil society, in collaboration with the students’ movement and the media, had become the most potent force against military rule in Nigeria. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS); the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO); the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP); the Campaign for Democracy (CD); the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), together with the media houses such as Tell, TheNews magazines, and others had become the tormentors of the military rulers then. This came to a crescendo in 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed. With the relentless mass protests led by the fierce human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Chima Ubani, both of blessed memory, and several others, including yours truly, the Nigerian government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar finally agreed to a transition which eventually led to civil rule in 1999.
The lead-up to the elections saw the civil society divided against itself whether or not to participate and field candidates in the elections. In the end, majority of the civil society actors voted for boycott, for lack of trust in the military and military-supervised elections. Years later, the civil society was to regret that singular decision. They had a golden opportunity to seize power but let it slip through their hands. Olusegun Obasanjo became an elected President. Without any help from the civil society, he kept them at bay. This was followed by President Umaru Yar’Adua who, himself, had minimal interaction with the civil society.
You, Goodluck Jonathan, came. From your background as an environmentalist, you had a different orientation and attitude to the civil society. You had nothing but respect for the invaluable work they do to help society, keep alive and keep government in check. I can safely say that the civil society was your constituency.
You were at home with people of the civil society background. Oronto Douglas, of blessed memory, a renowned Niger Delta activist and pro-democracy veteran, was your Man Friday. He, Oronto, was a 360-degree mirror of the civil society and their worldview of how Nigeria should be. Oronto brought with him Ima Niboro, a prominent journalist who was in the trenches during the ‘war’ against military rule. He became your spokesman. I, being your brother and being a member of the civil society myself, also lurked around the corner. Then, Von Kemedi, another of your tribesman also known for his active role in NGO works had substantial access to you. Very soon the number swelled.
Reuben Abati, a cult-like figure and dogged writer who espoused the ideals of society, later joined to become your SA Media. With these in the fray, your speeches and actions were more pro-people than any other President in the history of Nigeria. When you said: ‘’My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian’’, you spoke from your upbringing and lifestyle. When you said: ‘’No Nigerian will go on exile under my watch’’, you echoed your real being. You lived it. When you signed the freedom of information bill into law, you followed your heart. These were same ideals the civil society craved. When you set out to plant 10 million trees in the Sahara Desert stretch of northern fringes of Nigeria devastated by desert encroachment, it was because of your nature as an environmentalist. The Great Green Wall, as it was called, was to prevent desertification from encroaching the Nigeria frontline states of Kebbi, Zamfara, Gombe, Yobe, Jigawa, Adamawa, Bauchi, Katsina, Borno, Sokoto and Kano. It was to be a 15km wide, 1,500km long stretch of trees and shrubs cover.
Thank you for planning for generations yet unborn. At the launch of the Great Green Wall in 2007, you were quoted to have said: “Those who live near desert areas always live in a high degree of poverty. Those who live in riverine areas are so degraded and polluted, always live in poverty. Those that live in forest areas where the soil is alright can easily plant and harvest forest trees. So, I said, this Great Green Wall must be created. We are just starting, in the next 25 to 30 years when this greenbelt would be matured, you will see that the people living in this corridor will have sustained sources of income.”
The then governor of Kebbi State Governor Sa’idu Dakingari is quoted by the The News to have said in his remarks that:“Jonathan had written a book on environmental issues of concern in Nigeria. The launch of the programme was therefore part of the President’s personal environmental activism to address the current global challenges of climate change as it affects Nigeria.”
In June 2010 it was time for you to appoint an INEC chairman. Two prominent members of the civil society, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, and Prof Attahiru Jega were the front-runners for the position. Although you chose Jega against Agbakoba, his appointment was a win-win for Nigeria’s civil society. Jega would soon flood the Commission with members of his constituency – the civil society and the academia. He also established a robust relationship with the international funding agencies and election monitors. It was historic. For the first time in Nigeria, the civil society oversaw the organising of elections in Nigeria: the 2011 and 2015 elections. Thank you, Sir. You made it possible. I am wondering when the civil society will plan and conduct Nigerian elections again!
Your appointments of members of the civil society did not end there. You appointed Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the composition of which included Mrs. Olufunmilayo Falana. You appointed Dr. Sam Amadi as Chairman, National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). Barr. Ledum Mitee of MOSOP became the Chairman of Nigeria Transparency Extractive Industry Initiative (NEITI). All front members of the civil society.
Oronto was a magnet of sorts for the civil society, social media advocates, mainstream media gurus and Nollywood gladiators. Names like comrades Nnimmo Bassey, Solomon Asemota, Yinka Odumakin, Samuel Aruwan, Lola Shoniyi, Ankio Briggs, Eno Akpan, Akimbode Oluwafemi, Simon Kolawole, Philip Jakpor, Tony Uranta, Justina Obi, Obasi Akpa, Peter Mozie, Toyosi Akerele, Akin Osintokun, Amara Nwankpa, Bishop Hassan Kukah, Owens Wiwa, Bamidele Aturu (of blessed memory), amongst several others, were his regular callers. All of whom had direct or indirect access to you through him.
Sir, I reflect with nostalgia, during the fuel subsidy protest of 2012. When I saw the preponderance of civil society people disparaging you, it was obvious that they were setting fire on their own house – their Government. Instead of consolidating on the gains they have made in your Government they set it in motion to destroy it.
Permit me to share this. The week before that infamous protest, you held a personal interactive session with the who-is-who in the civil society in Nigeria. Coordinated by Oronto, you had in attendance Vice President Namadi Sambo, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and a host of several other ministers. Explanations were made in detail why fuel subsidy was Nigeria’s nemesis. Although it was the view of some of the attendees that the proposed date be shifted for more consultations, no one was in doubt whether scrapping fuel subsidy was not the right thing to do in the interest of Nigeria. It was your courage to scrap it whether your government was toppled or not. I was thoroughly amused when I saw those who participated in that meeting on the platforms of the Lagos protests raining hailstones at you.
My friend, a front-line activist of same Lagos axis, of whom I shall not name here, holding a private meeting with you is worthy of mention here. I suppose that was the night of 30th of December 2011 or so. On my prompting, you requested to see him. My friend, I was told by Mitee, who coordinated the meeting, flew in from Ado-Ekiti. He was accompanied by Mitee to that meeting. I remember how tired you were that night but however managed to take the meeting. After that, I dropped him off at the Hilton where I had made arrangement for his accommodation and logistics back to base. A few days later, I saw him on national TV leading a protest of the now infamous N65 or REVOLUTION NOW! Lagos fuel subsidy rally. Brother, I have been minding asking him if he told the rest of the community with whom he protested that he met you the previous day on this issue.
At the National Conference, you gave the civil society unprecedented delegates of over 30 members spread across Nigeria. Names like Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Mallam Nasir Kura, Jaye Gaskia, Abubakar Saidiqu Ibrahim, Dudu Paloma, Festus Okoye, Mahmood Aminu, Isaac Osuaka and many others held sway at the national confab. It was a lifetime opportunity to change Nigeria to their dream country. More so, you had previously, as a Vice President and under the Niger Delta technical committee, appointed Anyakwee Nsirimovu, Mitee, Nkoyo Toyo, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, Amadi, Uranta and others as members.
Whether this was with your knowledge or not, Oronto, and in some instances, yours truly, made efforts to work with civil society to give you the desired all-inclusive government. He reached out to the non-conformist and the aggrieved. Oronto travelled far and wide for meetings with the civil society explaining to and pleading with comrades, including Omoyele Sowore of the RevolutionNow. His efforts to convince Sowore to change his perception about your government was rebuffed. Names like Tunde Bakare, Agbakoba, Odumakin, Uranta, Kukah and many others were either your regular guests or, at least, had more than one opportunity to visit and meet with you during your Presidency.
In retrospect, Mr. Femi Falana also enjoyed your patronage so much. My personal testimony Sir. You may have forgotten. Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, then acting chairman of EFCC had acted for a while after Mrs. Farida Waziri was removed as EFCC chairman. After a somewhat long wait for confirmation, I assume, he approached Mr. Falana to help reach out to you. Falana in turn reached out to Mitee who in turn reached out to yours truly, to put a word in on Lamorde’s behalf. I did, as requested, mentioning Falana’s and Ledum’s names. This initiated immediate action from you. You told me, the matter was one of your top to-do lists, however because of his anxiousness, you will deal with it in dispatch. You had but the utmost regard for members of the civil society. Whether they returned that regard is what I still ponder.
Brother, thank you for taking care of the civil society during your Presidency. You gave them opportunities. You believed that it was the right thing to do. It was your belief they had undiluted love for their nation. A lifetime opportunity for the civil society to consolidate their gains was once again betrayed. Now you are out of office, who will ever help the comrades again?
Happy Birthday brother. Remain blessed.
•Azibaola Robert, brother of President Goodluck Jonathan, a lawyer and former human rights activist, is an entrepreneur, an innovator and thinker and maintains political neutrality.