By Reuben Abati
“There was no bitterness in him after he left power. He did not look back. He did not look down. Instead he looked up and after looking up, he looked forward and went on pressing ahead. That forward movement has resulted in this work of statecraft and statesmanship of which I am privileged to write the foreword. Though there are many themes in this book, My Transition Hours, the theme that most excites me is the one on youth and the next generation” – John Dramani Mahama, President, Republic of Ghana, 2012 -2017.
Those are some of the words with which former Ghanaian President John Mahama introduces the long-awaited and much-anticipated book by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. President Mahama is President Jonathan’s close friend. In a way they both share a similar destiny. Their bosses died and they both went on to become President. They also both won election as President and later lost their re-election bids. But they are perhaps more united by the shared affinities between Nigeria and Ghana. President Mahama is eminently well-qualified to write the even-handed, thoughtful foreword to President Jonathan’s first book, out of office.
Jonathan is Nigeria’s first President from the South South, first Ph.D holder in Nigeria to become President, first Nigerian President to rise through the ranks from the position of Deputy Governor to Acting Governor, Governor, first gubernatorial candidate nominee to become Vice President, Acting President and eventually President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No other Nigerian, dead or alive, has gone through such trajectory, or rite of passage. President Jonathan was Acting President 2010-2011, following the death of his principal, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in circumstances that threw the country into a quandary and raised issues about Nigeria’s geo-politics and the matters of ethnicity and geography, indeed more importantly the right of minorities to also “rule” Nigeria, and if and when they are allowed to do so, whether or not they will be treated fairly.
I have enjoyed the privilege of reading President Jonathan’s first memoir out of office, which will be publicly presented today in the nation’s capital, Abuja, and I can report that it is a book about how Nigeria and vested interests treated him badly. He is the villain in the book: badly treated by entrenched interest groups, treacherous party members, a propaganda and hate-driven opposition and a badly constructed political ecosystem. The book is titled “My Transition Hours.”
In 2011, after much ethnic uproar and conscientious objection by progressive forces, Jonathan won Nigeria’s Presidential elections and remained Nigeria’s President till 2015. He lost the 2015 Presidential election, according to the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but despite his prompt concession to General Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, Jonathan has suffered badly under his successor’s watch. He has been maligned, persecuted, harassed, intimidated, humiliated and insulted. His wife has been abused, maligned, criminally tagged and many of his associates have been labelled crooks and thieves. In 2015, in the lead up to the general elections, Jonathan announced that his “ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian.” He signed a document to respect the outcome of the process. He kept his word. His successors have rewarded him with odium and abuse. They have done their best to discredit and destroy him.
In this book, “My Transition Hours”, President Jonathan fights back. His public persona is that he is a meek, gentle personality who lacks the guts to fight. Indeed, after the 2015 elections, everyone deserted him. The Aso Rock Villa became ghost town. Nobody picked our calls again. Giants in the corporate sector who used to beg for access to President Jonathan were reportedly now on the Buhari side. Only the Attorney General of the Federation, the security chiefs and a few others came around. The President was left with just his main body, that is – his innermost circle of aides.
We felt hurt by the fact that many of the persons who benefitted from President Jonathan had jumped ship and were now sucking up to the other side. We saw some of the people who called President Jonathan their brother and friend, on the Buhari side less than 24 hours after the election was decided. They were laughing and grinning! It was a painful moment for us. That was the real “Transition Hours” and that was when President Jonathan started threatening that he will write a book on his “Transition Hours”. He chose the title of the book at that very point. He wanted to tell his own story. I am intrigued that he has refused to change the title, but I recall how tough those transition moments were for us. On our return trip to Otuoke, we were treated shabbily by the newcomers. We had to struggle to be recognized. We were treated like regular passengers! The people who took over from President Jonathan were determined to humiliate him. It got much worse later.
In this book, President Jonathan tries to fight back and set the records straight. I am glad he is doing this. I once went to him and asked that we should put a team together to protect his legacy. His response was that “God will fight for us, after God it is government, these people will crush us because they don’t know God, but let us rely on God.” Some people, who thought we should help our boss, ignored this advice tried to put a team together. They ended up in underground cells, and got labelled as thieves! Others fled into exile. It is good to see President Jonathan himself, more than three years later, speaking up. The man that comes through in these pages is the real Jonathan. And that is perhaps the big point: a Jonathan that is confident, strong, clear-headed and assertive, who does not take nonsense and who is very clear in his mind about leadership options. If he had won a second term, Nigerians would have seen a different Jonathan. He worked hard to hold the country together and to prevent mischief from over-running the country. He makes his case in this book as he addresses some of the strong issues that came up during his tenure.
It is not standard practice for a President to justify himself and his tenure. It is also not standard practice for a President to be discredited by his successor. President Jonathan has every reason to write this book. He has chosen the right moment to go public: his successor’s most vulnerable moment. What he does majorly is to tell Nigerians that most of the things said about him were fake news. He insists that he did not abuse power as Nigeria’s President. He argues that every negative thing that has been said about him is an attempt to give him a bad name in order to hang him. He argues that “real strength is power under control”. He adds: “This book is not my biography, as that will come later. This book reveals how I used power as shield in the service to our nation and God.” Jonathan’s argument is that power should never be abused.
The book is defensive and reactive on the vexed issues of fuel subsidy, Boko Haram, “stealing is not corruption,” governance and so on. President Jonathan takes on the major criticisms of his administration. He doesn’t quite provide hard facts but he talks back. The key issues that the book addresses are noteworthy. This is a book that every Nigerian should pay attention to. In this book, a former President of Nigeria is saying that he was badly treated and he became a villain, because he came from a minority part of the country. He states that “people (are) working against our interest”. In this book, a former President of the country tells us that the idea of “one Nigeria” does not exist because we are a divided country. My boss insists: that “there is no patriotism in Nigerian politics”.
He refuses to pull punches. Nobody is spared. In Chapter 3 titled “Politics and Patriotism: The Fuel Subsidy Dilemma”, he argues that “politics in Nigeria and some other African nations is conducted like primitive war”. His major reference is the battle over fuel subsidy in 2012. He argues that the protests over the fuel subsidy proposals were “politically motivated.” Donald Duke should read this chapter. There are some references to him here. Chapter Four is titled “The Chibok School Girls Affair.” The Governor of Borno state needs to read this chapter. He is accused of seizing an “opportunity to politicize an unfortunate incident”. The APC also allegedly indulged in “psychological programming”, making President Jonathan look like a “villain”. President Jonathan rejects the labels. He pointedly accuses the Barack Obama administration in the United States of working against his administration and he provides evidence to back his claims. He accuses President Obama thus: “For some strange reason, the Obama administration had tactically penciled Nigeria and my administration down for failure”.
Hadiza Bala Usman, now in charge of Nigerian Ports Authority, should also read Chapter Four of this book. President Jonathan is convinced that the Chibok girls matter is an act of grand conspiracy, because whereas he took every necessary step, the Governor of Borno State had a different agenda. In Chapter Five, he deals with the question of stealing and corruption. He provides an explanation on that particular matter. The irony is that many of the initiatives now being adopted by the Buhari administration– Treasury Single Account, IPPIS and the BVN were all Jonathan’s initiatives. Jonathan discloses that his government did better on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Chapter Six is focused on “Power Struggle in Nigeria”. Here, Presidnet Jonathan talks about he “strayed into power” and the attack of the majorities on the minorities. In Chapter 7, he offers an account of his “Presidential election campaign”.
He goes further to describe what happened during the 2015 presidential election and how he personally took the decision to save Nigeria from a descent into imminent chaos. Too many persons have tried to write the story of that significant moment in Nigerian history. I am glad that President Jonathan has now given his own account to correct the many lies that may have been told. He records the responses from the international community. It is a rich and detailed account. In this book, President Jonathan puts on the table his credentials as an international statesman and the goodwill he enjoyed among his peers before and after the election of 2015.
To be fair to him, making Nigeria look good in the international community was one of his major achievements. But President Barack Obama of the United States did not help him, and he refers to this more than once in this book. In Chapter Ten, President Jonathan talks about what he and his team did with the 2014 National Political Conference and his personal commitment to the peace and stability of Nigeria. Needless to remind us that the Buhari administration upon assuming office threw away the report of that conference. In Chapters 11 to 13, President Jonathan takes on other interesting subjects including the youth bulge, private sector reform and the African Renaissance.
This must be a book close to his heart. He uses it to settle scores and to explain the main issues of his era as President. I consider this a must read for all Nigerians and students of the Nigerian process. President Jonathan offers a personal portrait of his own politics, career and achievements. I may have read the book through the prism of a man who was his staff and who was involved, but I can tell that this is an honest and forthright reportage of what transpired. President Jonathan gave to Nigeria his very best. He was conscious of his humble beginnings and he wanted to make a statement. He was a poor man’s son who made it to the highest level in Nigeria. He was an embodiment of the Nigerian dream.
But Nigerian politics is vicious and dirty. You will find a sense of that in this book. He projects himself as a “victim”, but he probably does not tell the full story, which is okay. It means he can tell more stories. There are persons who will read this book and throw tantrums, but may such persons, like Nasir el-Rufai and the Governor of Borno state and all the deceitful associates who fooled the President during the 2015 elections, for reasons of religion and ethnicity, be reminded that this, is all told, a very kind book. President Jonathan playing the statesman has refused to tell it all. He has held back much more than he has given away. Some of us who were part of his “Main Body” may have now been unwittingly empowered to tell more stories.
I know that my boss is excited by this book. He wants to be remembered for the right reasons and not for the fake news that his opponents reported about his Presidency. President Goodluck Jonathan was President at a unique moment in Nigerian history. His emergence and experience both mark a special moment in Nigerian history. I urge you to read this book, his first one, on what he encountered as Nigeria’s President, before, during and after. Despite the travails of his post-office experience, Goodluck Jonathan, his legacy and value, will survive beyond his “transition hours”. He will, beyond everything else, find a good place in Nigerian history.
• Dr. Reuben Abati is a columnist and former Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to former President Goodluck Jonathan.