Can Goodluck Jonathan successfully become an elder statesman?

At the age of 58, Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is on his way to becoming one of the youngest statesmen to emerge from the oil rich country. His ascension to the highest office came as a surprise to many as he was always second fiddle to the men who held the real power. He was deputy governor to the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa state and vice president to the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua before emerging president.

During his presidency, Goodluck Jonathan was blamed for almost if not all the challenges Nigeria went through as a country ranging from corruption to terrorism and economic upheaval, critics felt there was nothing Jonathan could do right.

Many have linked Jonathan’s downfall to Boko Haram’s rising insurgency. Early in his tenure, Jonathan confirmed his helplessness over the situation during  an outburst on January 8, 2012, in which he alleged that Boko Haram had infiltrated his government by planting loyalists in security outfits and government agencies. This led Nigerians to perceive Jonathan as a powerless politician unable to bring Boko Haram loyalists to justice. Jonathan’s tenure was also marred by persistent allegations of corruption.

Six months after stepping down as Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan is gradually distancing himself from the Nigerian political terrain and attempting to assume the mantel of a global icon for democracy.

Following his concession to President Muhammad Buhara and exit from office as president of Nigeria, in April 2015, Jonathan was appointed as a United Nations Global Crisis Envoy by the United States, France, UK, China, Russia and the United Nations. He received the position based on the role he played in furthering democracy across by peacefully relinquishing office.

In October 2015, Jonathan led a 33 man team made up of observers from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Pacific to Tanzania to observe elections. Later on November 9, 2015, Jonathan arrived the United States of America as a guest at the Presidential Precinct of Charlottesville, Virginia where he assured members of the consortium that African leaders are committed to due process in governance and democracy.

Jonathan has also been appointed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr. Kamalesh Sharma to mediate in Zanzibar’s current  political crisis which began in October 2015 when chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), Mr. Jecha Salim Jecha, annulled the presidential election of October 25 contrary to the will of the people.

Here are a few statements that show how former President Jonathan is trying to change his political narrative:

“Don’t listen to politicians, they tell so many lies.”

During the Bayelsa state gubernatorial campaign, Jonathan, who was present at the event tried to show the people the PDP candidate, Seriake Dickson was committed to the development of the state. In his speech, he encouraged the people to vote based on the candidate’s credibility and what he has done in the past, not on the ‘promises’ he makes. The reference he made to politicians being liars, is indeed proof that Jonathan would rather be seen as a representative of the democratic process than a ‘loyal son’ of the PDP or even a politician. He wants to be perceived as being more dedicated to collective posterity than beholden to the rules of Nigerian politics.

“My political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”

Before he left office, Jonathan declared just before the election that his political ambition wasn’t worth the blood of any Nigerian. True to his earlier declaration, he conceded defeat to Buhari in what was regarded as a show of patriotism and a character worthy of emulation by critics around the world. This was the first time, a sitting president in Nigeria allowed due process to take its course. It stands in direct contrast to  former president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s attempt to integrate a third term provision into the Nigerian constitution in 2007.

“Changing constitutions to eliminate term limits in order to favor incumbents is inconsistent with democratic principles and reduces confidence in democratic institutions.”

Earlier this month, while giving a speech at the United States National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit organization working to support and strengthen democracies worldwide, the former president made reference to the issue of third term bids and tenure elongation within Africa’s democratic space. He suggested that even though he was a governor at the time, former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term bid was a failure due to the strong resistance within the National Assembly. As the quote above suggests, he also made reference to the fact that tenure elongation is not democratic and will only erode the values of democracy.  He also advocated for strong parliaments to act as checks and balances for leaders who may seek to extend their tenures in office.

Since leaving office, the former president has tried to  rebrand his image through global engagement and message since leaving office has been one of peace and due process in democracy but his many failures as president have a sizable populations unwilling to listen. From alleged, rampant corruption in the oil and gas sector under former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke to former National Security Adviser Colonel Dasuki’s alleged theft of billions of dollars allocated to the fight against Boko Haram, Nigerians feel former President Jonathan has much to answer for. However, like his former ally, former President Obasanjo, Jonathan has tried to distance himself from the often opaque world of party politics by assuming the mantle of the African elder statesman.

At this moment Jonathan may have the world’s attention but the real question is whether global good works after a tumultuous tenure as president of Nigeria will bring him back into Nigeria’s good graces.

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