There has been an organized and consistent attempt by a certain section of the political class and the Nigerian commentariat to water down the historical impact of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s decision to concede victory to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the final tally in the 2015 Presidential election. Those who have engaged in this enterprise are unkind, if not callous, insincere, if not cruel.
Their tactics, which range from the dubious to the mischievous, have included a desperate attempt to push the story that President Jonathan would not be the first African leader to concede victory in an election, or that he is certainly not the first Nigerian President to do so. The second claim has been effectively dismissed with historical facts, and as for the former, in a continent where sit-tightism remains a threat to democratic consolidation, and elections in many places are seen as mere rituals for keeping the monarch in power till death do them part, no informed student of the subject will deny the truth that President Jonathan’s conduct is definitely an act of statesmanship and heroism, and that President Jonathan deserves all the recognition, the accolades, applause and vastly elevated moral stature that has come with that singular act.
By his very unusual and highly symbolic act of graceful concession, President Jonathan snatched glorious victory from the jaws of seeming defeat. He outsmarted his traducers and became overnight, a hero of global proponents of true democracy in Africa. While many of his opponents seemed obsessed with power at all costs and by all means possible, by calling General Buhari to concede victory, President Jonathan fully lived up to his often stated conviction that the country is more important than individual ambitions and that leadership should be more about sacrifice than the pursuit of self-interest.
Some had threatened that he would end up like Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo. He proved to be a much better student of history. They promised that if his electoral defeat which they had dictated as an inevitability did not come to pass, they will instigate chaos and confusion, form a parallel government and make Nigeria ungovernable, hang it all on his head and send him to the International Criminal Court. In the end, he short-circuited their conspiracy, and showed that he belongs to a global hall of honour, not infamy.
Ahead of the 2015 Presidential election, many Nigerians had scampered to their ancestral, ethnic safety zones in fear, while the better circumstanced sought safety in self-imposed temporary exile, to watch the homeland from a distance until things settled. One man’s act of courage and patriotism changed all that. He defied the same stereotypes which curiously are being reinforced in some African countries, and created a special moment for Nigeria and Africa. This is perhaps the more enduring location of President Jonathan’s legacy: his vote for peace and national stability.
We need to keep repeating this, especially as those who feel cheated and hurt by President Jonathan’s winning in losing, seem determined before our very eyes, to revise a less than six-week old narrative. With their first two claims dismissed as vacuous and even irrelevant to the point, they are now recruiting pens and mouths for a new leg of their narrative. The most telling in this regard has been Olusegun Adeniyi’s “Inside the PDP Tower of Babel” (THISDAY, May 7, back page). Adeniyi’s indicated purpose is to review the politics of the PDP in the context of the ruling party’s defeat in the 2015 General elections, but for the most part, he seeks to portray President Jonathan as duplicitous and hypocritical.
Adeniyi’s claims and insinuations are informed by a meeting he claimed took place at the new Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, “on Tuesday, 30th March 2015,”- he probably meant Tuesday, 31st March 2015- that historic day when President Jonathan raised the moral level of Nigerian politics. Adeniyi was not at the meeting, so we can safely assume that his entire rendition is based on hearsay. If he insists that he heard his tale on “good authority”, then that would be suspicious because Olusegun Adeniyi, who has been in the corridors of power at significant moments, and has written two books on the subject – ‘The Last 100 Days of Abacha’ (2005) and ‘Power, Politics and Death’ (2011), ought to know that Nigerian politics is a seething vortex of intrigues, angle-shooting, complex conspiracies and crass opportunism.
Adeniyi may have unwittingly allowed himself to be misled, indeed, he may need to ask his sources playing the role of “Aso Villa spies” for their recorder, and listen more carefully. As it is, his reportage is pure fabrication intended to unjustly discredit the President and promote other vested interests within the polity.
I begin with the third paragraph of his piece: “The atmosphere at the meeting was sombre…”, he writes. How can Adeniyi be so sure of the texture of an atmosphere he never experienced? He adds: “…without much preamble, President Jonathan announced: “Gentlemen…” Sorry, Segun. It is not President Jonathan’s style to open any meeting at all with the phrase: “Gentlemen…” He is more likely to observe the protocol list.
What then follows is a long quote, meant to be President Jonathan’s charge to the meeting: “…about an hour ago, I called General Buhari to concede and to congratulate him. But I did that not because the PDP lost the election but rather to calm the nation, as many people advised me to do so. Even when I conceded to allow the nation move forward, the information at my disposal is that the election has been massively rigged and INEC is complicit. While I have done my bit as a statesman, I believe the party should put out a strong statement to reject the result and that the PDP will challenge it in court. I think the National Publicity Secretary of the party should do that.”
These words which Adeniyi attributes to President Jonathan are not his, nor do they reflect his style or thought process. He never uttered those words.
In the seventh paragraph, Adeniyi goes ahead to offer what seems to be a verbatim report of conversations between Godswill Akpabio, Liyel Imoke and Adamu Muazu in the privacy of the latter’s house! Does he have spies in Muazu’s house? If not, then definitely, one of the three gentlemen must be his shameless kiss and tell source? Will he be willing to tell us who this is? No, he won’t because he can’t. A few paragraphs later, Adeniyi further writes somewhat gleefully that “the President may be meeting his match in Muazu”, and states that “it tells a compelling story of its own that Muazu is the 6th PDP Chairman under Jonathan, all within a period of five years.”
Adeniyi’s bias is undisguised; his construction of a duel is curious, but he would still need to tell the accurate story of the circumstances that led to the exit of the former Chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party in the past five years. Contrary to his insinuations, they were not removed by President Jonathan. Okwesilieze Nwodo was removed by a court of law due to local Enugu state politics. Dr Haliru Bello who served as Acting Chairman after him was later appointed Minister of Defence in 2011. Alhaji Abubakar Baraje succeeded Bello also in acting capacity to complete Nwodo’s aborted tenure. The story of the exit of Vincent Ogbulafor and Bamanga Tukur equally has nothing to do with the President.
I can go through the rest of Adeniyi’s story-telling to point out other inconsistencies and give-aways. Reading between the lines, it should not be too difficult in the light of recent altercations among PDP chieftains about who did what and who received and disbursed what money during the election campaigns to know the kind of conspiracies at work. In making a story out of the melodrama, however, Olusegun Adeniyi should have resisted taking a trip of his own to Babel.
The meeting that he refers to took place at least five hours after President Jonathan had congratulated General Buhari, “not one hour ago,” as he claims. By then, words of admiration and commendation for his gallantry had flooded the airwaves. The President did not need to be persuaded to take that decision. He had always made it clear that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. As he himself has pointed out, he took the decision in the interest of national unity, peace and stability and to prevent any form of post-election violence.
The President could see through the traps that had been laid for him; at that moment he was already fully aware of the extent of the network of sabotage and conspiracies, internal and external, contrived and inflicted, that wrong-footed the PDP during the elections. Many party leaders started rushing to the Villa after hearing what the President had done. They were caught unawares. He had absolutely no reason to ask the party to reject the results of the Presidential election. And he never did. He had made up his mind to let it go. By the morning of April 1, he was already packing his things out of the Presidential Villa, satisfied that he had done the right thing by preventing a much predicted ethnic, religious and political violence.
Olusegun Adeniyi therefore got it all wrong. But not done with his trip to Babel, he is also threatening to write a book to be titled: ‘Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria’. He certainly owes us an obligation to declare early enough if that is intended to be a work of fiction and hearsay. The People’s Democratic Party which lost power suddenly at the centre, after 16 years in the saddle, is obviously undergoing a post-defeat trauma. Discrediting President Jonathan, with dubious story-telling, should not be part of that crisis.
· Dr Abati is President Jonathan’s Spokesman and Special Adviser, Media and Publicity.
NOTE BY OLUSEGUN ADENIYI:
I have argued in several forums that the concession by President Goodluck Jonathan should not be diminished and, in all my writings, I have tried to project that position. But facts are facts. In the meeting after he conceded (okay, I got the timing and date mixed-up), the president indeed asked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to contest the result. And those disputing my narration because they are invested in sustaining a mystique also know that for a fact. But that for me does not take away from the fact that President Jonathan saved the nation from a pending calamity by conceding. I am sure that those at the meeting (and there were many) who are keeping silent now will begin to talk after May 29.
However, what is important is that I bear no ill-feeling towards the president for whom I have tremendous respect and he can always count on my support long after many of his fair-weather supporters would have deserted him. As for my coming book, Reuben needs not worry, especially since I always share the content of such efforts with him in advance as a confidant. He may recall, for instance, that he, on his own volition, decided to write the Foreword to the Abacha book after reading the manuscript while I also sent him the first draft of the Yar’Adua book seven months before I eventually published it. Finally, Reuben knows that when he becomes another “yesterday’s man” like the rest of us by May 30, he will always be my friend.