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April 22, 2011


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(ON)GOING CONCERNS: From canoe-carver’s son to commander-in-chief

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Come with me to 1998. Let’s meet Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, assistant director, Environmental Protection and Pollution Control at the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission in Port Harcourt, “earning small, small kobo that kept him going” (as his father once told the Guardian in an interview). Seven years later, the civil servant is governor of oil-rich Bayelsa. Five years after that, he is the president of Nigeria. All this happens without him contesting any election on his own.
Now, on May 29, 2011, Mr Jonathan will be sworn in as the fourth democratically elected executive president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He will go into the beckoning epoch clutching a string of firsts: At 53, the youngest civilian president of Nigeria at first swearing-in (Shagari was 54). The first Nigerian vice president to go on to be president. The first Nigerian to rise from deputy governor to governor to vice president to president. (What are the chances of that happening in the wildly unpredictable political system we run in this country?) Nigeria’s first PhD-holding president. Nigeria’s first “Facebook president”. The second most popular head of state alive, on Facebook. The first Nigerian president to grant a campaign interview to a hiphop star. The first Nigerian politician to debate himself in a nationally televised political debate. The first civilian president of Nigeria to come from a minority ethnic group.
Let’s think for a moment about the hurdles the man has had to cross on his way from civil servant to president. First, he survived the deputy governorship. The key word there is ‘survived’. Blessed is the man who had the good sense to call a spade a spade: deputy governors are “spare tyres” in Nigeria. If you doubt that Mr Jonathan ‘survived’ six years of deputy governorship, ask Orji Uzor Kalu’s deputies. Ask Kofo Bucknor Akerele and Femi Pedro. Ask Garba Gadi in Bauchi State. Ask Peremobowei Ebebi, the man who succeeded Jonathan as deputy governor in Bayelsa.
In many cases, the deputy governorship is a terminal illness for a politician’s career. But as fate, or luck, would have it, in Jonathan’s case, the spare tyre bucked the trend and ended up, not as a tool for lynch mobs, but as the steering wheel.
And then he survived a colourless vice presidency. When the Americans, obsessed as they are with list-making, compiled a confidential list of Nigeria’s most influential persons in 2008, a year into his vice presidency, Jonathan’s name was absent. This was barely three years ago.
You only need to see how many ‘godfathers’ have fallen by the wayside (especially on Jonathan’s ‘second missionary journey’ to Aso Rock) to realise that ‘goodluck’ is more than just a name. James Ibori, said to be one of the biggest financial contributors to the Yar’Adua campaign, is today preparing for a long jail term abroad. Ibrahim Babangida, a million times more powerful than Jonathan until a year ago, last week announced his retirement from politics.
Adamu Ciroma is a tired ethnic chauvinist; the final nail in his coffin was the collapse of his consensus candidacy project. Bode George is an ex-convict. PDP chieftain, Tony Anenih’s state is in the hands of the ACN. Olusegun Obasanjo’s state will soon be. Abubakar Atiku couldn’t even deliver his own state during the PDP primaries. Lamidi Adedibu is three years dead.
I think we may safely conclude that Mr Jonathan could, if he so chooses, easily become ‘Godfatherless Jonathan’. I am indeed very optimistic about the future of Nigeria under a Jonathan presidency. Last August, I said Mr Jonathan was “a breath of fresh air”. I was referring to his social networking strategy. (I’d like to believe that was what inspired the “breath of fresh air” campaign slogan of the president)
Today, I will stretch my claim further, and declare that Mr Jonathan is potentially a breath of fresh air to the way presidential leadership is conducted in Africa. I think we are looking at the man destined to, not only tackle long-standing problems like power supply and poverty, but also bring far-reaching reform to Africa’s largest and most messed-up political party, the PDP.
He is not a perfect man. Certainly not. He hasn’t got Bill Clinton’s charm or Barack Obama’s speaking skills or Mr Obasanjo’s sense of humour. But he offers something else: an endearing calmness, a modesty that is rare with Nigeria’s ‘Big Men’, and a seemingly sincere desire to engage with the people he’s ruling.
The task ahead is daunting. I do not envy the son of a canoe-carver who’s now sitting in a ‘canoe’ atop one of the most tumultuous waters in the world — the presidency of that bundle of contradictions called Nigeria. I, however, wholeheartedly wish him Godspeed. I will repeat the words with which I ended my column, “Goodluck, Goodwill and Goodsense”, published almost exactly a year ago (April 19, 2010):
“Yesterday you were Goodluck Jonathan. Today you are Goodwill Jonathan. Now you must strive to be Goodsense Jonathan, in whose hands the destiny of a nation lies.”
So help him God. Amen.

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Reader Comments (32)

Posted by daniel on Apr 20 2011

dont be afraid add this;first elected southerner.first elected minority nigerian tribe outside of the former “big” three(if such a thing still exists after this elections!).a man of many firsts.let us hope that in performance he bests obasanjo and yardua…..which wont be that hard as all he has to do is stay alive and not cavort with daughter in laws.

Posted by King on Apr 20 2011

Very well written. I love journalism of this nature – you took the time to research the FACTS before writing this. Awesome. Yes, Jonathan has done well. I am confident too that he will continue to do well. He’s indeed a “breath of fresh air”, as you have rightly said. Like you, I wish him Goodspeed or like my wife would always wish me – GodLuck!

Posted by Anjibobo on Apr 20 2011

I am cautiously optimistic myself and I am glad our brothers in the Niger Delta will now “cool body” since one of their own is now the President. The peace and stability this will bring is my greatest joy since this will foster the enabling environment for us to keep making progress. I didn’t vote for him, but I am happy with the result. I wish him and Nigeria continued Good Luck!

Posted by ego on Apr 20 2011

@Daniel, first southerner to be elected? you make me laugh. I guess Obasanjo is from the North then @Tolu, great that you are so hopeful. But you forgot to add that he is the first president to waste the nations resources by spending billions of naira in a desperate attempt to remain president, you forget also that he is the first president where bomb blasts and terrorism became synonymous to Nigeria and he duly ignored the problem. No one has been paraded or convicted as yet. The truth is that he has no clue and stumbled unprepared into the presidency. Now he has the peoples mandate, i hope he gets some goodsense. I am not that hopeful, but i pray i am proved wrong.

Posted by Ebi Bozimo on Apr 20 2011

Tolu, your writing continues to evolve in elegance and excellence. This is a PHENOMENAL take on President elect Goodluck Jonathan in the context of Nigeria at this turbulent time.

Posted by paquito bites on Apr 20 2011

@ego.i did not vote for anyone ,i could’nt and if i could i would have chosen our man from the north but i do rejoice with the nation in juno’s victory.i may be as cynical as you but i’m afraid we can do with a huge dose of optimism to move forward.i am not interested in the firsts but glad in the knowledge that he has the mandate of the people and not the godfathers.pres juno can literally clear his cabinent jettison his vultures all in the need of change and still withstand the tremors.he ought to do that to send the right message to the people of nigeria.his task is formidable as we witness the geopolitical tsunamis around the world.we need a competent leader to face up to the resource challenges of the west and china for that is the issues of the day.we the developing nations are pawns in the chess game but with strong leadership we may get to bishop status.may the lord give him the wisdom to get us to BRINCS,that will be the ultimate accolade and the real first that will make sense to all nigerians.good morning.

Posted by kola on Apr 20 2011

Well written. Jonathan was not my choice at the presidential elections, but he seems to be Nigeria’s choice. I have never seen Jonathan in this light, perhaps because there was so much darkness around him. His calmness and modesty are necessary, but not sufficient conditions for Nigeria’s take off to ‘self sustained growth’. However, I wish him all the best. It is now time to settle down to the task of nation building. God bless Nigeria

Posted by Usman Ahmed on Apr 20 2011

@ego, what ever it is we must be positive since the man is now the president and our collective destinies are in his hands. With respect to the bomb blast, I thought Orkah is on trial in SA (his case was heard yesterday and more charges have been drawn up against him) for it while his broda and others are on trial in Nigeria

Posted by Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth on Apr 20 2011

Good write up. Something to be optimistic about. Yes Jonathan sits ina Canoe and you do not have to teach an Ijaw boat man the physics of a capsizing Canoe. I hope as his paddles the canoe would move forward. Some paddle here , Paddla there but the Canoe stays still.

Posted by Donlaz on Apr 20 2011

Good piece Tolu, keep doing great job man!

Posted by Ayat-owo on Apr 20 2011

Perfect piece. I wish him well. Destiny is God’s Pathway for us and I think Godluck sees his clearly well. May he not disappoint us for all the support

Posted by Dele. on Apr 20 2011

I hope the president realises he is a NATIONAL consensus -president….

Posted by Olatoye Joy on Apr 20 2011

I wish him goodsense too, and may his ending better than his beginning in Jesus name. amen

Posted by seun on Apr 20 2011

@ego,i feel ur cynicism and somehow am not happy about the way money was spent campaigning for the election.i do however feel that to a large extent,Jega did a good job,i also believe soon enough, we wouldnt have to be an ‘otokoto’ or ‘imcumbent whatever’ to run for a political post in also optimistic that we shall have the best republic ever,chiefly because its not an all PDP parliament.lets truly hope that the presence of many parties will add spice to national debates.Godspeed Nigeria!

Posted by Kingsley on Apr 20 2011

Isn’t it rather early to be bootlicking Tolu? Let us have light first before the apotheosis begins eh.

Posted by Nene on Apr 20 2011

Yes Tolu, I think it’s too early to be boot-licking and I am disappointed in this piece. You, of all people should not come on here and be praising Jonathan, he’s such a dumb-wit and a numb-skull, he has no idea what presidency is about.

Posted by MC on Apr 20 2011

@ego, spot on!

Posted by Ade on Apr 20 2011

My Dear Tolu. I have sent you an email already to express my sadness at your email. Jonathan was imposed on us by the powers that be? Obasanjo groomed him from the very beginning. He has mismanaged our funds in the last 1 year. He has absolutely no clue about how to fix Nigeria – economy, power, terrorism, etc. Nothing will change – it is going to business as usual. Our legislators and ministers will remain the highest paid in the world, looting will continue, power, unemployment and economy will remain ‘story lands’. I pray these wont happen but I have lost my usual optimism about this country.

Posted by Chinna on Apr 20 2011

Why all the adulation? We could congratulate a man for winning, but our writer should not start singing praises until we see performance on the job. What’s the hurry to ingratiate one’s self with GEJ?

Posted by akin Jenkins on Apr 20 2011

awesome piece mate, was trying to explain all u just wrote to a couple of my Dutch colleagues, thanks for saving me the trouble. Nice piece

Posted by Toni Kay on Apr 20 2011

My Dear Tolu, I really appreciate the good work u did with this article. It was thoroughly researched and to the point. Goodluck era is a new era for us Nigerians and we shall be proud now to say we are Nigerians amongst the Committees of nations. As for all those that do not believe in this slogan then they should bang their heads on the wall. Nigerians voted Goodluck and not PDP so that that luck will follow them. Adieus Ciroma, Buhari, Anenih, Maduekes, Nnamani. This is our time o.

Posted by paquito bites on Apr 20 2011

much as i do not hold brief for juno,i can tell all of those that have jumped down tolu’s throat that the change is already upon us.we have experienced a more savvy electorate.this has reflected the results of the addition to that we have changes occuring across the african continent and nigeria will not be an exception to this change of peoples power.see recent events in kenya and uganda and closer to home burkina faso.pres jonathan has a huge task and will not be in a position to shy away from his duties not with a weaker position in the house.we must thank god for incremental battles and will have to call on his wife’s name to win the war.

Posted by RICHARD on Apr 20 2011

Tolu Ogunlesi you goofed.Obasanjo actually delivered the Goodluck Jonathan everybody is talking about today to Nigeria.Obasanjo is President emeritus.A president that makes other president.He has single handedly decided who becomes Nigeria Democratic President post First Republic till date He has Just delivered Jonathan again.He his obviously Nigeria Political leader and political colossus. Therefore any discourse on Nigeria Political evolution without the legendary role of OBJ is definitely rubbish.OBASANJO is not just ‘ebora Owu’,he is ‘ebora Nigeria’

Posted by readerX on Apr 20 2011

i’m crossing my fingers as well… It is well with Nigeria

Posted by True Nigerian on Apr 20 2011

Am sorry for those praising Jonathan. Why did he spend so much money in campainging if not desperation. Nigerians should stop decieving themselves. We are not ready for change because voting a PDP government back to power after twelve years of PDP failure in NO CHANGE to me. I hope Nigerians saw the people with GEJ in Aso rock when JEGA announced him as the winner? the likes of Femi Otedola (who has sabotaged all efforts to give Nigerians constant electricity), Tony Annenih, Aliko Dangote, Ikedi Ohakim and oda persons who have run Nigeria aground. Clearly Nigeria is going no where. And talking about the so called elections I will say it was peaceful but far from being fair. The bottom line is Nigerians are not ready for change and I blame PDP for the Crisis in the North for not staying with the zoning arrangement. In 1999 when obasanjo was elected Pres. there was no violence in the North likewise in 1993 with Abiola. People should be objective. Lets wait for Lamido Sanusi and Fashola 2015. then we can think of moving forward.

Posted by Chuks Oluigbo on Apr 20 2011

Well articulated. In short, Tolu-like. Well done.

Posted by ALFRED AYODEJI on Apr 21 2011

Am not pro-Goodluck Jonathan and I wont say he is impeccable but then we’ve got to positive about him. At least he appears to have a good will for Nigeria and until it he proves otherwise let’s breath in the air of positivity like TOLU…

Posted by Kentops on Apr 21 2011

@true Nigerian Sanusi/Fashola ticket in 2015? That won’t be a bad idea. Nice thought!

Posted by Me on Apr 21 2011

@ Tolu this is a brilliant piece. For all those who are grieved at d turn out of d elections, why the “much ado about nothing”? No man knows it all, so why don’t we give GEJ a chance to perform. He is the people’s choice period.

Posted by D optimist on Apr 21 2011

Great piece Tolu. I believe dat dis is not boot-licking or praise singing but simply a statement of facts. i wish Nigerians could be as objective and optimistic as you are. God bless you, God bless Goodluck Jonathan, God bless Nigeria!

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