A village boy's rise to the world's most powerful presidency

THISDAY Newspaper

Who is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan? Who is this political phenomenon who many across the country are attempting to deconstruct? Central to most of the stories on Goodluck Jonathan is the place of destiny and providence in his meteoric rise to power in Nigeria. There is talk of “unmerited favour”, “destined to supplant superiors.” The media is awash with stories of how Goodluck has always been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. The story is all over the place that Jonathan is always there to profit from the bad luck or mistakes of his superiors. We are told he is always privileged to be fortuitously positioned to step into dead men’s shoes!

This writer spoke with Femi Ajayi who has known Mr. President from his NYSC days and also dug into the archives to know the real Jonathan story. Femi Ajayi explained: “Goodluck Jonathan is not all about good fortune. Goodluck’s academic exploits, political feats, immense goodwill and extensive social networks did not come out of sheer luck and happenstance…”

The Goodluck Jonathan that he knows, “is not the one in the fertile imagination of ideologues of unmerited favour, is a divinely rewarded honest, hard-working and dedicated person.”

Ajayi argued it is important to realise that no matter our God-given talents, situations in life or in circumstance of birth, what we become at the end of the day is largely an outcome of the result-oriented choices we make daily.

On November 20, 1957, three years before Nigeria became a nation, the family of Jonathan in Otueke, Ogbia Local Government Area of the then Eastern Region, later Rivers State, and now Bayelsa State, was blessed with a baby boy, the parents, going by the tradition in Nigeria, where a child’s name often expresses the parents’ expectations of the child or the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth, instinctively realised that this child had an element of fortune in him and so named him ‘Goodluck’. This Jonathans’ action should be taken as a prayer, a wish followed with diligence, obedience and good citizenship, Ajayi argued.

According to him, Jonathan chose to be an obedient son to his parents and a law-abiding citizen in his village. He argued he could have opted to be a deviant, become a juvenile delinquent or an outright vagabond. He recalled, in school he chose to be a bookworm who faithfully applied himself to his books rather than be a lay-about. He argued he could have dropped out of school because of one social deprivation and economic problem or the other but he trudged on until he earned the highest academic certificate, that is, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Jonathan holds a B.Sc. degree in Zoology (Second Class Honours, Upper Division). He also holds a Msc. degree in Hydrobiology and Fisheries Biology, and a Ph.D. degree in Zoology from the University of Port Harcourt. After obtaining his degree, he worked as an education inspector, lecturer, and environmental-protection officer, until he decided to enter politics in 1998. Jonathan is married to Patience and has two children. Jonathan is a current member of the Ijaw ethnic group.

Recalling Goodluck Jonathan’s National Youth service days which they had together, he argued it was not sheer good fortune and luck that endeared Goodluck to his students and school management then. “He was a likeable and popular person because of his generosity, hard work, commitment to duty, and dedication to service. As a youth corps member, he bought meals and books for needy-but-brilliant students, yet he earned a meagre N200 per month allowance. He organised extra lectures and practical classes to adequately prepare his students for Biology in the West African School Certificate Examination,” he said.

Again, for those whose traditional thinking is that Goodluck Jonathan is a perpetual beneficiary of good fortune, he argued that the President needed more than mother luck to survive the murky and difficult political terrain in Bayelsa. For him, it is on record that Jonathan deployed his quiet diplomacy, mediatory skills and conciliation acumen to stabilise the conflict-prone and crisis-ridden communities of Bayelsa to promote lasting peace.

He argued, “Despite all the marginalisation, deprivations, and provocations he was exposed to in Bayelsa, his legendary patience, uncommon perseverance, dovelike disposition, and meekness, even-handedness most probably endeared him to both God and man and thus ensured that he laughed last.”

And for those who do not know the hell Jonathan went through in Aso Rock when he was vice president which he called, “the fractious, difficult and challenges politics of Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency”, he explained he became a vice president without any budget of his own in the name of one presidency. “He had great responsibility without commensurate power or resources. He stoically endured the relegation, provocation and disempowerment by the Turks that hijacked the Yar’Adua Presidency,” he said. This, he believes, like many others do too, does not make him a weakling.

In fact, commenting on the view in some quarters that “he is too soft to be a successful politician”, he explained “I do not believe that you need to carry fire on your head to be a successful leader or politician.” Goodluck Jonathan, according to Ajayi, has this allegory – the allegory of the lion and the python. “The lion and the python are two effective but radically different predators. While the python stays on one spot and patiently waits for its prey, the lion runs after and overpowers its own prey.” He said he does not believe in motion without movement or dissipating heat where light is needed. “Where you can factorise a simple equation to get your answers, why dissipate energy using the almighty formula or binomial theorem?” he argued.

Take this character trait along with the way the current elections are playing out, you would want to agree with Jonathan’s philosophy of ‘slow and steady wins the race’ so to speak. Jonathan has come out as a transformational leader who works with and for the people rather than a ruler who reigns over the people. His transformational essence, according to Ajayi, is discernible from his pan-Nigeria perspective as well as his soft power approach such as across political divides and discourse, transcending party differences. But like argued earlier on, hawkish politicians mistake this democratic disposition for weakness and prevarication.

Any observer, who trailed his political moves, campaigning for the presidential election, would have noticed the deft manner he went about it. Jonathan spoke to groups across the country – ethnic, religious, institutions of all sorts. He reached out robustly. That is the beauty of politics, of decent politics, the beauty of democracy. Jonathan has barely spent a year as the President. Within this period he has scored some goals. The Niger Delta problem is being actively addressed – several militants are outside of our shores for training, the nation’s education issue is being addressed – some universities have been established, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that will open door for robust business in the oil and gas sector is set for passing by the National Assembly, democracy is being deepened- the ongoing general election is a case in point.


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