On The Cusp Of History: A Letter To President Goodluck Jonathan By ‘Tope Oriola
Dear President Goodluck Jonathan:
Let me begin by stating that I approach your person and presidency from a sympathetic perspective. My unsolicited support is predicated on the fact that you are from the Niger Delta, a region that has given so much yet received little from our country and perhaps because you have always struck me as a humble exemplar of the rags to prominence fable.
As an underdog in the political terrain, you were a stranger to power: You were not from a political family; you were neither from the military nor business class. You were from the periphery of the academia. I have occasionally been embarrassed by how you were treated by some critics. I have had occasion to be upset at how some journalists treated you in some of the interviews you granted. Like many Nigerians, I wanted you to succeed as your success was directly correlated with our success as a society. Therefore, this letter is not full of vitriol. Rather, it contains a sober and non-partisan assessment of your options at this defining moment.
Societies do not often go through this kind of moment. I presume that you and those around you can sense the mood of the times. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo saw a glimpse of the quality of this moment during the third term debacle. General Ibrahim Babangida who famously “stepped aside” may speak to the character of this moment. But by a wide margin, General Sani Abacha’s era could provide clearer lessons. You are on the cusp of history. You are, as history may record, in a world-historical crucible at this moment. Nobody feels it better than you. Nobody in Nigeria bears greater responsibility. Our country’s survival is in your hands.
Your Excellency, you are a product of the Nigerian system. No one needs to remind you about your meteoric emergence on the national stage. You were favoured above several individuals who by your own confession were better qualified and had more experience. Nonetheless, you emerged as a relatively young state executive; part of the new generation of leaders without the baggage and blood-stained hands of military coups. And of course, your being from the Niger Delta was music to the ears of many of us. We were ecstatic; you could do no wrong in our eyes!
However, the major power brokers that made you no longer want you. Anecdotal evidence also strongly suggests that many of the people no longer want you. Nigeria as you admitted to US ambassador, Robin Sanders, during the succession debacle, is too complex for a simple man like you. I am afraid, Mr. President, that Nigeria needs someone with qualities that you do not possess. It is not for lack of effort on your part. There are too many wolves in Nigeria. They are not wolves in sheep’s clothing; they are shameless wolves. You never stood a chance, Mr. President. Nigeria needs a complex thinker who can call to order errant old men in the self-serving elite; someone they either respect or fear.
The ongoing political crisis is turning into heroes some who should be in prison for corruption, human rights violation or both. Our country is hemorrhaging. When those whose livelihood depends on not telling you the truth leave the room and you are all alone, speak to your Creator and do the right thing for the long-suffering Nigerian people. You must be ready for the probability that you may lose the presidential election. That may well be good for the country and yourself. It is time for you to stay true to your belief in the Scriptures: All power belongs to God and he gives it to whomever he wills.
I am not particularly thrilled that someone who was military Head of State when I was barely out of diapers may succeed you in office but that may well be the beauty of democracy. Do not impede the voice of the people. History may yet be kind to you if you conduct free and fair elections. You are unlikely to win the Mo Ibrahim or Nobel Prize but you will earn significant respect for peaceful transfer of power and begin a dignified life in retirement. You may even become a power broker although I view you as too humble to want that role.
Your Excellency, your primary aim must now be a higher purpose than winning an election. Allow Professor Attahiru Jega to do his job. You cannot replace the umpire at the last minute. The optics are bad. Meet with the Inspector General of Police and military chiefs and let them know that your political ambitions are secondary to the well-being of our country. Stop your supporters from fanning the embers of religious bigotry. Provide the needed resources and leadership to tackle Nigeria’s many security problems. Allow the notion of an interim national government to remain what it is — a mere rumour. Please, address the Nigerian people and tell fellow Nigerians you are speaking to them as their leader and not a candidate for election. Tell them to vote for whomsoever they please and that you will ensure there is no electoral rigging.
It is your right to stand for office but ensure you act ethically and legally. Campaign with all your heart but be ready to accept defeat. I do not think that your luck has ran out. I think your luck has now called you to rise beyond the self. Your name is Goodluck. There may yet be more luck in store for you but clinging on to power is not in your fortunes. You will be stunned at how history will remember you if you organize free and fair elections. Do not take Nigeria towards the road to Rwanda. I wish you well.
‘Tope Oriola is assistant professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. He is author of Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers.
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