By Ambassador Godknows Igali
The date 20th November has great significance for many reasons all around the world. For students of European history, it was the date that the Treaty of Paris of 1815 which ended several decades of bloody Napoleonic wars on the continent, was signed. In more contemporary and humane terms, the United Nations adopted this day in 1954 as the Universal Children’s Day, underscoring the importance attached to togetherness and promoting awareness about the welfare of the world’s children. For the many pacifists, it was also on that day in 1962 that the American blockade on Cuba and the near outburst of thermonuclear war came to an end as Communist Russia of the day, also removed their missiles from the island nation.
Also, some of the world’s greatest icons in all walks of life were born on this special day. Just to mention a few: American political leader and Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, immediate past American Vice President, Joe Biden, South African award-winning writer, Nadine Gordimer, wife of Chinese President, Peng Liyuan were all born on that date. Also, such great Nigerians as Obong Victor Attah, foremost architect and former Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State and Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife (Okwadike of the World), former Federal Permanent Secretary and Governor of Old Anambra State are all part of the 20th November family.
But of exceptional noteworthiness and substance to the Nigerian nation, was the birth of a son on 20th November 1957 to a peasant artisanal boat builder, Pa Lawrence Ebele Jonathan and his wife, Eunice, in the lonely town of Otuoke. The child later came to be named, rather prophetically, Goodluck, a presage that was to follow him through the rest of his life. Even more intriguing was the fact that his paternal grandmother, Sarah, rose one day and named this child, Azikiwe, after the near superhuman pioneer President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. How audacious for the peasant citizens of a remote and sleepy village in the swamps of the Niger Delta.
At the time, when young Jonathan was born at Otuoke, just 20 kilometres away from Nigeria’s Premier International Oil Company, Shell BP had discovered Crude Oil in commercial quantities around the local main town, Oloibiri. Actually, Oil Well Number One which covered several villages in the area, started producing 5100 barrels per day in 1958. Jonathan’s immediate area therefore launched Nigeria into the league and rank of oil producing and exporting countries. As expected, at that time, the general area which is today’s Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, experienced the flurry of activities of various sorts. Europeans experts, Nigerian Engineers and Geologists, Businessmen and women all around. Even an airstrip was built and the sight of helicopters hopping about became commonplace. Yet in Otuoke, baby Jonathan who will one day become one of the greatest Africans of our time had just been born to a humble family, totally oblivious of the swirling mass of activities nearby and around. This is a narrative that typifies the life experience of many great Nigerians born in rather obscure and lowly dignity of rural and sub-urban settings in the midst of great national affluence.
The early signs of greatness could not however be pushed under the bushel as this child, Jonathan, quickly grew to dominate his environment. One unique feature from all accounts of those who were old enough to watch the young child grow, was the fact of his soberness and clear headedness. Though exuberant and active like any other male child, the young Azikiwe as he was fondly called by some was said to have always been composed and unflustered, almost like an old man.
With the start of his primary education, this child’s sterling gifts threw themselves to the fore as he was able to start showing good leverage above other children in performance at St. Stephens Primary School, Otuoke where he had his junior primary. Thereafter as was in most small communities in Nigeria at the time, Goodluck along with his elder sister, ended up at St. Michael’s Primary School in the big district headquarters, Oloibiri.
This was what gave him the opportunity to gain admission to Mater Dei High School in 1971 which the Catholic Mission had established within an enclave dominated by the Anglican Church. The young man’s rather reserved and restrained approach to life became further sharpened by the conservative Catholic training which combined in a very strict forms, knowledge, discipline and spirituality. Unlike other Catholic schools which were run by the Church, The Mater Dei High School concept is a co-education model that started in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County in Santa Ana, California in 1950. By the sixties, they made inroads in the southern parts of Nigeria to spice up the educational flavour which had been dominated by British Church Missionary Society.
By the time Mater Dei presented its students for the West African Certificate Examination in 1975, Goodluck who had continued to serve as School Prefect and House Prefect and few of his classmates came out on the uppermost surface of the entire Ogbia area, giving the school the profile of a full-blown centre of excellence.
As it was with most young men from rural settings, he moved to the nearby big city; in this case, the very complex city of Port Harcourt, “The Garden City”, known for its greenery was the budding capital of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. It was a kind of melting pot of sorts and perhaps a parody of the Nigerian cosmos. The only other Nigerian towns that had such cross ethnic and international of intermingling amongst peoples were perhaps, Kaduna and Lagos.
He soon found himself in University of Port Harcourt as a pioneer student. UNIPORT came on stream in 1977 within the Niger Delta, at the same time as the University of Calabar which itself was initially a campus of University of Nigeria and after the University of Benin which had come on stream since 1970. University of Port Harcourt, however, being in the heart and very hobble of the Niger Delta was obviously unique and outstanding and hence became known as Unique Uniport.
Goodluck and his contemporaries till today address each other as unique. Unique in training, unique in discipline, unique in formation and unique in contribution to national and world development. He knew his origins so the complexities of Port Harcourt life to which he had become part of, did not rub off on him much. Just like Mater Dei days, he remained focused. By the time the first set of students were graduating in 1981, not unexpectedly, Goodluck emerged amongst the best graduating students. Armed with a good Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Zoology, he got for himself most of the awards and laurels. In later years, in the same University of Port Harcourt, he was able to cut his teeth to obtain a Master’s Degree in Hydrobiology and a Ph.D. specializing in Fisheries Biology (Aquatic Zoology).
One of Nigeria’s greatest diplomats ever, late Ambassador Leslie Harriman, was asked about how his training as a Zoologist helped to shape his diplomatic footprint and legacy. He had, appropriately, answered that the world of diplomacy and behaviour of leaders of the nations is simply a reflection of our animal origins hence one with such background was advantageous to function well in statesmanship. In later years, Goodluck Jonathan, another Zoologist was able to steer the ship of Nigeria’s complicated and tangled complexion to stable waters. This was especially when he took the unusual step of conceding electoral defeat in 2015 even before results were announced and saved Africa’s largest democracy from bloodbath and implosion.
Goodluck, like any other young graduate of the time, served the nation in the National Youth Service Corp in Osun, then part of Oyo State in 1981. While there, colleagues and even indigenes remember him fondly as “that gentle and soft-spoken Science teacher” who was known for his special affection for his students. The completion of his NYSC created the foundation for the next stage of his pursuit of a career in teaching and scholarship at the Rivers State College of Education since his academic discipline relates a lot with bio-diversity and ecology. So, with the creation of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), it was not surprising that the hawk-eyed, Chief A.K. Horsefall, a one-time spy master of Nigeria who later became Chairman of this intervention agency recruited Dr. Jonathan into the organization.
The idea of OMPADEC was to bring more equity and justice to the people of the Niger Delta who like the proverbial goose had continued to lay the golden egg but remained starved, stunted and hungered. So, Dr. Jonathan and his team were the vanguard for coming up with the intervention programs which Chief Horsefall and bigger authorities under President Ibrahim Babangida, who established it in 1992 and later Abacha were to carry out to assuage the people of the Niger Delta. These OMPADEC years also enabled Goodluck to appreciate the enormous capacity that government possesses to be an instrument of social engineering and change.
As it is often said, a goldfish has no hiding place and the hidden power of the will of God that superintends what will happen in the lives of mortals is “an unstoppable left foot volley”. It did not take too long before Dr. Jonathan whom one writer had once referred to as “a child of destiny” found himself invited to join Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, as running mate, under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the bid for Governorship of Bayelsa State, as the country returned to Civilian Rule in 1998. Having won the election, it remains on record in Nigeria that Dr. Jonathan was the most loyal, dutiful and reliable Deputy Governor in the country. Even when his boss, “The Governor General”, Chief Alamieyeseigha found himself in tempestuous waters, GEJ as some call him remained firm and unwavering in his support. But then there was little he could do as the forces beyond his control saw the exit of his boss from power and his unplanned upward detour to the office of Governor of Bayelsa State on 5th December 2005.
During the governorship days, some colleagues of the great DSP, perhaps unintendedly, regarded and treated him as an eaglet Governor having just assumed that position through a constitutional mischief. But he remained undaunted and went on to outperform most of them. His vision of governance was intended at making Bayelsa the economic, scientific and technological powerhouse of Nigeria. It was knowledge driven, bottom-up approach and through transparent partnership between the government, citizens and private sector. In October 2006, when the mighty President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Bayelsa for the first time since Jonathan took over, he literally fatigued from commissioning projects.
Although many Bayelsans had started describing Jonathan as a liberator of the state, fate had a different agenda for him. While the PDP convention held at Eagle Square on that faithful night of 16th December 2006, and the saintly President Yar’adua emerged as the flagbearer of PDP, Jonathan who had only come to watch others as a “Junior Governor”, found himself invited to become the Vice-Presidential candidate. The rest is history, as they say, because he not only became Vice President of Nigeria but was the nerve centre of President Yar’adua’s Seven-Point agenda.
Though he had brilliant public service experience and was the only Nigerian ever with the pedigree as a Deputy Governor, Governor, Vice President and President, Jonathan never ever thought that the seat which his boss President Yar’adua occupied will so soon become his to occupy. He had always soliloquized on retiring young from the villa as a Vice President and returning to the swamps in the Niger Delta as an Environmental Biologist. Alas, the gentle and affable President Yar’adua who from a palpable heart of sincerity pushed and practiced Servant Leadership, died. The law again took its cause on 5th May 2010 and Jonathan became the Third President of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.
Despite the sulking, grumblings and mischief of naysayers, the five years plus of Jonathan’s presence on the saddle in the governance of Nigeria remains a Golden Era of the country’s Social and Economic transformation. Primarily, he stabilized the polity and made all Nigerians have a sense of belonging, shared kinship and a feeling of common destiny. He practiced rule of law, obeyed the courts and had no one single political prisoner. He appointed people to positions, even including the electoral umpire, Professor Attahiru Jega, National Security Adviser, Colonel Dasuki Sambo and three Inspector Generals of Police, from outside his ethnic, religion or sectional enclaves. His immediate Principal Staff were a reflection of Nigeria’s ethnic kaleidoscope.
Jonathan’s forte as President was the assemblage of a world class dream team of technocrats and professionals in his government. They moved Nigeria’s economy to become number one in Africa, while globally competitive billionaires began to sprout daily out of Nigeria. They introduced the Medium-Term Planning Framework, reassured the continuity of the vison 2020 and adopted the First National Implementation Plan (NIP) i.e. 2010 – 2013. What made this unique was the fact that the first NIP integrated the plans of the various states and envisaged aggregate collective expenditure of all the three tiers of government. Another strong point was that of fiscal discipline. There was emphasis on rigid adherence to transparent, public procurement processes.
Still on the economy, the financial sector strategy 2020 (FSS 2020), an initiative of regulators in the financial services sector was introduced to help instil greater confidence in the economy. At the same time, the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) was put in place in 2010 to recapitalize troubled banks, absolve their toxic assets and sanitize their balance sheets and transform the ratio of non-performing loans to assets. The country’s annual fiscal deficits became greatly reduced. Indeed, the deficit to GDP ratio was scaled down to as low as 2.8% while highest levels of prudential measures were introduced to borrowing whenever that happened.
One great legacy for which Nigerians of succeeding generations will remember this Otuoke son is the establishment of the Sovereign Wealth Fund and the take-off of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). Patterned after the Norwegian and Kuwaiti experience where money was being set aside for future generations and against some of the fiercest opposition from some Governors of the time, President Jonathan insisted with members of his economic team to forge ahead.
Today in Nigeria, much is being said about Treasury Single Accounts (TSA). The truth is that the original conceptualization was done under President Obasanjo. However, it was under Dr. Jonathan that what was termed as Financial Export Treasury Single Account was introduced and implemented in most of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as a seamless vehicle that focused on treasury forecasting and use of money market instruments for effective cash flow management.
It is impossible to recount so rather tersely, all that was achieved during Jonathan’s tenure. Suffice to mention that all sectors were touched. In Agriculture, for example, the initiative on Rice was started at the time. Similarly, the initiative on Cassava which was started by President Obasanjo was given new vigour, the Electronic Wallet was introduced to sanitize the access to fertilizer.
In the North of Nigeria, great attention was placed on completion of Dams and construction of irrigation systems (Goronyo Dam, Middle Rima irrigation, Bakalore Dam, The Gurara Dam, Azare-Jere Irrigation scheme and others). Of special need of mention is the Kashimbilla Dam which was started by President Jonathan 2010 from the scratch to cater for three important things: Stopping Lake Nyos of Cameroon from inundating about ten states in Nigeria, providing irrigation for over 4000 hectares in the Benue Taraba axis and generating 40 Megawatts of electricity for agricultural processing and urban development along the Benue Taraba axis. This dam and the powerplant were fully completed before he left office.
For many years in the country’s history, the solid minerals sector which had almost become moribund was given a new direction and push, bringing to light our huge endowment of coal, gold, topaz, granite, cobalt, tantalite, quartz, tourmaline and many others never known before.
Many Nigerians do not like to hear any Government talk about its footprint or achievement in the Power Sector, but history will forever remain grateful to GEJ that he was able to take on some of the most impossible tasks in ensuring the foundation for steady power supply in Nigeria. It suffices to mention that he ensured the privatization of this sector, which from 1951 when the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) started to NEPA and PHCN days had become a big monster and drain to the national economy. Although the idea started with President Obasanjo’s Electricity Sector Reform Act of 2005, it was only completed in 2013 by President Jonathan. What is needed now is to work with the new private sector owners to ensure performance and continuous infusion of capital, technology, innovative management and business models. USAID, DIFID and other global institutions judged the privatization exercise undertaken by Jonathan as the most transparent of its type undertaken on the African continent.
To strengthen the Power Sector, he also revived every one of the institutions or created new ones to give Nigeria stable electricity like other modern economies.
Similarly, it was President Jonathan that finished the Engineering Design and commercial construction for the 700 Megawatts Zungeru Dam and Power Project in Niger State which had been on the drawing board for about 30 years. It got to nearly 50% project completion before he left office. In the same vein, under President Jonathan, the full Engineering Design for the 3050 Megawatts Mambilla Hydro Project started by President Obasanjo which had been on the drawing board from the 60s was completed. President Jonathan also advanced the negotiations with China Exim Bank to the point of award of contract before exit from power.
President Jonathan revamped the Nigeria National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) program and ensured that 6 out of the 10 plants most of which were at about 30% performance were fully completed and some commissioned. Today it is these power plants from NIPP that are contributing about 4000 Megawatts to the 7000 Megawatts of power generation which was actually attained as at December 2014. Since evacuation and transmission of generated power as well as gas supply to power plants remained the bane of the sector, some of the most outstanding efforts were done in increasing the expansion of the country’s power grid to what it is right now including the North-South loop and series of transmission sub-stations.
In the rest of infrastructure, President Jonathan modernized Nigeria’s rail system which had been comatose for nearly thirty years and started the present modernization scheme which was 68% completed on some lines. In other areas, President Jonathan made the greatest investment ever of any Nigerian leader by expanding access to education for our children by building 12 new Federal universities and established schools to mop up at least 35, 652 people in hundreds of modern Almajiri schools. He started the modernization of Nigeria’s airports to be consistent with our status and profile. By so doing, he pursued to turn such Nigerian cities as Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt to regional aviation hubs in West and Central Africa.
In less than half a dozen years, this leader performed so credibly in every other sector. He has raised the profile of Nigeria to the highest heights within the comity of nations. For this, all world leaders, all world leaders from Barack Obama to Tony Blair and Secretary General of the United Nations at the time, Ban Ki-moon, all saluted him with the loftiest epithets. to It is for this reason that at the age of 61, Nigerians on this occasion are celebrating him with applause, accolades and encomiums. This indeed is a life of greatness.
Nations, states and human communities, from the least sophisticated to the very complex, are the products of human endeavour and not the mystical design of angels. Since human society came into being, experts believe that 107 billion people have passed through the earth and today lie in their graves. Of this number, only a very few thousands could be said to be great men whose lifeworks, impact and legacies continue to reverberate in every succeeding generation.
The question that often plagues the mind of thinkers through countless generations is “why are some men great and others even if more engaging and hardworking are not as great?”. On this, William Shakespeare insists that it is man’s life actions, thought processes, decisions and efforts that ultimately decide our destiny. In other words, the supremacy of God has no doubt a role to play, but trusting in the divine and supernatural without engaging ourselves in working for our good is a way of deflecting the course of our lives from their proper direction.
In his dramatization, Roman noble man Cassius told his good friend Brutus in the play Julius Caesar when he stated thus “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
At 61, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s profile, stands towering, imposing and large, obviously a product of the inexplicable working of the divine. But he no doubt had also worked and worked out assiduously his own path and seems more prepared than ever to launch into the world.
Boladei Igali, PhD is a diplomat and award-winning author and administrator.