Goodluck Jonathan: A Personal Encounter

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare

Early in 2007, Nigeria’s current Acting President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, then as the Acting Governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State, rode into the premises of NTA 2 Channel 5 Victoria Island, Lagos, for an interview on the set of the popular One-on-One, a personality programme with the hard-talking Bayo Adewusi as the anchor. He was devoid of the usual bedlam and frenzied appearances that heralded such visits by politicians who has been guest on the programme.

Dr Goodluck Jonathan convoy rolled into the premises unnoticed. With a few aides in tow, he headed straight for a courtesy visit to the office of the General Manager of the station Mallam Yusuf Jibo and later ended up in the office of the then Manager Programmes Ola Fajemisin, a consummate broadcaster and a mentor. He casually entered the office with his aid-de-camp and a few personal aides. He shook hands with all present in the room and sat on the Spartan couch provided for guests.

I was present in the room and had the opportunity of observing from close quarters for about forty five minutes, a man who later turned out to be Nigeria’s number two citizen and now on a verge of history as the number one man. Unlike previous politicians that had passed through that same room, Dr Goodluck Jonathan sat unobtrusively in the same position for almost forty five minutes and spoke calmly to the manager without expressing any agitation or anger for having to wait for a little longer for the television interview to begin.

Unlike other politicians that I had observed at close quarters in the same room, he came in without the usual noise and razzmatazz associated with such visits where several sirens blaring cars, scores of aides and gun wielding security agents will make life uncomfortable for lesser mortals. In the room, his aides did not ask a few of us they met to leave. He just sat and exchanged banters with us without any airs. From conversation he had with a few of us in the room on that day, it was easy to see why our current Acting President was able to ride the crest of history and the turbulent political terrain to his current position as the number citizen.

A position he has assumed without the intrigues and unnecessary power mongering associated with politicians. In the room, Dr Goodluck Jonathan bantered and at other times spoke seriously, in spite of the flu that had rendered his voice inaudible, about his desires and wish for the Nigerian nation and the youth which he said was dear to his heart. You had to strain your ears to listen to the soft spoken politician who was almost dwarfed by his environment.

Coming into the room you would hardly notice him as he sat calmly on the couch. He almost disappeared into the room environment. As he waited patiently for the interview to begin, he exchanged some thought provoking and useful discussions with us.

These off hand discussions would later provide insights into the character and the working of the mind of Dr Jonathan. He spoke of the need to remove bitterness from politics and he insisted that politics should not be a do-or-die affair. I remembered vividly that he spoke of his intention to return to his first love, which was imparting knowledge at the River State University of Science and Technology when he quits as the Acting Governor. He also spoke passionately of his quest to make the newly founded Delta State University a centre of excellence for research and knowledge.

He answered all the questions thrown at him without attempting to find a way round them which is a normal trait of politicians. Dr Jonathan made a useful point that politics was not the only means of contributing to nation building. He told us to contribute our little quota to the nation’s growth and that there are people who are doing a lot to help the country grow who are not in politics.

He lamented the pressure put on politicians by people who has a warped perception that politicians are meant to “share money”. He admonished us to use his life as an example of anything is possible no matter how impoverished a background you come from. He was a profoundly humble man.

I monitored his One-on-One interview with the hard hitting Bayo Adewusi from the Manager’s office and Dr Jonathan’s Goodluck responses to the questions were down to earth, candid and straight talking. In later years when I reflected on my less than one hour lucky meet with Dr Godluck, I concluded that like William Shakespeare, that indeed “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life, Is bound in shallows and in miseries”.

Yes, Dr Goodluck Jonathan has unknowingly taken his tide at the flood and which has now led to good fortune. Unlike other overtly ambitious politicians of his time who thought power is got by throwing money around like drunken pirates. The political odyssey of Dr Jonathan is the type fairy tale is made.

From the obscure position of a powerless Deputy Governor in the oil-rich Bayelsa State where he was at the shadow and mercy of the crumbs falling from the table of the self-acclaimed Governor-General of the Ijaw Nation Diepriye Alamiesigha to the Acting President of the most populous black nation on earth, no similar story told in recent times could have had a happier ending, except may be for President Obama’s roller coaster win to the White House.

Dr Jonathan Goodluck sojourn to the sit of power at the nation’s capital is unprecedented in our nation’s political history given the politics and the bitter fight for the position during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s era. The position he occupies today was bitterly contested for by Alhaji Abubakar Atiku. The scar of the rivalry between the two political gladiators of that time Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku is yet to heal.

This is also not to forget the vain efforts of Peter Odili, the erstwhile Governor of River State who transverse the whole country, spending billions of Naira in search of phantom supporters for his quest for the diadem. His painful disappointment was the ultimate lesson in wild goose chase and the stuff inordinate ambition is made of. There were also countless of politicians who expressed interests in leading the country until the hands of fate thrusts Dr Jonathan into the position of a Vice President to an ailing President Yardua in the 2007 elections, a position the likes of Peter Odili would crawl and swoon to have. Dr Goodluck did not believe his luck.

But he was a man of history. Now the man from the creeks of the delta sits as the number one citizen of his country. It does not matter if Dr Jonathan occupies that position for one month and his performance as an Acting President is another matter altogether. The most astonishing and confounding tale is his fairy tale journey to the position of a President rather that the seat itself in a nation where politicians would do the unimaginable to attain power.

Dr Jonathan’s calm mien during President Yardua’s absence further confirmed my observation of him in the 2007 NTA encounter as a man with a calm mien that is contented and not overtly ambitious, letting event and fate decide a course of action that is beyond his control. A loyal deputy who stood by his principal till the very end until waves of public opinion put an end to the seventy eight days debacle.

Already, President Goodluck Jonathan’s fairy tale political journey culminated happily, scripted to a story book ending. He certainly will occupy expansive space in the hall of fame of the political history of Nigeria. Who knows? When the time comes for an elected President from the Niger Delta, his “good luck&#8

221; may yet shine a million times again. Did I hear you still ask, what’s in a name?

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