Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States of America. He was in office from April 12, 1945 until January 20, 1953. At various times in his life, he was a farmer, an artillery soldier, a county court judge, and a US Senator. He was also the unseen, the voiceless and lowly-regarded vice president under the highly-regarded Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After the death of FDR, and upon becoming the president, Truman became his own man — steering the ship of state like an old hand, defying pessimistic expectations.
Instead of a footnote in American history, Truman went on to become a major player in domestic and global politics. Today, even as his reputation rises and falls in the polls — as is the case with all former presidents — Truman, in general, is highly regarded by the American public and by historians. His place in history, and in presidential ranking, has been steadily good: A fellow almost no one expected much of, went on to become one of the most impressive presidents of the twentieth century.
But of course, such is life — more so in the political arena. There have been times when so much is expected of a leader, but he or she accomplishes less or becomes a mediocre or even a total disappointment. At other times, a supposed pedestrian rises to become a star, a high-achiever. Such ironies abound in all corners of the world. Other than Truman, think Gowon; and then think of Babangida and Obasanjo.
General Yakubu Dan-Yumma Gowon was a 32-year old military officer when the weight of the nation was placed on his shoulders. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he was not a braggart, a brute, or bloodguilt. He spoke and acted like a gentleman. In another time or place, he would have been a monk or a priest ensconced in a monastery. General Gowon successfully prosecuted the 1967/70 civil war without bankrupting or undoing the nation. Say what you may about his three failings, no other President or Head of State has been half as good. He was also a first-rate soldier.
At the time Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999, he was already an ex-president, a military general, a war hero, a diplomat, and a highly regarded member of many domestic and international organizations. Because he was so well regarded he almost became the Secretary General of the United Nations. At the time he assumed the presidency, he was more prepared than most presidents in the developing world. Regrettably, President Obasanjo became one of the most incompetent leaders in the history.
Obasanjo’s years in office is seen by the majority as a waste. A colossal waste. Ibrahim Babangida was another such man. From the minute he occupied Dodan Barracks, he endeared himself to the populace by saying and doing the right things: He surrounded himself with men and women who seemed competent; and took preliminary actions that indicated he was the right man at the right time for the people and for the country. He promised this and he promised that. In the end, at Aso Rock, he could neither do this nor do that. What he did — and was very good at — was to dismantle or weaken private and public institutions, encourage and institutionalize corruption and brothelize the state and her servants. Almost two decades after he left office, the pain and the suffering he bequeathed the country have not lessened. Along with General Sani Abacha, these men raped and plundered Nigeria and its people.
Frankly, not much was expected of Truman and Gowon, but history and posterity credits both men with some remarkable achievements. The world was expected of Obasanjo and Babangida, but they failed, disappointed us. In a few weeks or in a few months, we may again have a new man at the helm of affairs in Nigeria. Is he going to be a Truman, a Gowon; or he is going to be a jackass in the manner of Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida? We don’t know. No one really knows. Not now anyway. All we can do is take a critical look at his antecedent, his worldview and his leadership style. Others have assembled a psychological profile.
This is a man who, basically, has been a team-player: Never rocking the boat, never allowing his personal ambition to overshadow the agreed upon programs; never scheming to outs his boss; or planting seeds of dissatisfaction within the team. Goodluck Jonathan is not an Abubakar Atiku. He was not a Kofo Bucknor Akerele. He was not and is not a deputy who undercuts, undermines or plans palace coups. He is said to be a thorough bred who is well versed in the art of cooperation, peace, unity and prosperity. Even so, his sense of loyalty does not endear him to cut-throat politicians. This is seen as a crime.
His psychological profile also reveals a man who possesses traits that are sought after, and well-suited, to advanced political systems. But unfortunately, these characteristics are considered signs of weakness and do him no good in Nigeria. The vast majority of Nigerians see him as weak and/or spineless. Those outside of his political circle see him as a pushover. He is not. He is seen as a man without a distinct political ambition. They are wrong. What’s more, he is not a fatalist by any stretch of the imagination. It is true that he is a born-again Christian, an unwavering believer in the teachings of the Holy Bible; still, he is not a man you think little of. You do so at your own risk.
One of the things we tend to forget — of which I was also guilty of — is that Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has not really been given the opportunity to formulate and execute his own independent policies. He had a short window of opportunity as a Governor, but really, that was what it really was: a short window of opportunity. It was not enough to see a full demonstration of his ability and competence. In the weeks since President Yar’Adua left for Saudi Arabia, we see a Vice President who is calm, level-headed, and devoid of unsavory political plotting even as his critics and competitors shoot at him.
Come to think of it: who is afraid of G.E Jonathan? Who is afraid of the Vice President acting as or becoming the President of Nigeria? Who? Why? The Nigerian Constitution, as imperfect as it may be, is the nation’s guiding light. It tells us and shows us the right path. The Constitution is not for show, it is not a lifeless document. As an emerging democracy, we must obey its spirit and its letters. There is no need for political vacuum. There is no need for wild speculations and all the political machinations that have come to characterize the Abuja political landscape. What is right is right; and the right thing is for him to be sworn in as the acting President or as the bona fide President of Nigeria.
G.E Jonathan, as his psychological profile shows, may turn out to be another Truman. Harry S. Truman was good for his country and for the international community. Or perhaps G.E Jonathan will turn out to be another Yakubu Gowon. Gowon too was good for Nigeria and for the global community. The aforesaid is the least we expect of Goodluck Jonathan. It is the least we expect because all signs points to a man capable of great things and in the process exceeding all expectations.