by Bayo Olupohunda
Since the March 28 presidential election in which the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan lost and conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, the President has been hailed as deserving the Mo Ibrahim Prize for governance. While his supporters, carried away by the euphoria of the moment, hyped him as deserving the Nobel Prize! Not quite.
While I strongly believe that President Jonathan deserves his place in the sun for conceding defeat and averting the possibility of Nigeria being plunged into violence, I seriously doubt if he is qualified for any of the prizes given the criteria for bestowing such awards. By conceding defeat even before the final official result was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, the President is thought to have prevented elements in his region who had vowed to go to war if he is not returned to power. His concession is thought to have prevented them from carrying out the threat.
Indeed, given the violent rhetoric that had heralded the 2015 elections, the general perception was that the outcome of the election would definitely signal the end of the country as it had been predicted by several reports among which, the United States Intelligence Council, “Mapping sub-Saharan African” stood out. In 2005, the report had predicted that Nigeria would break up given the intractable ethnic, religious and multifarious fault lines that have blighted its peaceful co-existence and pushed the country to the brink; a possibility that had been heightened by the 2015 elections.
The prediction was almost coming to pass given the fear-mongering and violence that had characterised the campaigns until the President’s concession. To underscore the significance of Jonathan’s concession, the proprietor of the Mo Ibrahim award, business mogul Mo Ibrahim, had lavished praises on the outgoing President, for delivering on his promise of a free and fair presidential election, and graciously accepting the outcome even as it led to the truncating of his second term ambition. This special recognition of Jonathan by the proprietor of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has raised the hopes of those who believe he deserves receiving the respected prize for governance. But the criteria for awarding the prize go beyond just conceding to an electoral defeat. It is far more rigorous.
The prize celebrates African heads of government who perform commendably in office and do not seek to entrench themselves in power. It grants the recipient $5million over 10 years and guarantees a lifetime payment of $200,000 thereafter. The most recent winner of the prize is Namibia’s former President Hifikepunye Pohamba, internationally acclaimed for strengthening his country’s democratic values and socio-economic equality. He was also praised for reducing the poverty rate among the rural poor. President Jonathan, by ensuring credible polls and submitting to their outcomes even when they hurt his re-election chances, satisfies the basic criteria for the award.
However, he falls short in several critical factors that may put him at the same level as statesmen who had been rewarded with the lifetime achievement award. While the Nigerian president stands out in enabling, or, at least, not inhibiting, the advancement of Nigeria’s democratic culture, he has failed to achieve the same impact in several other sectors of the society in the years he presided over the affairs of the country. These sectors- primarily — the economy and security — may deny him the award. In truth, the President’s concession may have shifted the violent direction the country was headed; it still does not qualify him to be so rewarded.
While it is not my intention to belittle the concession by Jonathan, a rare gesture in our clime, I am of the view that by conceding defeat in an election in which he was clearly beaten, President Jonathan only ensured a soft landing for himself knowing he has performed dismally in office. It was a smart move by a President, who, aware that the judgment of history may not be too kind on his performance in office quickly chose to temper any future negative assessment of his stewardship by conceding defeat. Observers of Jonathan’s administration have also pointed out that the President, disillusioned by criticisms and overwhelmed by the demands of office, was just too happy to leave, a fact the President himself alluded to when he said he was happy to be out of the “cage” for 16 years.
The Mo Ibrahim award for which Jonathan is thought to be a contender is not just for leaders who voluntarily quit power. According to Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the “prize also recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted their people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity.” But it is in the critical factor of good governance, that President Jonathan falls short. The President’s record in office in the last four years — primarily the economy and security – may deny him a Mo Ibrahim’s prize, if he becomes a candidate.
President Jonathan’s rebasing of the economy, which made Nigeria as Africa’s largest economy, helped to drive investors’ interest in the country. But, despite the increased flow of foreign direct investment, his administration was unable to match economic growth with development. Also, according to the World Bank statistics, about 100 million Nigerians fell into poverty under his watch. The President has been accused of wastefulness and profligacy, evidence of which is his government’s inability to save during the years of oil boom. Jonathan’s image is also hard hit by massive allegations of corruption involving members of his cabinet, corporations and parastatals under his direct supervision. These issues, joined by the unsolved problem of power, massive unemployment, and widening socio-economic inequality, deny him the economic legacy that would have pushed his case for the Mo Ibrahim prize.
As with the economy, Jonathan, despite spending hugely, struggled to develop the security apparatus of the country in the face of terrorist attacks and incessant kidnapping by Boko Haram and bandits across the country. His government’s inability to ensure peace and stability, as well as accusations of its insensitivity to the plight of victims of terror, like the Chibok girls, who have still not been found, led to popular disaffection with his rule. As proved by his defeat, not even the military’s recent triumphs against the Boko Haram insurgents have shed the perception of him as an incompetent president.
As pointed out earlier, while Jonathan’s inability to stem insecurity will be a stumbling block to his consideration for the Mo Ibrahim prize, his calm reaction to the result of the tense election and strong invocation for his supporters to accept the victory of his rival, averted a post-election violence — in the scale of 2011, and made him a legend in Nigeria’s history books. This singular act is Jonathan’s biggest bragging right for the prize. But will it be enough? Although he has received local and international commendations for his election acts, it is doubtful that they will win him the award. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has a reputation of awarding its prize to leaders with salient and incontrovertible record of good and effective governance; the reason only five leaders have received the prize in its nine years of existence.
– this Best Outside Opinion was written by Bayo Olupohunda/Punch. Follow this writer on twitter: @bayoolupohunda