When TIME magazine released a list of its 100 most influential people, the world stopped to listen.
For Nigerians, most are fully aware of the expectations since President Muhammadu Buhari received the people's mandate on May 29.
At the same time, many have celebrated the gracious concession of former President Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28 elections. But, the lingering question is whether former President Goodluck Jonathan fits into Nigeria’s consciousness as a man of progressive influence, despite his absence from the TIME magazine list.
The list featured four Nigerians, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of the renowned novel ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, Obiageli Ezekwesili, the former Minister of Education and campaigner of ‘Bring Back our Girls’, Abubukar Shekau, military leader of Nigeria’s terrorist group Boko Haram and President General Muhammadu Buhari.
President Jonathan was described by ‘The Economist’ magazine as a ‘failed president’, a statement which although popular before the election, may now appear too critical following his peaceful concession. Jonathan’s rise to power once had the quality of an African folktale - a man sent to save the nation. In a tale of grass to grace, he transitioned from a university teacher to the most powerful man in Africa’s most populous nation. But today, his story is recast as the story of a man whose legacy is close to failure.
Nevertheless, his absence from the TIME magazine list is salient because it may indicate our own failure to appreciate the true value of peaceful leadership. Nigerian politics is famed for its guerilla warfare and political tussle, resulting in seven coups, political violence and tension each time the nation goes to the ballot box. Despite precedent, Jonathan’s loss was conceded in a manner unknown to the politics of its time, and worthy of some commendation.
Critics may argue that it is the standards of Nigerians that have dropped, allowing them to celebrate an act which is common in most developed countries. Those critics fail to realise that this is Nigeria. A nation which notoriously fails to imitate practices in Western nations, hence making the norm an exception.
Many of the same Nigerians who now decry the low standards of governance the polity is accustomed to, again fail to appreciate the political realities of Nigeria. In 2011, Buhari’s loss to Jonathan was followed by the loss of hundreds of lives in post-election violence and riots - a dodged bullet in 2015.
There is no significant precedent in Nigerian political history which replicates the concession Jonathan made, and this should not be forgotten. In 1966, power was taken forcefully by the coups of Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and Major General Aguiyi Ironsi. In 1993, the infamous annulment of the June 12th elections stirred the nation. Even the civilian government of Olusegun Obasanjo reeled under the third term agenda in the lead up to the 2007 elections. Yet Jonathan did not repeat history, instead, he changed its course.
With the sort of animosity that had been built up on both sides of the political spectrum, there is little reason to believe that Jonathan did not avert a major disaster in Nigeria’s history. One that would have cost the south-south and south-east zones more than they may have been willing to offer to the electoral process.
Jonathan does not need to be immortalized as a hero, nor overly celebrated. But, he deserves some recognition as one of Nigeria’s peaceful leaders. Nevertheless, if the international community will not recognize him as one, we have the option of remembering him as our local statesman.