Is Goodluck Ebelemi Jonathan Nigeria’s strongest Leader ever?

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Mr and Mrs President

By John Okiyi Kalu

To properly do justice to this topic, I looked up the definition of leadership so as to appropriately position my thoughts on our current President, Goodluck Ebelemi Jonathan.

From Wikipedia, I found the following theory on leadership:
“Leadership is “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”. The leader may or may not have any formal authority. Students of leadership have produced theories involving traits, situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values, charisma, and intelligence, among others.” The common goal in the case of Nigeria will be to deliver dividends of democracy and ensure the continued corporate existence of Nigeria.


Another online source said ” Good leaders are made not born. If you have the desire and willpower, you can become an effective leader. Good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience (Jago, 1982).” Strong willpower is intimately associated with good leadership to the extent that some leaders are described as weak or strong depending on their perceived willpower. This quote from Warren Bennis is most appropriate to my thoughts that will soon be enunciated: “I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don’t think that’s quite it; it’s more like jazz. There is more improvisation.” Leadership is not synonymous with dealing with text book situations like water supply, electricity supply, building roads etc. Rather every leader must confront distractions that seek to prevent him or her from tackling those textbook issues.

While we are all in agreement that most Nigerian leaders have failed us, there is this thinking that while some were “strong” leaders, others could be termed “weak” leaders. In the Nigerian context, strong leaders are those who were able to impose their will on Nigerians and pushed through their agenda regardless of distractions. “Strong” leaders were not necessarily good leaders but rather those who were perceived by the people as strong willed. If all those we saw as strong leaders were good leaders we won’t be where we are today. Weak leaders, in the Nigerian context, are those who the people perceived as not being able to “stand the heat” of office and failed to impose their will on the people.

Let’s examine some of the “strong” and “weak” leaders of Nigeria and see how they confronted major distractions thrown at them.

1. General Yakubu Gowon was initially perceived to be “weak” when he mounted the leadership stool through the 1966 counter coup. But after supervising Nigeria’s “victory” over Biafra, his status changed, albeit temporarily, to that of a “strong” leader. He enjoyed this status until he was shoved aside by Murtala Muhammed through a military coup. Subsequently, the lingering image was that of a young ex-President carrying food at a UK higher institution and a “prayer warrior”. He never recovered from this image to date.

2. General Murtala Muhammed’s claim to strength as a leader started with his civil war “exploits”. He is known to have supervised the genocidal massacre of Biafran civilians at point blank range. There are still calls for his posthumous trial for the Asaba massacre, where he lined up unarmed civilians and executed them Idi Amin style. It was this “strong man” image he carried over to the office of Head of State and Commander in Chief. Amazingly, he was killed on the streets of Lagos like an ordinary civilian. He didn’t fire a shot in self defense and even his killer was not caught till months after. That an international airport was named after him and his face inserted into our N20 note speaks volumes of who we choose to make hero in Nigeria. In my view, his greatest achievement must have been the Asaba massacre. Does that merit such recognition and honor?

3. General Olusegun Obasanjo in his first coming as military Head of State was seen as a weak “proxy” Head of State. It is common knowledge that his second in command, General Shehu Musa Yaradua was in effective charge of the government. OBJ was known to virtually take permission from Yaradua before going to ease himself.
But in 1999, he was repackaged and presented to the electorate as the only “strong” leader that can stabilize the country after June 12 debacle. Students of history will again point to most of his early achievements being actually the products of the leadership abilities of his deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Most of the appointments were made by Alhaji Abubukar including the introduction of most members of the “young turks” like Nuhu Ribadu, El Rufai, Oby Ezekwesili etc. The stability of his first term was, in large part, creditable to Atiku. Obasanjo’s regime faced three major internal challenges and a look at how he managed those challenges should give insight to his “strength” as a leader. First was the Sharia crisis which he aptly described as political sharia. While that crisis consumed over 2000 Nigerian lives, President Obasanjo chose a “do nothing” course. He believed it will all go away, and he was partly right. It went away with over 2000 lives. The other crisis his regime faced was the beginning of the Niger Delta insurrection. With Kiama declaration and the agitation for self determination in the Niger Delta, Obasanjo’s response was to send the military to Odi to level the town, in response to the killing of 5 policemen by hoodlums. Most public affairs analysts agree that this singular act recruited thousands of Niger Delta youths for MEND. It emboldened them so much that by the time Obasanjo left in 2007, they had taken over most of the oil production facilities in that region and cut Nigeria’s oil production by as much as 25%. Will Obasanjo have bulldoze a Northern town if 5 policemen were killed? Boko Haram started on his watch. Finally, his greatest challenge as a “strong” leader came via his ambition to do a 3rd term against the constitutional limit of 2 terms. He failed woefully. Wherein lies his “strength”?

4. Alhaji Shehu Shagari is still seen as one of the “weakest” leaders ever in Nigeria. Even though his regime fought three “wars” and won. The Chadian rebels crisis, Cameroon’s Bakassi intransigence and the Maitatsine uprising. Yet he was seen as a man who couldn’t even control his cabinet members. That members of that regime stole so much of our resources that we virtually died as an economy is well documented. What is puzzling is that the President was said not to have been involved and/or didn’t know what was happening. Only the 1999-2007 Obasanjo regime out looted Shagari’s regime.
5. Even in the early days of Muhammed Buhari’s short lived military regime, the people saw his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, as the strong man. He was the strong face of the regime while Buhari was more or less a titular head. The way and manner that regime was toppled clearly shows the real weakness of the Commander in Chief. Self preservation is the most important sign of strength in a government. If you are a strong leader who cannot preserve your regime, I wonder. Palace coup without a single shot fired is not how to remove a “strong” man from power.

6. Was Babangida a strong leader? My personal view is that he alone was the past leader who was prepared for power. He appears to have worked deliberately to capture power. He was also sure footed in the application of power. His enemies were crushed, without mercy, by all possible means, while his friends were shielded at all cost. Of course, but for his failure to hand over to the winner of June 12 1993 elections, he could have been rated as the father of modern Nigeria. It took the determination of Nigerian people to remove him from power and even then, he “stepped aside” on his own terms and handed over to whom he chose. He made the most profound changes in form and structure of the Nigerian state and economy.

7. Chief Ernest Shonekan was never really in power. Let us excuse him.

8. General Sani Abacha, was strong armed in leadership but was so scared of his enemies that he hardly left Aso Rock through out his 5 years in power. His regime also perfected the act of assassination as a state policy. The way and manner he finally left power in a casket suggests a leader who could not even be protected in a “hole”. He lived and ruled in fear and his worst fear took him out.

9. Alhaji Umaru Musa Yaradua spent most of his Presidency fighting for his life. But he is also credited with some heroics like attacking and softening up Niger Delta militants before settling for a political solution. More like carrot and stick approach. He also dealt a decisive blow on Boko Haram. If only he had his health, he might well have been the best and the strongest. Whatever could have been couldn’t be and he left the stage worse than he met it.

Goodluck Ebelemi Jonathan doesn’t look like your typical “strong” leader. The first time I saw him (while he was Bayelsa governor) I came off with the feeling that the man was either a weakling or a poster child for humility. He was simply not like others in positions of power and cuts the image of a man who is satisfied with just being called His Excellency while allowing others to do as they please. Even his then deputy was more “gubernatorial” than him and appears to be the defacto governor. GEJ was the type of man who look like he can’t hurt a fly. I now strongly suspect that his perceived “weakness” have more to do with humility. He has faced more challenges than any other former Nigerian leader (possibly on same scale with Gowon). Goodluck Jonathan appears to have an unmatched inner strength that makes his adversaries underrate him at their peril. He has, in my, view showed more courage than others. Whether it is pushing for subsidy removal in the midst of Boko Haram’s challenge or carrying on with state matters unperturbed by the danger to himself or regime, GEJ showed courage. Am sure Abacha who holed up at Aso Villa for 5 years will be green with envy.

In the early days of his campaign for Presidency, I must confess, I never believed he could survive the heat of the Presidency for one month. I was wrong. First he confronted the powers that be in PDP and saw off the strong challenge from four of Nigeria’s most “feared” leaders. I wonder how many would have imagined the “timid” Otuoke fisherman literally retiring IBB, Atiku, Gusau and then Buhari from politics. In fact, when for the first time in Nigeria’s history a sitting President was stoned from one state to another in Northern Nigeria, I strongly recommended that he opts for proxy campaigns in the North while consolidating his Southern base. Not this “weak” Jonathan. He continued to campaign all over the North and visited all the 19 states of the North including the extremely hostile ones.

When Prof Jega made his false start to the elections of 2011, I thought the President will balk to avoid backlash. There were threats of violence and acts of violence that suggested that the elections will lead to sorrow, tears and blood. In recent history of Nigeria, the charged atmosphere would have been enough to cancel the elections or topple the government. But the President went ahead with the elections.

As the result of the polls started tilting towards his victory, hell was let loose. Even without the official result being announced by INEC. The streets of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa etc were littered with dead bodies of national youth corp members and Igbos. There was blood in the desert sands of Nigeria. The demands of the rioters/killers were simple; “we will not accept Jonathan as President of Nigeria”. There were fears that the military might be forced to return to stabilize the country. The President stood firm, appealed for calm and reason to prevail as well as mobilized the security forces to restore order. Contrary to the expectations of the sponsors of the pogrom, INEC went ahead to announce Goodluck Ebelemi Jonathan as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has survived the second attempt at making the “country ungovernable”.

But there was more to come from the source of the post election violence. Boko Haram, which was seemingly decimated by Yaradua, rose from the dead and became Africa’s deadliest terrorist group. From attacking the police in Maiduguri, they graduated to bombing the headquarters of Nigeria Police Force and United Nations at Abuja. Bombs were exploding like xmas fireworks or bangers. Anarchy became anarchical in Northern Nigeria. All manner of doomsday theories emerged. But the President’s response was calm, if not subdued. He continued to carry out his duties as if “nothing dey happen”. He saw the emerging terror as part of a global trend. He tried to strengthen our anti-terror infrastructure starting with the basics-registration of GSM phone owners. Deployment of electronic terror fighting infrastructure continued quietly across the federation. Unbiased observers must have realized how little past regimes did to prepare us for the inevitable spread of Islamic fundamentalism to our country.

But his government’s enemies will not relent. They want war and anarchy. The “final solution” will be to start a civil/religious war by targeting Igbos and Christians in an unprecedented orgy of massacre and genocide. Churches were bombed, terrorists went house to house to isolate and kill Igbos. Even street demonstrations were held in support of terrorists in Kano. The President was unfazed. Even before the bombs stopped exploding in Kano, the President arrived Kano against security advice. He was later to show up in Sokoto regardless of a subsisting threat by terrorists to bomb Sokoto. To date, analyst cannot explain how the President got the Igbo nation to refuse to be provoked into retaliation and war. Some believe that the maturity of Igbo leaders and youths were largely responsible for the country not rapidly descending into abyss. Whatever may be the case, the calm response of the President have ensured the continuing existence of Nigeria.

Today, the terrorists are on the verge of losing the war. Suddenly their sponsors are drumming up support for “political settlement” aka amnesty. Two field commanders of Boko Haram are in custody as well as one of their major protectors in the police force. Their capacity to unleash maximum mayhem is progressively being downgraded. Of course they will still drop bombs here and there. But they’ve lost the momentum. Their sponsors are in trouble and know it is only a matter of time before they are exposed and captured. More and more will call for “dialogue” and deals will be cut in numbers. Already, some of his opponents in the last elections are joining his government through the back door. The inevitability of victory of Jonathan over Boko Haram is now starring them in the face.

In the past, I have considered the question of who really is a strong man. Is it the man you slap and he slaps back or the man you slap and he summons all the strength in him to restrain himself from slapping back? Most men who resort to violence as first response are real weaklings, in my view. True strength lies in restraining your self from retaliating in kind but rather plan your actions and cripple the enemy permanently. George Bush with all his show of cow boy strength never got Osama or won any of his many wars. Obama with his careful planning and subtlety killed Osama and decimated the rank of Alquida leadership. He removed Libya’s Ghadafi without seeming to be involved. Two other dictators were removed and one is on the way out. Everything “strong” Bush dream of doing were done by a “weak” Obama without breaking any sweat. Obviously Obama is stronger than Bush as a leader.

Is Goodluck Jonathan Nigeria’s strongest leader? Historians will surely be inclined to answer in the affirmative if he defeats Boko Haram, give Nigeria stable power supply and build 5 new refineries. The icing will be national conference and voluntarily handing over power in 2015 regardless of an expected parochial call to “complete his constitutionally guaranteed second term”. The President must bring his inner strength to bear in resisting those who will “earnestly ask” for Jona to continue beyond 2015.

1 COMMENT

  1. MY DEAR MR.JOHN KALU,I REALLY LIKE THE LAST PART OF YOUR ANALYSIS OF OUR PAST LEADERS(GEJ) EVEN THOUGH YOU DID NOT START FROM THE BEGINING OF OUR EXISTENCE AS A UNIFIED COUNTRY,AS YOU MUST HAVE KNOWN THAT NIGERIA WAS ALMAGAMATED AND NAMED NIGERIA IN 1914,THAT MEANS NIGERIA WILL BE 100 YRS OLD IN 2014!.FOR THOSE OF US WHO BELIEVE IN ONE NIGERIA AND FOUGHT FOR HER SURVAL ,IT WAS A TASK THAT MUST BE AND IT WAS DONE AND I DONE CARE WHOSE HORSE WAS GORED AND I ABHORE THOSE WHO ARE CALLING FOR SNC OR REFRENDUM ON NIGERIA UNITY.I DEEM THOSE WHO ARE CALLING FOR THIS SNC AS NOT BEEING TRUE PATRIOTS INCLUDING WOLE SOYINKA,BAKARE AND OTHERS(I know a lot of people will like to shoot at me for saying this,but it doesn’t really matter!)IF YOU REALLY LOVE NIGERIA AFTER 96 YRS YOU WILL NEVER BE CALLING FOR NIGERIA’S BREAKUP.IF LOVED ANYTHING YOU WILL NEVER WANT IT TO BREAK!!.THERE IS NO COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THAT IS PERFECT,I HAVE LIVED HERE IN CANADA FOR OVER 40 YRS AND I KNEW WHAT HAPPENED WHEN QUEBEC PROVINCE WAS TRYING TO BREAK UP BUT THE TRUE CANADIANS FOUGHT AGAINST IT WITH ALL THEIR MIGHTS.BY THE GRACE OF GOD NIGERIA WILL NEVER BREAK UP.THIS YOUR ARTICLE WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY GREAT IF YOU HAVE NOT INCLUDED SOME BIAS BECAUSE YOU ARE AN IGBO MAN BUT I FORGIVE YOU BECAUSE WE ARE ALL HUMANS AND EVERYONE HAS HIS/HER OWN BIAS TOO.I WAS IN THE N.A.F. IN 1967 WHEN THE CIVIL WAR STARTED,IT WAS A TERRIBLE WAR WHICH WAS CAUSED BY A LOT OF OUR BIASES.I DO NOT WANT TO GO MUCH INTO BECAUSE I KNOW MUCH ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SIGNAL CENTRE THAN SOME PEOPLE.MAY BE IF WE HAVE LEFT THESE BIASES OUT OF THE MILITARY COUP OF 1966 MAY BE THERE WOULD NOT BE ANY NEED FOR THE SECOND RETALIATERY COUP WHICH WAS WHY SOME LEADERS WHICH THE COUP PLOTTERS HAVE AGREED TO ELIMINATE WERE LEFT OUT WITHOUT BEEN ELIMINATED.IT IS NOT QUITE SIMPLE FOR ANY ONE OUT OF THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE TO UNDERSTAND THAN THOSE OF US WHO KNEW ACTUALLY WHAT HAPPENED,IT IS VERY EASY FOR EVERYBODY TO SPECULATE WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COUP OF 1966,THERE ARE ENOUGH BLAMES TO GO AROUND FOR OUR BIASES AND SELFISHNESS.
    I AM A VERY GOOD BELIEVER IN GOODLUCK JONATHAN AND YET I AM NOT A PDP MAN ,I DON’T BELONG TO NO PARTY,I AM A NATIONALIST PERIOD!.I AM VERY SURE THAT GEJ’S HUMILITY WILL SEE US THROUGH,NIGERIA WILL SURVIVE.GEJ HAS SCORED SO HIGH AMONG EVERY NIGERIA LEADERS,I KNOW HE IS PERFECT BUT HE HAS DONE WONERFULLY WELL SO FAR. THERE IS NO PERSON WITH ANY FAULT,HE IS NOT WITHOUT A FAULT,HE IS HUMAN,AFTERALL IS NOT THE ONE WHO CREATED ALL THESE PROBLEMS OF AGE LONG NEGLECTS,HE IS ONLY TRYING TO FIX THESE PROBLEMS AND HE IS NOT A MAGICIAN.ENOUGH IS ENOUGH FOR HIS BLAME GEJ HAS TRIED SO FAR,I AM PROUD OF HIM.LET’S GIVE HIM OUR FULL SUPPORT.LONG LIVE NIGERIA.

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