Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s tenure as the President of Nigeria ended on May 29, 2015 against his wish. Yes, wanted to stay longer like so many other African Presidents, at least to complete another four-year term in office. Jonathan was not successful in the attempt. As such, the academic-turned Otueke-born politician has vacated the presidential villa for the Daura-born politician who was inaugurated as the President same day as Jonathan’s tenure ended. It is true that Jonathan has returned to Otueke, nevertheless, one thing that seems to resonate with Nigerians about him was the phone call he made to Nigeria’s new President, Muhammadu Buhari while the ballots were still being counted after a keenly-contested election.
That phone call from Jonathan to Buhari was for dual purpose. First was to concede defeat as well as to congratulate the winner-a practice not popular in Nigeria’s 16 years of democratic governance experience.
President Buhari was not expecting it, and it was quite obvious from the way and manner he answered the call. Those who were with Buhari told me that it was a golden and memorable moment when the call came in, and so they did not waste any time to record it for future reference.
Jonathan’s phone call was less than 2 minutes. Does it really matter how long it was? Does it matter if it was made from NITEL’s analogue landline or made from the latest technology in smart phone? Does it matter if it was made in the morning, noon or night time? Does it matter if it was made from the sitting room or from the bed room? Does it matter if it made from Otueke, Daura or Abuja? Does it matter if it was made in Ijaw, Hausa or even Nigeria’s pidgin? Whatever was Jonathan’s motivation does not really matter at this point, because it is irreversible and irretrievable.
Many donor organisations invested huge resources to ensure a hitch-free elections in 2015 Nigeria’s election. Many diplomats were involved in advocacy visits to the principal actors. Some Nigeria’s former Presidents were involved in the election diplomacy and were able to have Jonathan and Buhari, sign a peaceful poll accord, not just once. Christians prayed, Muslims prayed, and other religious adherents prayed for peaceful elections. Several media aired and published peaceful election messages, while some others took sides.
However, while all these were happening, those whose businesses thrive in conflict were instigating more violence so that there will be post-election violence. Some other groups were putting up their legal fireworks and counting the millions they will make from legal battle that might fall out.
The weeks leading to the elections, Nigerians were deeply divided along political line, the Pro-Jonathans and the Pro-Buharis and the tension was very high. The hate campaigns were intense and Nigerians were fidgeting. Some Nigerians went on self-exile, while some travelled from their place of residence to place of origin for fear of the post-election violence. Business slowed down, weddings and other engagements post-poned so that the election will pass by. Nigerian witnessed post-election violence in previous elections, where several lives and property were lost, and so do not want a repeat which could be worse due to intense hate campaigns. As the ballots were being collated, the fear increased. Palpable fear gripped both Jonathan’s and Buhari’s supporters as figures trickled in. What caused post-election violence in previous elections, were “I no go gree.” Nigerians were not sure whether each actor would concede defeat. The nation was at a standstill!
When the figures, seemed to tilt in favour of Buhari, then came the phone call; the call that averted post-election violence. Indeed, Nigeria is expected to be at war or probably disintegrated by now, going by many permutations and prophecies. Fortunately, it was averted-narrowly!
Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati while speaking to BBC few days after Jonathan made the call said; “…at the point he (Jonathan) saw that the thing (ballot-counting) will go the other way, he told all of us that it looks like the thing (election) is over…”
A behavioural psychologist, Dr. Joe told me that, “since the call was not pre-concieved, Jonathan did not know the significance of the call at the time he made it. Although it was an ordinary call, yet it had extra-ordinary impact locally and globally because Nigeria’s neighbours could not have coped with the refugee crises from Africa’s most populous nation, if the election turned sour,” he concluded.
The call had ripple effect. It spurred some Governors who equally lost their election or re-election bid to make the #JonathanPhonecall. However, some of them were not as fortunate as Jonathan because their phone calls were ignored by would-be recipients.
That singular call seemed to have secured pardon for some of the ills of Jonathan’s administration. It brought honour to Jonathan, diffused political tension in Nigeria, and made those who went into self-exile return, those who relocated to places of origin to return to their places of residence, restored investors’ confidence, pushed the Naira up amongst others. It was a great call!
While commending Jonathan over his phone call, after receiving handover note from Jonathan, President Buhari said:
“…the telephone call you made (to me) changed the course of Nigeria’s political history. For that, you have earned yourself a place in our history, for stabilising this system of multi-party democracy system and you have earned the respect of not only Nigerians but world leaders. All the leaders that spoke to me and congratulated us for arriving at the point we arrived, mentioned this and I could understand, a lot of relief in their voices that Nigeria has made it after all and this is largely owed to a situation you made possible. If you (Jonathan) had attempted to make things difficult, you could have made things difficult and that would have been at the expense of lives of poor Nigerians, but you chose the part of honour and may God help all of us. Thank you very much your excellency.”
A passenger who boarded a cab with me suggested that “that phone that Jonathan used to call Buhari should be kept in the museum as a memorial.”
What a phone call! What a singular action that brought collective gain!! I hope that Jonathan did not delete Buhari’s phone number after the call? Well, I do not know what would have happened, if the phone call was for a different purpose, you would not be reading this narrative in such a relaxed manner. Whatever the case, Goodluck to Goodluck as he enjoys his retirement from public life!