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‘I handed over a Nigeria that produced the richest man in Africa’ – Goodluck Jonathan

Former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, on Friday, stated that democracy will continue to grow in the African continent if leaders ‘value the process (of elections) more than the product of the process.’

Jonathan stated this while speaking to Friends of Africa coalition at the Mayor’s office in Newark, New Jersey, on topics bordering on strengthening democracy and elections.

The former President also highlighted some of the achievements of his administration as well as his reasons for respecting the will of the people when he lost election.

Speaking on the 2015 general election, which he lost to the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan said: “Even in the 2015 general elections in my country, Nigeria, there was potential for major crisis if I was not a President duly elected by the will of the people.”

“The campaigns leading to the elections almost polarized the country into Christian v Muslims and North v South divide. Most World leaders were worried that our elections will result into major crisis. Some pundits even from here in the United States said that those elections would spell the end of Nigeria and that we would cease to exist as a nation because of the polls.”

“That is where the leadership question comes into play. As a leader that was duly elected by the people, I considered the people’s interest first. How do I manage my people to avoid killings and destruction of properties? With the interest of the people propelling all the decisions I took, we were able to sail through.”

“Indeed, we sail through because I refused to interfere with the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, having appointed a man I had never met in my life to run it. My philosophy was simple. For elections to be credible, I as a leader, must value the process more than the product of the process. And the citizens must have confidence in the electoral body.”

“This rule of the law of process ensured that Nigeria’s peace, prosperity and progress was not derailed by the conduct and results of the 2015 elections and I am proud to say that while I took over a Nigeria that was the second largest economy in Africa with a GDP of $270.5 billion in 2009, I handed over a Nigeria that had grown to become the largest economy in Africa and the 24th largest economy in the World with a GDP of $574 billion.”

“I inherited a Nigeria in which the trains were not working, and handed over a Nigeria in which citizens can safely travel by trains again. I inherited a Nigeria that was a net importer of cement, and handed over a Nigeria that is a net exporter of cement. In 2009 the richest Nigerian was the 5th richest man in Africa, but I handed over a Nigeria that produced the richest man in Africa.”

“These are but a few of the parameters that illustrate some of the economic transformations we engineered during my term in office. This was made possible by the fact that there was a stable political leadership in Nigeria that did not have to pander to any other constituency except the electorate who brought me to power. And these actions have a contagious effect.”

“Perhaps because of what we achieved in Nigeria, our next door neighbor, Benin Republic, last month replicated what President Mathieu Kerekou did in 1991, that is to organize and conduct free and fair elections that led to the victory of opposition candidate Patrice Talon.”

“Once again, I must commend my friend, the incumbent and outgoing President of Benin Republic, President Thomas Boni Yayi, for his statesmanlike conduct during and after the elections.”

On leadership in Africa and the need for African leaders to respect rule of law and the will of the people, the former Nigerian President stated that:

“In my country, Nigeria, I am known for my refrain of ‘One man one vote, one woman one vote and one youth one vote’. I am also known for the mantra – ‘My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.’

“Not only am I known for these, I have tried to exemplify this stand throughout my political life. Some of you may have heard of that great Nigerian novelist, the late Professor Chinua Achebe.”

“In his 1983 book, The Trouble With Nigeria, he had concluded and said “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership’. Achebe could just as well have said then that ‘the trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a failure of leadership’. Dr. John C Maxwell, one of the leading leadership and management writers once said ‘everything rises and falls on leadership’.”

“This corroborates Professor Chinua Achebe’s statement. But why do we have to look at these two statements? You see, if everything rises and falls on leadership and if the problem with Africa is leadership, then the solution to that problem and the renaissance of Africa, will only come if we get leadership right and the only way we can get leadership right is by perfecting the law of process by which leaders are chosen and that process is only ensured through free, fair and credible elections.”

“In 1983 when Achebe wrote those words, more than 60% of African countries were being governed by non democratically elected leaders or what you may term rulers or dictators. These were people in authority who owed their positions to either the barrel of a gun or, to some extent, the manipulation of the electoral processes by themselves or sometimes with the aid of external forces. And because the process that threw them up as leaders did not flow through the people, they naturally administered their governments to first and foremost serve the constituencies that brought them to power.”

“The result was that though many of these nations were not at war during the 80s, they devoted the lion’s share of their budgets to the military for regime protection and not on the economy, infrastructure or the social sector.”

“It was not unusual, at that time, to see a professor barely getting by, while a young military officer lived lavishly. Many of these intellectuals, who would have been the ones to develop Africa, had to leave for greener pastures in the West including Professor Chinua Achebe himself and many of his contemporaries.”

“But by 1991, something began to happen in Africa. A wind of change started to blow across the continent and that breeze was the air of genuine multiparty democracy with free and fair elections.”

“One of the first leading light in this direction was the incumbent President of Benin Republic, Mathieu Kérékou, who in 1991 was patriotic enough to hold genuine credible elections which he lost, leading him to hand over power to the victor, opposition candidate, Nicéphore Soglo, after nineteen years in power.”

“Six months later, the then Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda lost power to Frederick Chiluba after credible elections ended his twenty seven year reign as President. This process continued in most African countries.”

“As I speak to you today, more African leaders are being empowered or disempowered by the people directly through free and fair elections. Democracy has come of age on the African continent.”

“And what has been the result? Prior to the democratic wind of change coming to Africa, there were more than 20 wars and other national conflicts in Africa during the 1960’s 1970s and 1980s including the Nigerian Civil War, the Eritrean Civil War, The Ethiopian Civil War, the Angolan Civil War, the Chadian/Libya war, the Ugandan war, the Ethiopian/Somali war, the Mauritania/Senegal war and the Liberian civil war.”

“Now today, all of those major wars and conflicts which I mentioned have all ended as a direct result of the spread of democracy on the African continent such that where those nations used to spend a huge chunk of their national resources arming their people to kill each other or their neighbors, they are now empowering them to feed each other or their neighbors.”

“We still have few crises points such as South Sudan, but there is a major paradigm shift. This paradigm shift was and is still being made possible because of the strengthening of democracy in Africa through citizens’ participation in credible elections. When leaders are selected through free and fair elections they have the moral courage and strong will to intervene in neighboring countries when they have crisis, especially crisis related to leadership.”

“This was evidenced during the genocide in Rwanda when the former Organization of Africa Unity could not intervene because most of the leaders lack the legitimacy that comes with being elected credibly.”

“In contrast, with the recent crisis in Cote d’Ivoire for instance, the ECOWAS, which I led at the time, strongly intervene and we were able to quickly provide solutions because all of our leaders were democratically elected. We intervened in similar circumstances in Niger, Mali, Guinea Bissau, and most recently Burkina Faso because ECOWAS leaders had the moral courage, derived from being duly elected, to speak to their peers and solve these crises.”

Jonathan noted that for Africa to arise democracy and rule of law must be entrenched.

“In essence, what I am saying today to you, to Africa and to the world is that if the problem of Africa in the 70s and 80s was a problem of leadership, the solution for Africa in the 21st century are leaders who believe in the process of democracy more than its products and who are always ready to rise to the occasion by planting trees whose shade they may never enjoy.”

“But even if they do not enjoy the shade, they know that by their actions, they will not endure the shame of a continent constantly sabotaging its own progress because its leaders want their people to sacrifice for them rather than them sacrificing for their people. Before I conclude, let me emphasize very strongly the link between political stability and economic development.”

“Africa is rising today because of political stability resulting from the democratization of the continent, and I believe that as the process of strengthening our democratic institutions continues, the future of Africa is indeed bright. I see a bright Africa tomorrow.”

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