This article was originally published in www.qz.com in March 2015.
Of all the traits of great leadership, probably the most underrated is knowing when to stand down, and then proceeding to do so with resolve, grace and style. It is difficult to imagine that many aspects of Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure as president of Nigeria will be studied in leadership modules of future business school courses. Yet today he found himself standing at the crossroads of chaos or potential greatness. He chose the latter by calling new president elect Muhammadu Buhari to concede defeat in a hard fought election. It’s the first time an incumbent has been voted out of office in Nigeria’s history. It shouldn’t be remarkable that Jonathan made that call, but it is in Nigeria and he will be remembered well for it.
Let’s not beat around the bush – Jonathan lost this election nearly as much as Buhari won it. The Nigerian people have spoken and from Maiduguri to Lagos, from Sokoto to Ogun, one of the most spectacular expressions of democratic will anywhere has resulted in a clear verdict – Jonathan’s six-year stay at Aso Rock is at an end.
This election has produced some genuinely remarkable imagery and moments. Think of the queues of defiant Kanuri women in the Boko Haram-ravaged north east state of Bornu or the Zen-calm and Yoda-demeanour of Nigeria’s electoral chief Attahiru Jega under what must have been the most intense pressure.
It was clear there are nefarious elements in his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who were determined to hold on to power at all costs – these are the shadowy people who constitute what Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka recently called the ‘very sinister forces in control of the president’.watched live on television today as one PDP former minister tried to disrupt the announcement of the election results as it became clear Buhari’s All Progressive Congress was winning. One can only imagine what other plans to sabotage the overwhelming will of the masses are being hatched in the dark places of the soul that these people inhabit.
As we have seen in the past across Africa, things can go a number of ways: the incumbents can delay and disrupt, mobilizing the security forces to the point of making the country ungovernable in a naked abuse of power such as former military president Ibrahim Babangida unforgivably did on June 12, 1993.
They can tie the process up in expensive court cases while they try to subvert the judiciary to find in their favour on a series of loopholes and technicalities. Either of these options will cause the country untold damage, and be a slap in the face of what has been one of the country’s finest moments since independence. Overseeing such a process would have guaranteed Goodluck Jonathan’s name being remembered for all time in the annals of political villainy which will resonate through the ages.
We’re now looking forward to Jonathan’s press conference at Aso Rock. He can tell us how disappointed he is that the outcome of this election has gone against him. He can tell us how proud he has been to serve his country in the highest office in the land. He can tell us how he has always been a servant-leader, ready to do his duty with sacred obligation.
He can acknowledge that there were some irregularities but accept that these were overall inconsequential in the final analysis. He can tell us of his many achievements in office over the past 5 years. He can tell us how much respect he has for the Nigerian people and how proud he is that he has overseen this expression of their democratic will.
He can tell us that at all times his desire has been to see the country progress and that this moment is another rung on our ladder to the stars. He can tell us that this is the reason why he is conceding the election, wishing general Buhari and his team every good wish and assuring the country of his availability to serve in any future capacity.
Then he can take Patience’s hand, turn around and head back to Otuoke, Baylesa State with his head held high and legacy secure.
For his and the country’s sake.