By Tolu Ogunlesi
Goodluck Jonathan is a lucky man, no doubt about that. Fifteen years ago he was a PhD student at the University of Port Harcourt – as far away from the corridors of power as anyone can be. In 1999 he became deputy governor of Bayelsa state – the quintessential “spare tyre”. Six years later came the stroke of fate that crowned him governor. And then while he battled powerful forces in his home state, forces hell-bent on ensuring that he didn’t retain the governorship in 2007, fate came calling again, offering him this time the position of vice president – one his contemporaries, like Peter Odili, were desperate to occupy.
Fate wasn’t done with Goodluck. Almost three years into his vice presidency, it handed him – not exactly on a platter of gold, but on a doctrine of necessity – the presidency. And so now the man is acting president. Much has been said and written about the giant strokes of fortune that have attended Mr. Jonathan’s path in life. It is actually tempting to imagine that the luck that has worked thus far in his favour, will continue to clear a path for him.
And it is at this point that we need – ought, actually – to turn to the past to learn a lesson or two. The story of the ascension to power of many of Nigeria’s leaders is a story of luck. Aguiyi Ironsi benefited from a coup plotted by other, far more junior, officers. Yakubu Gowon was not the most senior military officer when he became head of state in 1966. Power fell in his lap, and he fondled it for nine years.
Olusegun Obasanjo was a most reluctant head of state in 1976. Twenty-three years later, in 1999, the Johnny Just Come From Prison had to be cajoled into contesting for president. Umaru Yar’Adua had no plans to be president. After eight years as one of the most invisible governors in Nigeria, quiet retirement in Katsina beckoned. From all of these examples, it is clear that Mr. Jonathan does not have a monopoly on Goodluck. Obasanjo, the only man to rule this country twice, might as well be renamed Goodluck Aremu Obasanjo.
Luck is not enough. Luck might put you in the presidential palace, but it will neither keep you there nor endear you to the people you govern. Luck will not secure a favourable verdict from posterity. All those lucky people of yesterday – the Obasanjos, the Gowons, the Yar’Aduas – where are they today? They all squandered the massive goodwill that lay in their accounts when they stepped onto the slippery slope that is the control room of Nigeria.