Revisiting Jonathan’s Time magazine award By Zainab Suleiman-Okino


Last week, our own President Goodluck Jonathan got lucky again. He was nominated among Time magazine’s 100 most influential persons of the year. Expectations of the reviews of the award in the media did not come to pass, though. Nigerians simply glossed over it, allowed the moment to pass and moved on with their miserable lives. Not much of a whimper from his support base did anyone see, although hard talking Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu has described the ‘recognition as an acknowledgment of Nigeria’s relevance in the international community’.

What could be responsible for the un-inspiring attention that was accorded the recognition? Let us hazard some guesses. Perhaps, Nigerians especially the opposition could not be bothered because whatever award he got or he did not get, would not in any way detract from the people’s perception of their president. Not even Reuben Abati and  Labaran Maku made much fuss about it, as they are wont to do. I thought they would celebrate it as a case of a prophet vilified at home, but respected abroad. That was strategic. They must have reasoned

that doing that would draw a needless attention to the issue and which can open  a floodgate of criticisms.

Contractors, government agencies and interest groups did not place newspaper  advertisements to congratulate their benefactor-president. No one can say whether this posture underlines a new era of prudence and transparency in government, or they were simply advised against it?

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When the announcement of the Time magazine listing came up at our meeting, people laughed it off and wondered what positive deeds he has recorded to deserve the recognition. In the end we agreed to highlight it for its news worthiness, and not necessarily for its merit or deservedness. Only a few newspapers considered it worthy enough to be highlighted on their front pages. The near silence that greeted the recognition says a lot about the people’s lack of enthusiasm for the lack-lustre Jonathan presidency as against the country’s cravings for foreign awards.  Come to think of it, Time magazine awards are not necessarily for people that have exceptional leadership capabilities or people with the most positive impact. It could be for any enduring legacy; a force for good or bad. After all, Adolf Hitler the fuhrer of the German Aryan race whose action engendered the Second World War was once a recipient of the magazine’s award. Considered from this prism, the recognition is not out of place.

No Nigerian leader—dead or alive—has braved the kind of odds Jonathan surmounted to become the nation’s number one citizen. Without institutional background, the right pedigree, not being from a ‘major tribe’ and not being exceptionally outstanding, Jonathan became president. That alone is capable of attracting awards. Therefore, if Nigerians had expected such a prestigious award from a respected international magazine to be based on performance in office and merit, they are dead wrong.

However, Jonathan did deserve  awards for so many reasons: Anybody, who could outwit and out-manoeuvre  a nation of such exceptionally brilliant people, anybody who could successfully fool and deceive, and ride on their backs to power without as much struggle is smart and intelligent (even if it is native intelligence) and surely deserves an award

And do not forget this: that the award is not a popularity contest is not in doubt. Otherwise how could Jonathan fit into Time magazine’s criteria of “people who inspire us, entertain us, challenge us and change our world”. According to the citation on Jonathan written by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Jonathan “exemplifies the African political renaissance at a time when the people of the continent are starting to reap the fruit of their resources and their hard work”.

Indeed, Jonathan’s emergence has changed the nation’s political order, and his dare-devil deeds and faux pas could pass as entertainment, but whether this is the kind of entertainment a nation in dire strait needs is another ball game entirely. That he’s capable of changing our world is for you readers to decipher. Surely, after Jonathan,Nigeria will never be the same again.

On closer examination, Jonathan is truly influential. If not, how could he solely decide the fate of the former governor of his state, whom he stopped from contesting an election that he is constitutionally entitled to, and heavens did not fall. If the president is not influential, how did he get the vociferous Lagos press to throw their weight behind him willy-nilly? It’s only an influential leader that can get a defiant, critical and mainly opposition South-West states to line up behind him during the presidential election, against their own party, ACN, which they voted for in the governorship election. If the president is not a game changer, how did he get the South-East to bury their ambition of producing the president for simply being the namesake of their revered leader. It’s only a powerful man like Jonathan that can convince(?), coerce and subdue the all powerful Northern politicians, religious leaders and emirs to ignore and mortgage their eight year slot as agreed to by their party without scruples.

Jonathan has been in power now for almost two years; the manufacturing sector has remained comatose, electricity generation dropped from 3,800 to 3, 200 megawatts, no industry has been resuscitated because there is no electricity and no employment has been created. The man must be serving some interest other than Nigerians’ to merit any award especially from the West.  So, it’s in order for Nigerians to be wary of such awards and exercise caution in celebrating it.

Part of Sirleaf’s citation on Jonathan reads like a thunderbolt from outer space. That Jonathan ‘exemplifies the African political renaissance’ and that under him, we are reaping ‘the fruit’ of our ‘resources’ is to take praise singing to a ridiculous extent. It’s either this woman doesn’t know what is happening in Nigeria, or she’s is talking about her country which indeed is going through some form of political re-engineering. Notwithstanding these observations, if the award is meant to spur Jonathan to greater heights, so be it. Hopefully, he will do some self-examination and act to justify the recognition.

Zainab is an editor with Blueprint Newspapers, Abuja


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