40 years after, Goodluck Jonathan replays Gowon’s part in 1975 military coup

Former President, Goodluck Jonathan earned himself national honour when he called President Muhammadu Buhari to concede defeat even while the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC was still announcing results in the 2015 presidential election.

That singular feat, many believe was able to quell tension in the land, and prevent any form of violence. Putting into perspective the display by then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, who was the agent of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP at the International Conference Centre, Abuja laid credence to this.

Jonathan himself gave the reasons he conceded defeat in his autobiography titled: “My Transition Hours”.

He said: “I knew what was coming the day before I called General Muhammadu Buhari. I had reports on the polls around the country. It was clear the results were not going to favour me. Apparently, there were many instances of irregularities. There were series of problems with card readers, resulting from widespread technical hitches leading to the non-uniform application throughout the country.

“For some inexplicable reason, the INEC had been able to achieve near 100% distribution of Permanent Voters Cards in the North, including the North East, which was under siege with the Boko Haram insurgency but failed to record a similar level of distribution in the South which was relatively more peaceful.

“Social media was filled with all manner of stories, pictures and videos. I was settled in my mind that I was not going to be the sitting President pointing out these infractions and accusing the opposition and the very INEC I helped to strengthen.

“The world saw my ordeal at the polling unit in my community in Bayelsa State, where the card reader refused my PVC even after we tried repeatedly during accreditation, and it was the same with my wife and my mother. It was a moment that exposed the shortcomings of INEC. However, I was heading towards peace. Stopping the election on voting day would have been like detonating an atomic bomb. After we managed to vote upon filling the incident forms, I left Bayelsa for Abuja to monitor the elections and collation of results all over the country from the 29th to 31st of March, 2015.

“The country was tense. I had to do something; I could no longer wait for the collation of the final results. The pressure on the country was palpable. In Lagos, people were ready to burst loose on the streets and in the North, the stage was set for envisaged violence. One of my party’s agents at the INEC National Collation Centre in Abuja, Elder Godsday Orubebe, eventually got into a heated argument with the INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. That further raised the tension in the country. Everyone was expecting the worst; I knew it was time to douse the tension.

“As I said earlier, I was fully informed about the manipulation, intrigues, intimidations and betrayals. The consequences of the not conceding were only better imagined. My natural instinct for peace automatically surfaced. I was going to make a decision which reflected my commitment to that ideal. This is the foundation of my essence. In my periodic projection into the future, I did not see how I would be presiding over any kind of chaos. I was prepared to promote the peace unity and progress of Nigeria.

“This is a huge sacrifice, but I hope my readers believe me when I say it turned out to be one of the easiest decisions I ever took while in office. With my mind made up, I knew it was time for me to inject peace into the tense polity, especially before INEC completed collation.

“I was in my living room with some ministers, aides and friends. Among them were the Coordinating Minister for the Economy/ Honourable Minster of Finance, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala; Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN); the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Mr. Osita Chidoka; and Waripamower Dudafa, my Senior Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs.

“They were recommending sundry alternatives, but I was quiet in the midst of their discussion. I hugged my thoughts, figuring out how to do that which was best for the country. My personal interest was receding rapidly and the interest of Nigeria looming large. I excused myself and left the sitting room. I walked into my study. Even here, my mantra was a strong circle around me, supporting and comforting me. Let the country survive. Let democracy survive. My political ambition is not worth people being ‘soaked in blood’.

“More reports flowed in and I could not wait anymore, the announcement of the final result could take issues out of all our hands. It was time for me to take action and bring peace to the nation. I felt it was destined by God at that point in time to inject the peace serum and douse the palpable tension in the country.

“I reached for my telephone and placed a call through the State House operators at about 4:45 pm. A peace I had never felt since my political sojourn descended on me. It showed me where I had been in the past 16 years and where I was then. I smiled at the thought of what I was about to do. I waited calmly for the person at the other end of my call to answer.”

The ensuing conversation went thus:

Buhari: “Hello Your Excellency”

Me: “Your Excellency how are you?”

Buhari: “I am alright Your Excellency”

Me: “Congratulations”

Buhari: “Thank you very much your Excellency…”

“For several seconds the line was seized by the loudest silence I have ever known. Then we had a brief discussion. I could sense his relief too. He knew what could have been. Here is a man who had contested three times and lost. Maybe my gesture humbled him against his expectations because he thanked me and we talked about the handover processes,” Jonathan continued.

“Everywhere all over Africa, Asia and other parts of the world, countless deaths have been recorded on the scores of elections and power disputes. I mentioned Cote d’Ivoire earlier, where people died in their thousands during post-election violence. A similar scenario had unfolded in Kenya. African nations are more prone to post-election violence than other parts of the world. Only very few African nations have not experienced post-election violence on a very grand scale or some bitter power tussle fed by tribal or ethnic sentiments.

“I hung up the phone, confident that my decision was right for Nigeria and would probably have a great impact on Africa. This may well be the beginning of a new perspective which places national interest above personal preference. It should not always be about winning.”

Jonathan revealed that after his conversation with Buhari, which lifted his spirits greatly, he felt better and lighter.

“It was time to break the news to my ministers and aides. I wandered back into the living room. These are people I came to know over a period of time. I anticipated what their response will be.

“In my newfound calm, I stood before them and told them what I had just done. The elections were over. I had called and congratulated Muhammadu Buhari on his victory. It was time for all of us to move on. Stunned silence greeted the room for some time and after they overcame their shock, they all congratulated me.

“My Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, sought my permission to tweet my phone conversation with Muhammadu Buhari. I obliged and he did. The country was no longer waiting for the declaration of the election results. The nationwide tension automatically dissipated as though a red hot piece of iron had been dipped in a bowl of water. Thereafter I addressed the nation.”

But before Jonathan, Nigeria had also witnessed a leader who conceded defeat after it was obvious to him that power had been taken away from him. That man is Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s head of state between 1966 and 1975.

Soldiers had toppled Gowon’s government while he was in faraway Kampala, Uganda, attending the Organisation of African Unity, OAU summit, and replaced him with Murtala Muhammed.

Immediately Gowon was informed of the change in government, he addressed the press pledging his loyalty to the new government, and asking Nigerians to support them.

“From all indications, a new government has been established in Nigeria. I wish to state that I on my part have also accepted, and pledge my full loyalty to my nation, to my country, and the new government.

“Therefore, in the overall interest of the nation, and our beloved country, I appeal to all concerned to cooperate fully with the new government, and ensure the preservation of peace, unity and the stability of our dear motherland.

“As a Nigerian, I am prepared to serve my country in any capacity which my country may consider appropriate. I am a professional soldier, and I can do any duty that I am called upon to do.

“May I take this opportunity to thank all Nigerians, and friends of Nigeria for the support and cooperation that you all gave me during my tenure of office, and call upon you all to give the new government of our nation same support and cooperation in the interest of our beloved country.

Long live one united, happy, prosperous Nigeria! Long live the Organisation of African Unity! May God bless you all,” he said in the press conference.

There is no gainsaying that Gowon remains one of the most respected former leaders in Nigeria today, while Jonathan has been involved in election monitoring duties across Africa since leaving office.