The former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, has been reflecting on his time in office now that he is free from the burdens of the presidency.
At an event in London hosted by Bloomberg earlier this month, Mr Jonathan stressed his commitment to democracy, not only in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole, arguing that he conceded power last year to Muhammadu Buhari in the interest of peace and stability.
He said that since leaving office over a year ago, “I have had the luxury of time to reflect on the future of my great country, Nigeria”.
The ex-president used the opportunity to “share with you what I believe is the key learning from my experiences for the future of democracy not only in Nigeria but across the entire continent of Africa”.
He went on: “I said before the last election that my political ambition was not worth the blood of one Nigerian.
“I was true to my word when on March 16, 2015, just after the election, when the results were still being collated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I called my opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari, to concede, in order to avoid any conflict and ensure a peaceful transition of power.
“This was without precedent in my country and I am proud that it achieved my goal of no conflict arising from the result of the election.
“Some may think it is ironic that perhaps my proudest achievement was not winning the 2015 presidential election.
“By being the first elected Nigerian leader to willingly hand over power via the ballot box to the opposition party; without contesting the election outcome, I proved to the ordinary man or woman in the country that I was his or her equal.
“That his or her vote was equal to mine and that democracy is the government by the will of the people, and that Nigeria, and indeed Africa, is ripe for democracy,” Mr Jonathan continued.
“It is my sincerest wish that democracy is being consolidated in the continent of Africa and it will even get better.
“For it has always been my consistent desire to help consolidate peace and cultivate democracy in Nigeria and across the continent.
“In fact, it was the key foreign policy objective of my administration when we were able to help broker peace and restore democracy in Niger, Mali, Guinea Bissau and Cote d’Ivoire,” the former Nigerian leader told his audience.
Mr Jonathan’s move appears to have completely changed the political scenario in West Africa.
In Ghana, for example, where parliamentary and presidential elections will be held later this year, Ghanaians are hoping that their polls will take place as smoothly as Nigeria’s.
“As Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation on the continent, the 2015 elections and the peaceful transition of power positioned Nigeria as a model and benchmark for democracy in Africa,” noted one blogger.
While many Nigerians welcomed the unprecedented handover of political power in their country through the ballot box, some are now concerned that President Buhari’s aggressive anti-corruption stance could erode the democratic gains of last year.
Their argument is that it is all well and good to fight corruption, but if it is a one-sided affair – targeting only opposition politicians – then the exercise is flawed and holding up socio-economic developments that ordinary Nigerians are expecting from the government.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said: “An anti-graft trap that catches only members of the opposition and those with [an] axe to grind with the government of the day is compromised.”
Ayodele Fayose, Ekiti State Governor, said that President Buhari should focus on “security and economic issues affecting Nigeria, instead of focusing on those of other countries and persecuting perceived political enemies”.
Mr Jonathan did not shy away from the issue of corruption during his time in office.
In an interview with Bloomberg, he stated that his approach to fighting corruption was to not “make money available for people to touch”.
One analyst in London told the GNA that unlike President Buhari, who had launched “a one-sided and retrospective approach to corruption”, Mr Jonathan took “practical steps to eliminate the root causes of corruption, essentially identifying structures that had been established within the system that enabled corruption and reforming these”.
The analyst added: “This is the only way corruption can effectively be defeated.
“This is a major failure of Buhari’s approach, which is not focused on reform, but rather on settling old scores.
“This will not provide the structural change required to address corruption in Nigeria.”
Mr Jonathan outlined just one example of his moves to eliminate corruption: the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, which removed opportunities to steal public funds by using mobile phones, thus ensuring that 94 per cent of registered farmers received their subsidies instead of just 11 per cent previously.
But in trying to curb corruption in petroleum subsidies, Mr Jonathan said his administration was thwarted by “unhealthy political resistance”.
“Beyond job creation, Nigeria, like other developing countries, faced the challenges of corruption, which is a stumbling block to the development of nations,” he said.
“I think it is important to let you know my administration took many steps to curtail this scourge, in the areas of finance, agriculture and petroleum.
“To take just one example, we drastically reduced corruption in the agricultural sector with the help of a simple mobile phone.
“We achieved this by providing an e-wallet to farmers which grew the percentage of registered farmers receiving subsidy from 11 per cent to 94 per cent.
“And in the process we were also able to save billions of naira in fertiliser subsidies,” Mr Jonathan said.
“Through our Agricultural Transformation Agenda, we greatly boosted food production and saved almost a trillion naira on food imports.
“This one initiative had the benefits of improving food security, creating more jobs and reducing inflation to its lowest levels in over five years.
“Our ambition was to sanitise the corruption in petroleum subsidies by completely deregulating the sector.
“However, our efforts were frustrated by unhealthy political resistance,” the former president said.
Mr Jonathan also defended his administration’s work on diversifying the economy, noting that agriculture reached its peak while he was in office.
“We had the Agriculture Transformation Agenda, which was the best in the history of the country.”
Indeed, the progress made in agriculture in Nigeria was recognised internationally when Mr Jonathan’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, was elected to become the eighth President of the African Development Bank.
Mr Jonathan also highlighted his administration’s focus on growing manufacturing.
Nigeria, he stated, was a gross importer of cement before he came to power.
At the end of his tenure, the country had become a gross exporter of the product.
“While President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign has caught the ear of Western governments, who are keen to support him, the one-sided nature of the campaign has been overlooked,” the analyst told the GNA.
“This represents a serious threat to democracy in Africa’s largest economy.
“The ripple effects of Nigeria’s situation could have an impact on democracy’s course on the continent for years to come.”
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