by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (April 4th 2015)
President Turns Defeat to Victory
If you are not an African this may not interest you, but it should. Nigeria has just had its presidential elections. Nothing and no one in the African continent is immune from its import and effect. So permit this excursion into the political sphere for once.
Thanks to football Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) performed the greatest miracle of his life last Monday night. He must have recited a prayer verse I picked up from reading Neale Donald Walsch many years ago: ‘May the moment of our greatest challenge become the moment of our greatest triumph’.
From the brink of the worst moment of his life, one simple single act catapulted GEJ, the outgoing President of Nigeria, from the first incumbent President to lose power in Nigeriaʼs history to the pinnacle of glory and greatness. His action in conceding defeat so graciously last Monday night was like pouring water upon a raging inferno.
The moment President Jonathan called up General Muhammadu Buhari, his political opponent in Nigeria’s presidential election, and congratulated him for winning it and thereby wresting power from him, the unprecedented tension that had gripped the entire continent for several months up until that moment, was completely doused. Jonathan had become a respected statesman on the international stage.
All the talk about a possible break up of the country with catastrophic effect to the continent through the massive violence expected to take place in several parts of the country no matter the outcome of the election, evaporated into thin air. The fight went out of all Nigerians.
Everyone had been apprehensive about the election and its aftermath where the only visible option was a promised fight-to-the-finish by the side that loses. So acrimonious and bitter were the campaigns that the entire country was under the siege of fear.
In recent write ups I had been advocating that both sides drew lessons from football where life is an endless series of contests producing both a winner and a loser almost every time, and both sides accept the verdicts graciously in order for another match to be played another day. That is the definition of sportsmanship.
I had appealed to the political contestants to allow the same kind of spirit that had given football the power to produce winners and losers without recourse to violence, irrespective of the differences that may exist between them, to permeate the elections. The contestants may not have even read my articles, but looking back at what has now panned out, it is as if President Jonathan feasted on my message.
In a most shocking but pleasant development, however, even before the last votes were collated and announced, GEJ went ahead to demonstrate uncommon sportsmanship. He phoned his main challenger and congratulated him on his victory. This is new political territory in Africa. It is uncommon practice – almost heard of.
A Change had to Come
True, Nigerians were fed up with a system that had impoverished them for 16 years and were yearning for a change and a new leadership. How to achieve this change became the most intractable challenge in our political history. The apparent credibility of the election, despite the avalanche of flawed processes and malfunctioning equipment, was the major factor that helped to unlock the chains of its integrity.
The umpire of the election also displayed courage, transparency, incorrigibility and neutrality, despite his being the appointee of the president and the leading contestant. Sport won at the end of the day. The ‘handshake’ conceding defeat by the president doused all the national and international tension.
With that single act President Goodluck Jonathan rewrote the closing chapter of his place in Nigeria’s political history. From the brink of going down as the worst president in the history of Nigeria, his act of Sportsmanship has raised him to the pinnacle of greatness as a true patriot and statesman.
When the subject on how to be a winner is to be taught in political classes, Jonathan’s concession phone call and speech would find adequate space for mention. Those of us in sport have always known that, ultimately, you do not have to come first to be a winner.
The founder of the Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, put it slightly differently in the Olympic charter at the inception of the modern Olympic Games that there is greater glory in participation than in winning. Ben Johnson as well as many other athletes in his academy of cheats can testify to that, having learned the consequences the hard way.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan wrote a new chapter in African history – one that Laurent Gbagbo could and should have written. Gbagbo has destroyed the legacy he should have had, but Jonathan has won plaudits and cemented his own legacy. He reminded the world that in politics, as in sports, winning is not really about coming first.