Nigeria is one country not only known for its rich cultural background but also for producing some of Africa’s finest leaders that have gained an immense reputation around the world. One of its latest products, Goodluck Jonathan, has gained a reputation worldwide as one of the world’s democratic heroes. This, of course, was propagated by some decisions he made towards the end of his tenure in office as Nigeria’s president.
Although he was from a not-so-rich family, the ex-president worked his way through various top-notch positions, first in his state and then at the federal level. To get a closer look at his leadership and his personality, here are facts about Goodluck Jonathan’s life and career.
64 Years Old Goodluck Jonathan Hails From Otuoke in Bayelsa State
Born Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan on November 20, 1957, the politician hails from Otuoke in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Belonging to the Ijaw tribe, Jonathan’s father Lawrence Jonathan was a known canoe maker and his mother Eunice is a retired farmer.
The former president is not the only child born to his parents. He had a younger sister named Nancy Jonathan-Olei who passed away in 2015. He also has a half-brother Meni Jonathan who apparently passed away in 2012, leaving him as the only surviving child of his parents. Meni, before his untimely demise, was the head of council chiefs in their village in Otueke. Jonathan grew up with his siblings and impoverished parents and as a growing child, he actively took part in the family business.
He Excelled In School
Although he was from a not-so-rich family, Goodluck Jonathan strived to go to school. He started his academic career at St. Stephens Primary School, Otuoke before moving to St. Michaels Primary school, Olobiri. For his secondary school, he gained admission to attend Mater Dei High School, Ogbia where he completed his secondary school education. Jonathan spoke of not having shoes and schoolbags during his early academic years. He would even walk miles, crossing rivers to get to his school but despite all the obstacles, he remained focused on his education.
Getting to the University, he got admission to attend the University of Port Harcourt where he obtained a B.Sc second-class honors degree in Zoology, M.Sc in Hydrobiology, and a Ph.D. in Zoology. While there are no records of awards won during his academic years, Goodluck Jonathan exhibited great academic knowledge throughout his years in school and helped him gain a root in the academic world.
Jonathan Began His Political Career At Age 41
Following his academic prowess, Goodluck Jonathan spent some years working in various fields. Some of the positions he occupied before joining politics include:
- He worked as a Preventive Officer, Nigerian Customs Service
- He was a Science Inspector of Education, Rivers State Ministry of Education
- Worked as a Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, Rivers State College of Education
- In 1993, he was Assistant Director of Ecology, Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in charge of Environmental Protection
Upon joining politics in 1998, he serve as deputy governor of Bayelsa State. This was the first political position he took and it marked the beginning of his political career. As a deputy, Goodluck’s activities were constitutionally limited. He was loyal to his boss, governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, until 2005 when he was charged with money laundering in the United Kingdom. Alamieyeseigha was arrested after police found £1m in cash at his London address worth £10m. Although he was immune from legal actions until the end of his tenure as a governor in 2007, Alamieyeseigha was arrested for forfeiting a £1.25m bail bond.
Following his arrest, the Bayelsa State Assembly impeached him, thereby leaving his seat vacant for the deputy to occupy. Jonathan, who was recognized as the most hardworking deputy governor in Nigeria as a result of his support for Diepreye, was then propelled to occupy his boss’s seat. On 9 December 2005, Jonathan was sworn in as the governor of Bayelsa State.
He was Handpicked to Join The Presidential Race At 50 Years of Age
While Jonathan was about rounding up a two-year tenure as the 6th governor of Bayelsa State, kingmaker Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president whose two terms were marred by bitter power struggles with his own deputy Atiku Abubakar, found Jonathan appealing because of his record as a loyal understudy for the state governor.
Goodluck thus became the vice-presidential running mate of the PDP’s presidential candidate, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He and Yar’Adua were elected in April and inaugurated in May 2007 and their victory marked the first peaceful transition of power from one elected civilian leader to another since Nigeria attained independence from Britain in 1960. Jonathan also became the first civilian from Nigeria’s South-South geopolitical zone to hold such a high political office.
One of his main successes during his tenure as vice-president was his negotiation with Niger Delta militants who were fighting against petroleum companies operating in the Delta region. When President Yar’Adua, a Muslim northerner, became ill in 2009, midway through his term, Jonathan inherited the presidential seat. He became the acting president of the country in February 2010, due to Yar’Adua’s extended absence from the country for medical treatment. When Yar’Adua returned to Nigeria on February 24, 2010, Jonathan was asked to remain as acting president while Yar’Adua continued to recuperate.
How Goodluck Jonathan Became Nigeria’s 14th President
Upon the death of Umaru Yar’Adua’a in May 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He then nominated Kaduna State governor, Namadi Sambo, to replace him as Vice President.
In a bid to fulfill his promise to have regular interaction with the common public, so that he is able to attend to their regular needs and disputes, he subsequently opened his own Facebook page. That made him the first Nigerian head to open a social media page. A while later, the president used the medium to formally announce his bid for the presidency. Jonathan won the 2011 presidential election and he held this position until 2015.
His “I had no shoes” campaign mantra in the run-up election was defining for his party. It was a theme that swayed millions of votes in his favor. For Nigeria, it was, perhaps, the first time millions of poor and ordinary Nigerians rose up to embrace one of their own. They found in Mr. Jonathan the embodiment of the Nigerian dream. By winning the 2011 election, Jonathan also became one of the first Presidents of Nigeria who did not have a political or military background.
However, his political ambition was truncated in 2015 when he failed to win reelection that would have made him one of the longest-serving politically elected leaders. He became the first sitting president to be defeated in a Nigerian election when he lost to Muhammadu Buhari. Some people cited the deep corruption and money laundering that existed during his tenure as the reason for his loss to Buhari, with over 2.5 million votes. His tenure also experienced the maximum number of bombings and riots by both his rivals who did not accept a Southern Nigerian as the Head of a country and the Boko Haram insurgency that led to the killing, maiming, and displacing of Nigerians in mostly northern states in its bid to form an Islamic caliphate within Nigeria.
Among many other reasons mentioned to be behind Jonathan’s loss of power to Buhari, the former leader also blamed northern leaders who wanted power returned to their region for sabotaging his reelection bid. He said he faced a barrage of opposition from Northern leaders and socio-political groups who felt he was usurping power from the region. According to him, these northern power blocs had tried to deny him of his constitutional right of replacing the late president Umaru Yar’Adua.
While leaving office, Jonathan made several remarkable speeches that have helped to keep his memory alive in people’s hearts. One of such statements was the one he issued on 31 March 2015 that “nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian”. The statement not only elevated him in the eye of many Nigerians, but it helped to earn him reputable recognition as a political hero.
Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential Achievements
Despite his failed dream of retaining the presidency in 2015, Nigerians still think Goodluck Jonathan is one of the most successful presidents of Nigeria who has acted in the interest of his country. He is also known to be the first president of the country who has been able to live up to most of the promises he made during his election campaign.
More interestingly, Goodluck is also acclaimed for being in support of women taking leadership roles in society. He became the first Nigerian president to have appointed the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria – something that was previously unthinkable in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Additionally, he was the first President to review the salary structure of government employees and re-arrange their salaries on the basis of their performance during their tenure. Other achievements that are noteworthy include;
- His tenure heralded “phenomenon economic growth” for the country, the most prominent of which was the 2013 declaration of Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa.
- Not a lot of people know this but he is the first President of Nigeria to have initiated an Air Rescue mission for stranded citizens. This is one decision that was both criticized by his rivals as a waste of government resources and appreciated by the citizens of Nigeria.
- He was the first President of Nigeria to approve the Freedom of Information Act, which allowed the citizens of Nigeria to have full information on the government’s workings and orders.
- He concentrated his efforts to upgrade the local traveling facilities. One of his main accomplishments was to upgrade the local airports after 57 years.
- He vigorously pursued his commitment to change the global negative perceptions of the Nigerian elections by reforming the electoral process to establish a culture of non-violent, free, fair, and credible elections.
- He successfully revived the comatose Nigerian Railways after twenty years. The revival of the railway system with the help of private and state investors helped to re-establish an important part of Nigeria.
- During his Presidential tenure, he signed a bill that would ensure the entry of imported goods within 48 hours.
- Another one of his great policies was the initiation of the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria. The main idea of this program was to create jobs and harness the creative energy of young people. He was also responsible for the removal of fuel subsidies in 2012.
Controversies Involving the Ex-President
Despite his honorable exit from the presidency in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan has been involved in many controversies most of which are linked to his activities while in office as the president. Some of the most controversies involving him include:
1. The Malabu Oil Scandal
The Malabu Scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete. The scandal had Buhari’s government accusing Jonathan and former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, of accepting bribes and breaking the law to broker a U.S.$1.3 billion oil deal. While denying the allegations, Jonathan claimed that listing his name in the scandal aimed to dent his rising international profile.
2. Alleged 2023 Presidential Ambition
It has been widely reported that Goodluck Jonathan aims to return to power by contesting in the 2023 general elections. The allegation was sparked by the surprise visit of leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to his residence in Abuja. While the reason for their visit was not officially revealed, it sparked off permutations of his possible return to power. While the speculations lingered, many argued that doing so would mean Jonathan gambling away all his legendary achievements.
Meanwhile, the former President has addressed the allegation, specifying that he has no plans to contest the 2023 elections. Referring to the issue as mere speculations, he also pledged to continue to serve God, humanity, Africa and the world to the best of his ability and with all sense of commitment and sincerity.
Goodluck Jonathan’s Life After 2015: What Has The Former President Been Up To?
Since leaving office in 2015, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has remained relevant to the Nigerian political system. His commitment to promoting democracy, credible elections, peace, and respect for the rule of law has seen him hold several important positions in Africa.
He is the Chairman of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, an organization he founded to promote best practices in democracy, peace and prosperity in Africa. In addition to being appointed as the honorary Special Adviser to the Bayelsa Education Trust Fund Board in 2019, he also emerged as chairperson of the newly inaugurated International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP). This is an association of serving and former Presidents who are jointly working to restore peace, stability, and economic prosperity to the world.
In addition to the notable positions he occupies, Jonathan also spent most of his early post political life leading different International Election Observer Missions to various nations, including Tanzania (Commonwealth-2015), Zambia (African Union-2016), Liberia (National Democratic Institute-2017), Sierra Leone (Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, EISA-2018), South Africa (EISA-2019) and Mozambique (African Union-2019).
In May 2020, he was appointed as a Member of the Kofi Annan Foundation Electoral Integrity Initiative Senior Panel. The same year, his commitment to peaceful democratic elections across African countries earned him several notable positions on the continent. He was in July 2020 appointed as the ECOWAS Special Envoy to Mali with the mandate of restoring peace and democracy in the country.
In December 2020, he was invited by the Government of the Gambia to lead the process of dialogue for a new constitution for the Country. He was recently nominated as a member of the ECOWAS Council of the Wise (CoW).
Awards Jonathan Has Been Bestowed With
In and out of office, Dr Jonathan has received several local and international awards in recognition of his exceptional public service and commitment to peace, democracy, and good governance on the continent. They include:
- Platinum Award – Glo-Caf Awards, 2013
- Primatial Award – Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, 2014.
- Peace Loving Global Citizen Award – Universal Peace Federation (UPF), for accepting the 2015 presidential poll result, 2015.
- President’s Award – Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, in recognition of his leadership in human rights, social justice and the universal fight for freedom. 2016
- Leadership Person of the Year – Leadership Newspaper Awards, 2016
- Personality of the Year – Vanguard, 2016
- International Person of the Year – The African Sun Times, 2016
- Icon of Democracy Awards – Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rivers, 2018
- Grand Award as the Ijaw Man For All Season – Ijaw Republican Assembly, 2018.