The Many Firsts Of President Jonathan

In his inauguration speech as president on May 6, 2010, following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President Goodluck Jonathan had promised to reform the electoral process, and he went about it by appointing a respected university teacher and activist, Attahiru Jega, a professor of political science, as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Jega would go on to organise five governorship elections between 2011 and 2014.
Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost all but one of those elections. Jonathan’s defeat in the presidential poll on March 28 was the climax — or the anti-climax. But he would leave on May 29 with his head raised high. Although he is the first sitting president of Nigeria to lose an election, that should not becloud the fact that he has also scored a series of firsts in the annals of the country’s politics.
He has been widely commended for accepting defeat — as he had promised before the election — but of more significance, perhaps, is that he has considerably reformed the electoral system such that he became the ultimate “victim” of the transparency.
Here are some of his “firsts”. First ‘all-in-one’ political office holder, Jonathan was elected deputy governor of Bayelsa state in 1999 and re-elected in 2003. In 2005, he became governor when DSP Alamieyeseigha was impeached, and was elected vice-president in 2007. Jonathan became acting president in February 2010 when President Yar’Adua took terminally ill, and was confirmed substantive president in May of the same year when Yar’Adua died.
He was then elected president in 2011. In sum, Jonathan has been deputy governor, governor, vice-president, acting president and president. No single Nigerian, living or dead, has held all these positions. And it is unlikely there will be such again.
First Acting President When President Yar’Adua took ill and travelled to Saudi Arabia for treatment in 2009, Jonathan, as vice-president, was not constitutionally empowered to act in his absence. The legal logjam took a lot of deftness to resolve, and the national assembly eventually adopted a “doctrine of necessity” — the first in Nigeria’s legislative history — to proclaim him acting president. That was the first time a vice-president was made acting president by the national assembly.
It was a unique piece of history, as nobody ever reckoned that there would one day be such a position as acting president.
First PhD holder to be president When President Yar’Adua won the 2007 election, he became the first university graduate to be Nigerian head of state. Interestingly, too, his deputy holds a PhD in Zoology. It was a rare combination — a master’s degree holder in charge, assisted by a doctor of philosophy. Both of them science-based! Yar’Adau soon died and Jonathan became the first PhD holder to be president following his inauguration on May 6, 2010. He was elected for his own first term in 2011, becoming the first PhD holder to win a presidential election.
First Southern minority to be president While northern ethnic minorities had produced heads of state before, their southern counterparts had not enjoyed that privilege. The Igbo had produced a ceremonial president in Nnamdi Azikiwe, while Ernest Shonekan and Olusegun Obasanjo, both Yorubas, had also headed government in one or two forms. But the Niger Delta, which produces Nigeria’s wealth, was never really in the equation. Jonathan holds the distinction of being the first president from the oil-producing region — and it will obviously take some time to have another.
First executive president without elections Nobody ever became a civilian chief executive of Nigeria without going through an election. From Tafawa Balewa in 1960 and Shehu Shagari in 1979 to Obasanjo in 1999 and Yar’Adua in 2007, they all went through elections to occupy the exalted office. However, Jonathan did not go through any election to become president in 2010. He was promoted after the death of Yar’Adua, and he assumed full executive powers.
Even as acting president between February and May same year, he was already exercising those powers, but only became substantive after Yar’Adua’s death.
First VP to be president No vice-president had been president of Nigeria until Jonathan. In the first republic, Nigeria ran a parliamentary system of government with the prime minister being the head of government. That government was overthrown.
Nigeria has been operating the presidential system since 1979, but no VP had managed to become president until 2010 when Jonathan did — after the death of Yar’Adua. Obasanjo, however, was next in hierarchy to Murtala Muhammed in 1975-76 in a military government, and he replaced Muhammed after he was killed in an abortive coup. Obasanjo and Jonathan, for once, share something in common.
First presidential candidate to accept defeat immediately Jonathan will go down in history as the first major presidential candidate in Nigeria to accept defeat while results were still being announced. He had promised to do so if he lost, and there were fears that he might not fulfill his promise because of protests over the four million votes recorded by his opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, in Kaduna, Kano and Katsina states. But he kept his promise. In 1979, Awolowo did not accept defeat immediately, but he lost his legal battle. In 1983, he did not even go to court again, saying he had given up. In 1993, the presidential election was annulled, so it won’t count.
The NRC candidate, Bashir Tofa, had congratulated SDP’s MKO Abiola, but he soon withdrew his felicitations when crisis ensued. In 1999, Olu Falae went to court and only congratulated Obasanjo after losing at the appeal court.
Then in 2003, 2007 and 2011, Buhari never congratulated the winners. (Courtesy of Cable Alert).