Wind of Hope Authorized Biography of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
"Who is Goodluck Ebele "Azikiwe" Jonathan?"
This and other pertinent questions preface Wind of Hope, the authorized biography of Nigeria's incumbent president who, true to him name, is a child of luck, having emerged literally from obscurity through his meteoric political rise to lead Africa's largest nation. The other questions include: "Where is he from?" "What makes him tick?" "What has luck got to do with this spectacular ascent of Goodluck Jonathan to the nation's presidency?"
Wind of Hope, a book produced by some select members of the Nigerian intelligentsia-- two lead writers, three editorial board members, nine contributing writers, two associate editors one project coordinator and an editor-in-chief -- is truly, a product of a collective of admirers and believers, with a singular mission to present President Goodluck Jonathan and his humble beginnings to the world the most positive light. It is unquestionably a commissioned and contract job, of unambiguous parentage; hence, the clear stipulation that it was "authorized."
Two issues stand out in the book besides its overall slant and contents. The biography suggests that President Jonathan's emergence as Nigeria's leader was foretold in June 2006, a point that clearly comes across in the blurb and attributed to former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, to wit: "I have been in your state these past couple of days and I have observed a lot of developments; I have also heard things which impressed me. Now listen to me, I am an old man and Iv'e seen many years, I am saying this from my spirit. Young man, one day you will be the President of Nigeria." Curiously, while Kaunda who wrote the book's foreword, references the 2006 meeting he does not recall making those prescient remarks in his foreword.
Another curious point in the autobiography is that President Jonathan's latter-day Igbo, "Azikiwe" was put in quotes in the caption and body of the prologue and omitted entirely in the subtitle of the book. What exactly does this suggest? As it turns out, "Azikiwe" is a nickname given Jonathan by his paternal grandmother, Sarah, who nicknamed him after "Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's charismatic nationalist leader" (p.1). According to his (Jonathan's) mother, "most people called him Azikiwe when he was very young..." (p.6), a name he dropped during the Nigerian civil war and picked up again only when it was convenient and after he had become vice-president.
Jonathan explained the name issue thus: "It was in 1969 when I did the primary school final examination and the school authorities asked us to submit our names to be submitted to the Ministry of Education for the official primary school certificate, that I gave the issue a serious thought. Till then I had been known and addressed as "Azikiwe" Jonathan. Something set me thinking: "Why Azikiwe" which is not native to my place of birth? Why not my name given to me by my father? After a long reflection, I decided to put the names Goodluck Jonathan" (p15). Convincing as it is, there seems an unfinished, unrevealed and still puzzling side to this name issue. It is also suggested that his middle name, "Ebele," also Igbo, "may have originated from Onitsha," where his Otueke ancestors went on long distant trade (p.2).
The foregoing aside, Wind of Hope is in the words of the authors, "a simple story of a new man, honest and unpretentious..." This fifteen-chapter book chronicles President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's childhood, education, public service, whirlpool politics, pioneering of a development agenda, summons to national service, filling of the vacuum of leadership and consequent arrival at the pinnacle of power. The last two chapters are devoted to his role in "a new order of domestic responsibility" and "on the global stage"; and the epilogue, to the claim similar to those of past Nigerian leaders, that his tenure marked the beginning of "a new dawn" for the nation.
From the very outset it was evident that this biography was meant to varnish and accentuate only the positives; hence, the authors did a superb job in that regard. Secondly, it seems also, as the authors acknowledged, that the biography was aimed at addressing a lacuna in the president's public image, which was "missing the depth of character, and strength of will that have moved him upwards throughout his life" (p.xiv).
Still, tried hard as the authors did to strike a professional, journalistic and academic balance; they failed to cover up their partisanship; as they did also of the fact that they unfailingly wanted the reader to take away from this volume, the clear notion that President Jonathan's political emergence was preordained, instead of being an outcome of an expedient political calculation. Jonathan is even cast in Shakespearean terms as a man who despite being "born in humble circumstances; his father was a village canoe carver and palm harvester and his mother a subsistent farmer," had "greatness thrust upon him"; and also someone for whom "from his formative years there were signs that he would achieve greatness".
When President Jonathan was sworn in as Nigeria's president on 6 May 2010, he could easily have been identified as a man most suited and best prepared for the role, having served as deputy-governor, governor, vice-president and acting-president. But that was not the case, as "he did not directly and consciously fight to occupy" those positions. As variously cited, Jonathan's personality - "a man od uncommon loyalty" - and emergence, "divine leader brought by God"; and "a monumental act of divine epiphany," all add to his mystic just as does the notion that "with his emergence, Nigeria has re-defined its passion of excellence in governance, democracy and development." This latter characterization tallies with his tagging as "a breath of fresh air" in Nigerian politics.
A salient aspect of this, and indeed every biography, is that it offers tangible and mundane insights into the subject's persona. In making himself out as a regular guy, Jonathan recalled being tagged a "triangular student" -someone whose daily routine triangulated from the lecture halls to the dining hall and to the hostel. This suggested no social life or skills; but as the president revealed, he did attend some discos.
Born into a polygamous family on 27 November 1957 in Otueke in Ogbai LGA of Bayelsa State, Jonathan was the third of nine children of Lawrence and Eunice Jonathan, of which only he and his elder sister Obebatien survived. A large segment of Wind of Hope is devoted not to formative youth years, but to the professional and political trajectory that brought Jonathan to the Nigerian presidency, via holding jobs as Customs Officer, School Inspector, Zoology Lecturer, Ecologist, Administrators, Deputy State Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President and eventually the nation's leaders. It is all a fascinating story most of which are in the public domain and has played out before Nigerians from the moment he was handpicked against all odds, to be Umaru Yar'Adua's running make in 2007.
Although he served as Vice-President from 29 May 2007 to February 2010, a period fraught with political machinations and controversy due the President Yar'Adua's ill health, Jonathan considered "the transition from Deputy-Governor of Bayelsa State as a more difficult task than the recent traumatic incidents in Abuja"(p.xv). The authors reveal now publicly known facts of the drama surrounding the declaration of Jonathan as acting president in February 2010. Two noteworthy points emerge. According to Jonathan: "I refused to pressurize the National Assembly to make me Acting President. I believe people should know and do the right thing" (p.156). This point is anchored by the observation, "If Dr. Jonathan wanted Section 144 of the Constitution invoked he could have so but his attitude was that the President did not bring the illness upon himself" (p.160).
The controversy and confusion that dogged Jonathan's transition to Acting President is used to present him as a calm, unflappable and measured person and leader, who signalled his determination to stabilise the bruised and battered image of the nation and fill the vacuum of leadership in the presidency on his own terms" (.p163). One such decisive act was his removal of Michael Aondoakaa, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, whom he reassigned to Minister for Special Duties.
In Wind of Hope, Jonathan's rise to the pinnacle of power is fleshed out. Yet, the greater goal, it seemed was to justify his decision to seek the presidency in his own right, in the face of opposition and against the provision of Section 7.2 (c) of PDP's constitution, which affirmed strict adherence to "the policy of zoning of party and public elective offices" (.p177). The authors recount how proponents of zoning opposed Jonathan and how their opposition triggered the emergence of northern presidential candidates who jostled for the "candidacy of the PDP for the office of the President in the 2011 general elections" (p.177).
The authors recount how with his candidacy challenged in court, it took a ruling on 2 December 2010, by Hon. Justice Lawal Gumi of the Abuja Federal High Court to clear the way for Jonathan to run. In the ruling, Gumi upheld the principles of zoning, but pronounced his inability to "make declaration that the north is entitled to bear the Presidential ticket for two consecutive terms i.e. 2007 and 2011 respectively as the south did in 1999 and 2003, same being a political question and therefore not justiciable" (p.178). The end game and story, is that Jonathan is today Nigeria's president through a peaceful and orderly constitutional process that gave impetus and credence to Nigeria's nascent democracy.
Wind of Hope concludes on a triumphal note: "And so Goodluck Ebele "Azikiwe" Jonathan, the youthful President-by-succession, set out on the most exciting journey of his exciting life...the story of his elevation gives hope to anyone who is prepared to work hard and serve their community selflessly."
Wind of Hope is a welcome addition to the body of literature on Nigerian leaders and political history. It is an important work which connects and places on record, the vital missing dots of Jonathan's emergence and the unresolved questions of political zoning within the ruling PDP and indeed, the acceptability of zoning as a political principle among the geopolitical zones in the country. As far as biographies go, this is not an overtly probing and engaging study of the man Jonathan and what he stands and believes in; nor about his vision and aspirations for Nigeria. Considered as a biography intended to present President Jonathan in a presentable manner, Wind of Hope meets its goal and passes the litmus test of being one-of-a-kind biography, for which the authors are neither ambivalent nor bashful about promoting their subject and his seemingly "irrepressible rise to leadership."