On May 29, 1999, a then relatively unknown Goodluck Jonathan stood beside his benefactor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, as the latter took the oath of office as the elected Governor of Bayelsa State.
That Saturday, 16 years ago, marked the beginning of the journey of Mr. Jonathan, who would later become governor six years later, vice president in 2007, acting president in 2010, and president same year. Mr. Jonathan won his direct mandate as president of Nigeria in 2011.
On Saturday, Mr. Jonathan, 57, will attempt to clinch the ticket the second time, to potentially complete his two four-year terms constitutional limit at the Aso Rock presidential villa, in a poll widely seen as the most keenly contested in Nigeria’s history.
A lowly beginning
Mr. Jonathan’s “I had no shoes” campaign mantra in the run up to the 2011 presidential election was defining for his Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP.
“In my early days in school, I had no shoes, no school bags. I carried my books in my hands but never despaired; no car to take me to school, but I never despaired.”
For the party, it was a theme that swayed millions of votes in its way. 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, an embodiment of the Nigerian dream.
Born on November 20, 1957, to Mr. and Mrs. Ebele Jonathan, a family of canoe makers, in Otuoke village in present day Bayelsa State, Mr. Jonathan’s low class background was a sharp contrast to his brilliance in school.
After his primary education at both Saint Stephen Primary School, Otuoke (now State School, Otuoke) and Saint Michael Primary School, Oloibiri, Mr. Jonathan proceeded to Mater Dei High School, Imiringi where he finished in 1975.
In 1981, he graduated from the University of Port Harcourt, where he studied Zoology, with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division). Afterwards Mr. Jonathan bagged a Master of Science in Hydrobiology and Fisheries and Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology in 1985 and 1995 respectively.
In 1993, Mr. Jonathan got an appointment as an Assistant Director at the now defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development and Commission, OMPADEC, one year after the commission was established.
He rose to become the Head of the Environmental Protection Sub-Department of the Commission, before voluntarily resigning his appointment in 1998.
Jonathan and politics
In “Profile of a Gentleman”, a tribute to Mr. Jonathan during the heady days of constitutional crisus that followed the death of President Umar Musa Yar’adua, Joseph Ilagha, a speech writer and now a traditional ruler, described Mr. Jonathan as “simple and unassuming, humble to a fault”.
“None of his friends, colleagues and associates ever expected Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to jump into the rough waters of Nigerian politics. But that is exactly what he did,” wrote Mr. Ilagha, the Amanyanabo of Nembe Kingdom in Bayelsa State.
“Inspired by the words of Isaac Adaka Boro, determined to advance the welfare and progress of his people on a larger scale, he ventured into politics in 1998, with a hopeful heart beating in his chest.”
As the running mate to Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the PDP flag bearer at the gubernatorial election, one year later, Mr. Jonathan’s party emerged victorious in the poll in Bayelsa State.
It continued to be a string of politically defining moments for Mr. Jonathan after the duo were re-elected in 2003.
But he was totally unprepared for the events of 2005.
That year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arrested Governor Alamieyeseigha over allegations of money laundering.
In December of that year, the State House of Assembly impeached the governor, paving the way for Mr. Jonathan to take charge and see out the remainder of their tenure.
In 2007, much to the surprise as well as chagrin of party members, Mr. Jonathan was handpicked by then President Olusegun Obasanjo to be the running mate to Mr. Yar’adua, the PDP’s presidential candidate.
Three years later, Mr. Jonathan assumed the position of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, albeit, in an acting capacity after Mr. Yar’adua’s death.
For a man who had spent the most part of his life avoiding the limelight, it was a moment that sprung upon him like a cornered rat.
The zoning controversy
The death of Mr. Yar’adua, a passionate advocate of the rule of law, almost plunged the nation into chaos three years into the administration.
And when it was time to start preparations for the 2011 general election, the issue of zoning for the presidential candidate in the PDP, led to a new round of controversy.
With Mr. Yar’adua not finishing his term, some northern politicians wanted the party’s presidency zoned to their region, a position Mr. Jonathan and his southern supporters, kicked against.
In May 2010, Mr. Jonathan declared his intention to contest the PDP presidential election ahead of the 2011 general election.
Mr. Jonathan said he shared the late Yar’adua’s dreams to work to change the country and justify the confidence Nigerians reposed in them.
“The past four months that I have served as President of Nigeria have opened my eyes to the vast potentials of this office as a potent instrument for the transformation of our country,” Mr. Jonathan said.
“I discovered that by sheer willpower, I could end the long queues and price fluctuations in our petrol stations. Today, all our refineries are working, saving us huge amounts of funds spent on importation of petroleum products.”
The declaration opened a floodgate of reactions and criticisms from fellow party members.
At a meeting of some prominent northern politicians in Kaduna, in 2010, the Northern Elders’ Political Forum told Mr. Jonathan to wait till 2015 before contesting for president.
“We believe the North should produce the next president after which it will then go back to the South,” said Iyorchia Ayu, a former minister.
“It is for the unity and stability of this country and if that is truncated, it will affect zoning arrangement in the states where zoning also take place.
“We believe that any key person from the Southern part of the country who is interested in running for the presidency should please wait till 2015 and we believe that he will be given that support.
“But if at the end of the day, our wish is not taken, it is a democracy and we cannot compel anybody and we made it clear to the governors that this is our position.”
The position of the northern politicians, however, did not go down well with some people from the south, particularly the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy, UNDEDSS.
In their reaction, the group maintained that no region or political party in the country can ascribe to themselves the exclusive right to national leadership.
“The right of President Jonathan, or any other bona fide citizen of Nigeria that wishes to run for any elective office is guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution,” said Pat Utomi, the group’s President.
“No one should attempt to subvert the Constitution by using the long played-out spectre of putative national insecurity as an excuse to attempt to scare away people interested in voting, or being voted for, as stipulated by the grundnorm of this troubled country. Enough is enough.”
One term president
While the 2011 election was characterised by arguments over the PDP’s zoning arrangements, preparations for the 2015 election were dominated, partly, by claims of a pledge by President Jonathan to do only one term.
At the grand finale of the Jonathan/Sambo campaign in March 2011 in Abuja, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was full of praises for Mr. Jonathan for agreeing to do a single term if elected to assuage the bitterness of those in support of zoning.
“We are impressed with the report that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has already taken a unique and unprecedented step of declaring that he would only want to be a one term President,” Mr. Obasanjo, who was Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees at the time, said.
“If so, whether he knows it or not, that is a sacrifice and it is statesmanly. Rather than vilify him and pull him down, we, as a party, should applaud and commend him and Nigerians should reward and venerate him.”
In addition to Mr. Obasanjo’s claims, the Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu, alleged that Mr. Jonathan endorsed a pact with the governors to exit in 2015.
Mr. Jonathan, however, denied all the claims, saying he had been misquoted.
“I did not sign any document with anybody and I am not someone who signs documents carelessly. I don’t even make promises to people,” Mr. Jonathan said in response to the claims.
“I have never signed a pact of one term. I never even mentioned it anywhere that I will do one term.”
As the 2015 election approached, Mr. Jonathan’s attention turned to the courts as opponents filed suits claiming he had already taken oath of office twice and therefore ought to be disqualified.
Last month, the suit was struck out by a federal court.
A second suit seeking clarification on the number of years Mr. Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, had spent in office was referred to the Court of Appeal.