President Goodluck Jonathan has challenged the United States account of the events that took place in the turbulent period leading up to his assumption of the presidency last May, calling the account of Ambassador Robin Sanders “essentially third party narratives, and are largely inaccurate.”

In a WikiLeaks cable on Nigeria which SaharaReporters broke yesterday, Ms. Sanders, reported to Washington on her meeting on February 26, 2010.  The cable portrayed a troubled Jonathan who seemed unsure of himself and where the country was going, with the US ambassador offering advice on how to proceed on such issues as Umaru Yar’Adua’s incapacitation, the military, electoral reform, and Olusegun Obasanjo.

In Jonathan’s response to our story, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ima Niboro, dismissed Jonathan’s meeting with Ambassador Sanders as having been no more than one of countless meetings with different groups and people with different suggestions, stating that the account in the cable was “largely silent on these suggestions.”  Jonathan did not say what suggestions he received from those other groups and individuals.

He seemed particularly irritated by the suggestion that he was not equipped for the position in which he had found himself.  In the cable summary, the US ambassador wrote of Jonathan as follows:
 

He said he is “not a politician” and had very limited experience as an administrator, but concluded, “I will not tolerate a brawl.” Jonathan said he will dissolve the Cabinet once he knows people are more comfortable with him being the Acting President or if the current strategy to convince Yar’Adua surrogates and family members to allow the ailing president to resign.

In Jonathan’s response to that characterization, he said, “how can it be said that a man who had been a Deputy Governor, an Acting Governor, a governor, a Vice President, and then Acting President could have described himself as “lacking in administrative experience”. That the President holds a Ph.D, was a lecturer for 10 years, and was an Assistant Director at the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, do not make the statement less rankling.”

Despite this outrage, Mr. Niboro’s response was silent on the fact that Jonathan did tell the US ambassador:

“I was not chosen to be Vice President because I had good political experience…I did not [have such experience]. There were a lot more qualified people around to be Vice President, but that does not mean I am not my own man.” 

He was even more silent on the bigger picture, which includes running for the presidency in 2011.  The leaked cable shows that, just as he would later tell President Barack Obama when he visited the White House in April 2010, “his sole focus is to leave a legacy of both electoral reform and credible elections, including changing the entire Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”

At that time, at the end of February, Jonathan seemed keen to convince the United States he saw his mission as simply to clean up Nigeria’s electoral process, a point that was repeated again and again to Ambassador Sanders:

•    Jonathan said he does not anticipate standing for elections in 2011 and that he is not working towards being a presidential candidacy. He wants to put into place an electoral structure that will be ready for national elections. He did, however, note that, “if they want me to run, that will be something to consider at that time.
•    He stressed that his focus now and for the next 12 months will be on “doing a good job and witnessing respectable and credible elections in 2011.”

During that visit to the United States in April, during which he attended the Nuclear Summit, Acting President Jonathan also repeated this promise on various occasions, along with his determination to battle corruption. One such stop was at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington DC.
“I have promised Nigerians and the rest of the world that 2011 elections in Nigeria would be credible,” he said at the CFR, pointing out that he considered himself “a victim of [presidential] elections that have been questioned.”
Stating that his focus would be on electoral reform, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and the rest of the country, and combating corruption, he declared, “… I can promise Nigerians and indeed the American audience, that 2011 elections in Nigeria will be credible. You don't need more than one year to achieve that. If I don't, even if you gave me 10 years, I cannot achieve it.”
Yar’Adua, whose disappearance to Saudi Arabia in November 2009 in poor health pushed Nigeria to the brink of a constitutional crisis, died on May 5, 2010, paving the way for Jonathan to become President.  Four months later, in September, he publicly declared he would run, and immediately became a player in a match in which he is also the referee, linesmen, and commissioner.

Full text of the press statement:
ON WIKILEAKS AND ALL THAT
Wikileaks is the new travesty that international diplomacy has to deal
with. Nigeria is no exception.

The point to be made is that the accounts of meetings between
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and US diplomats are essentially
third party narratives, and are largely inaccurate.

The President, in those tempestuous days during which the nation
tottered on the brink, held meetings, and then more meetings, with
different groups, the diplomatic community inclusive.

The President met with different diplomats and special envoys who
offered different suggestions on a way out of the impasse that our
late leader's health had imposed on the nation. We note that this
account is largely silent on these suggestions.

Instead, what is served up is an unfair account severely impacted by
selective perception and individual expectations. For instance, how
can it be said that a man who had been a Deputy Governor, an Acting
Governor, a governor, a Vice President, and then Acting President
could have described himself as “lacking in administrative
experience”. That the President holds a Ph.D, was a lecturer for 10
years, and was an Assistant Director at the defunct Oil Mineral
Producing Areas Development Commission, do not make the statement less
rankling.

This only goes to show that the report itself is a souped up version
of the standard conversation that takes place in such meetings. We
find this account as wholly unfortunate, and we are only employing the
best of diplomatic finesse in that statement!

Ima Niboro
Special Adviser to the President,
Media and Publicity
9th December, 2010

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