African politics have evolved since independence from colonial rule in the 1960s, with democracy understood and implemented in different ways across the continent. Many African leaders look up to their counterparts in America and Europe to emulate the arguably “perfect” democratic practices upheld outside the continent.
Former United States President Barack Obama is one iconic leader who won the hearts of many Africans and African presidents with his personality. It would be mindboggling to hear that Obama meddled in an African election. Unfortunately, it is exactly what a former Nigerian president is alleging.
Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria from 2010 to 2015, who launched his book, My Transition Hours, in November, claimed interference and bias from the 44th U.S. president resulting in his defeat during the 2015 elections in Nigeria.
“On March 23, 2015, President Obama himself took the unusual step of releasing a video message directly to Nigerians all but telling them how to vote … In that video, Obama urged Nigerians to open the ‘next chapter’ by their votes.
“Those who understood subliminal language deciphered that he was prodding the electorate to vote for the opposition to form a new government … The message was so condescending, it was as if Nigerians did not know what to do and needed an Obama to direct them,” Jonathan alleged.
The former president was under a lot of pressure at the time due to the heightened attacks by Boko Haram coupled with the kidnap of the Chibok Girls which had birthed the Bring Back Our Girls movement endorsed by former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Immediately the Chibok issue came up, we expected Nigerians to be concerned. How do we get these girls out? Within a couple of days, we saw people going to the U.S. with Bring Back Our Girls Placards… How? Why?… and of course, Mrs Obama received all of those placards,” he told the BBC in an interview.
Jonathan, who had served as the vice-president from 2007 to 2010 before succeeding Umaru Yar’Adua, who had died while in office, had always had this resentment against Obama and other world leaders which he first expressed last year.
He was cited in a book – “Against The Run of Play” – authored by the Chairman of ThisDay Editorial Board, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, blaming Obama, ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande for aiding President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory.
“There was this blanket accusation that my body language was supporting corruption, a line invented by the opposition but which the media and civil society bought into and helped to project to the world. That was the same thing I kept hearing from the Americans without specific allegations,” he was quoted in the book.
“I got on well with Prime Minister David Cameron but at some point, I noticed that the Americans were putting pressure on him and he had to join them against me. But I didn’t realise how far President Obama was prepared to go to remove me until France caved into the pressure from America,” he added.
Jonathan also accused the electoral commission (INEC) and its chairman at the time, Attahiru Jega, of being influenced by the United States to hold the election despite the government’s order to postpone it for “security reasons”.
“As at the first week in February 2015 when about 40 per cent of Nigerians had not collected their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), Jega said INEC was ready to go ahead with the election. How could INEC have been ready to conduct an election in which millions of people will be disenfranchised?
“Of course, the Americans were encouraging him to go ahead yet they would never do such thing in their own country,” he said.
He added that the reasons for the postponement were genuine and the military fought back Boko Haram for the election to be held in peace. He said he conceded defeat to avoid bloodshed like that of the 2011 election.
Jonathan lost to Buhari in the postponed election and he has since assumed international roles including leadership roles during election observation missions in Sierra Leone and Zambia.
President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have not reacted to Jonathan’s allegations.