Book Review: Bolaji Abdullahi’s On a Platter of Gold shows a surprising side of Jonathan

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The Goodluck Jonathan Presidency is sure to go down as one of the most eventful periods of Nigerian history. Surprising, inspiring yet ultimately disappointing, that the Jonathan presidency happened at all was a triumph of democracy, and an event only a handful of persons could have envisioned. Keeping it going as long as it did was a high wire balancing act that demanded tons and tons of shuttle diplomacy, ruthless politicking and endless sacrifices.

From the moment Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, an Ijaw academic from low brow Bayelsa state, joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket to serve as running mate to former strongman, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, for the gubernatorial elections, events seemed to conspire to land him atop the number one political position in the land, with little effort on his part.

And what a ride it was.

The Jonathan years were incredibly dramatic and wildly frenetic. Book Haram, corruption, zoning and cluelessness, were just some of the buzzwords of the mostly troubled presidency, one characterized by missed opportunities and a chronic inability to seize the big moments. However underwhelming the assessment of the Jonathan years were, they did manage to end with a bang.

In 2015, Goodluck Jonathan was hailed as a champion for democracy when he became the first incumbent Nigerian president to hand over power to an opposition candidate, after suffering defeat at the polls. Those tension filled days when the nation tethered at the brink and Jonathan rose to the challenge of putting the laws of the land above everything else, including his own ambition, may well come to represent the most defining moment of his presidency.

It is from here that Bolaji Adullahi, the former Jonathan administration Minister of Sports and Youth Development begins On a Platter of Gold: How Jonathan won and lost Nigeria, his chronicle of the Jonathan years. Speaking with a handful of- but not nearly enough- front row players, as well as behind the scenes sources, Abdullahi gives a welcome if unremarkable account of one of contemporary Nigeria’s most remarkable stories.

Written in simple, engaging language with the occasional catchy turn of phrase, and melding the author’s journalistic eye for detail- he used to work as a columnist and editor with ThisDay Newspapers- with his insider’s advantage, On a Platter of Gold, has a central, almost instinctive simplicity that appeals to readers from all walks of life. This is likely to make it a strategic resource document in the future.

Abdullahi wisely gets out of the way of his narration and tells the story with a detachment that makes him appear like an impassioned historian, chronicling important events for posterity. He does his very best to stay above the political fray, making no sustained commitment to needlessly edifying or vilifying Jonathan.

On a Platter of Gold does a fine job of concealing any bitterness Abdullahi might nurse towards his former boss, but at random moments, a simple turn of phrase catches Abdullahi mid-freeze, as he performs his present gig as spokesperson of the All Progressive Congress (APC) the party which seized power from Jonathan’s PDP.

On a Platter of Gold is solid as a profile of power and all the ways that it corrupts absolutely. It pretty much covers the basics of Jonathan’s rise and fall. From his political rebirth at the 2006 PDP convention, his incredibly docile conduct during the uncertain days trailing Yar’Adua’s diminished capacity, to the jubilant 2011 general elections, to the end of Jonathan’s honeymoon period, as he demonstrated a poor grasp on combating terrorism, Abdullahi touches every milestone. On a Platter of Gold shines the most when Abdullahi is revealing behind the scenes power plays that informed some of the biggest headlines of the era. Sadly, these moments are too few and far in between and majority of the material that constitutes On a Platter of Gold isn’t new insight per se, but a rehash of publicly available information.

This approach may be welcome in the long run, when memory cells have long atrophied, but for persons who lived through this era, generics aren’t quite enough. More would have been nicer, not to mention most effective. More juice, more details, fresher insight. Not too much to ask from an author who was for a while, one of the insiders.

 

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