Being excerpts from the new book, My Transition Hours, by immediate past president, Dr Goodluck
Jonathan, which was launched in Abuja last week.
During my farewell address, after giving my respect and appropriate acknowledgments, I was very brief. I had already spoken earlier that day at length about my government's proposals and strategies, but at the dinner we were celebrating, on the eve of my departure I was happy to thank everyone and bid them goodnight. After saying goodbye, next on the agenda was a meeting with my ministers in the Council Chambers tearoom. With everyone around me, it was bittersweet, as the people whom I had come to regard as family and friends over the last five years bid me farewell. One unique individual who had become my friend and confidant over the years spoke for a few minutes. He eloquently praised my efforts and warmly acknowledged my persona, which I humbly accepted. He then proposed a toast in my honour, at just a few minutes before midnight. We raised our glasses and within seconds my cabinet dissolved.
Friday May 29 – 2015
9.00 Hours Eagles Square Abuja Handing Over ceremony
The next morning dawned very early. The day's event, expected to be witnessed by no less than twenty world leaders, was being held at the Eagle Square, Abuja—commonly known as the nation's hilly capital city.
The day was certainly going to be interesting, and I felt ready for whatever emotion came my way. It dawned on me I would experience the sadness of an ending, the loss and friendship of my ministers, and the Party. It would be difficult to say goodbye, but today after the handing over—I would finally be going home. The First Lady did not accompany me. This was a trip that I would do alone. Dressed in a full black traditional tunic with my favorite Pandora hat, I walked out into the beautiful sunshine and got into my official car. The motorcade proceeded to take the 10-minute drive to Eagle Square. During the trip, I recalled some special memories of the last five years. But surprisingly, I found myself reflecting on what was next for me going into the future. As we neared the square, I saw crowds lining the streets. My attention reverted to the official swearing in ceremony that I would be participating in very shortly. The motorcade came to a stop in Eagle Square, and I exited the car. I went to greet a few people but was immediately ushered up the red stairs to the platform where I was to receive the national salute.
I met with a grand, magnificent setting. The dignitaries and other guests were all present dressed in traditional clothing. I went right over and stood to overlook the parade ground, perpendicular to the Commandeer of the Military dressed in full military green uniform (with red stripes), and in his right hand was a brass sword held to attention. He was seated on an equally magnificent white horse with matching colors. It was an impressive sight. The Commander was about to officiate the National Salute, the salute was formal and dignified and lasted for some breathless minutes as everyone participated in honour of our nation. The emotions I felt were sincere and not to be forgotten. I carefully folded that moment away for a later date.
Next on the program, the Commander sought my permission for the parade to start. After giving permission, I went to take my place next to Buhari and his lovely wife, invited heads of State, and other dignitaries. We all watched the impressive synchronized Military Parade. After the parade was over, I waited for the swearing in ceremony by the Chief Justice—witnessing the official handing over of power to President Muhammadu Buhari, the flag ceremony, and finally the pomp of the 21-gun salute.
After Buhari had taken his oath of office, under my watch, it was time for me to leave and to walk away; I waved to the public at Eagle Square. To my surprise I noticed some of the attendees had misty eyes, this struck me because I believe that some were members of the opposition party sparing a thought. I had arrived at Eagle Square as the President and Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with an entire convoy. Now, after the ceremony, I ceased to be President of Nigeria, and find myself an ordinary citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, boarding my personal vehicle to be driven to the Abuja International Airport for the final part of the farewell ceremony to honour an outgoing President.
Port Harcourt Airport -Yenagoa - Otuoke (GOING HOME)
Pulling into the Abuja International Airport, I was happy to see the First Lady waiting for me. With her was a huge crowd of supporters, aides, ministers, and party members. She didn't have to as for she knew what I had just been through, she touched my hand gently and together we boarded the flight that would take us to Port Harcourt International Airport. As part of the inauguration ritual, we would fly the flagship of the official fleet codename, “Nigerian Air Force 001” or “Eagle ONE”. This was significant, as it would be my last official flight. The trip was an emotional one for me because I had worked with the pilots and crew for the last five years, we were like a family, and they were flying me in an official capacity for the last time. Everyone was full of emotion.
That is all I want to say about that very special flight. It will remain one of my treasured memories of my transition into private life. So much was happening, and now I'm happy to share with the reader all the experiences of my homecoming. An enormous crowd of friends and supporters from all over the country met our arrival at Port Harcourt, and many were from my South South geo-political zone. They had come to welcome me warmly as I finished serving my nation as President. The First Lady and I came down from the aircraft with cheers, greetings, and pleasantries. I remember shaking hands with some of the senior dignitaries. The response we received in Port Harcourt lifted my spirits and I couldn't believe that this was happening to an outgoing president.
The First Lady and I made our way to the waiting helicopter that would take us to my home state of Bayelsa. There we would commence a well-planned homeward journey, traveling in a special convoy, stopping at two different planned events, with celebrations along the way.
The final destination and celebration would take place in my hometown Otuoke. At this juncture I was most curious and not sure what to expect, however in retrospect, I can happily describe the experience as EUPHORIC!
In no time, we were nearing our destination. The First Lady sounded her excitement looking out the window of the helicopter. We could barely make out the crowd gathering to greet us, but as we got closer my wife pointed to the splash of colours worn by hundreds of women all anticipating our arrival. Some were in green and yellow, many in orange and white and others in blue and white. They wore matching clothing that signified their individual villages. As we got closer, the women were all excitedly dancing to the music and waving white handkerchiefs ready to welcome us.
Our Arrival At Yenagoa Airport
The Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson had organized a civic reception in our honour. Seeing my people celebrating and welcoming me home gave me a sense of relief. They were not devastated over my conceding defeat. Instead, they were pouring out their love to me. I felt some mixed feelings while happy on one side; I was also thinking about the course of future development. I was going to miss so many individuals who had supported and worked with me over the years.
We proceeded to touch down, and I must admit excitement was my emotion—I was receiving such a welcome. The helicopter finally came to a stop, and we exited onto a red carpet spread out for our arrival. I looked and saw the line of ministers and government officials waiting, standing in traditional dress, each wore a colourful welcome home sash, embroidered with the state insignia around their necks. Once the sound of the helicopter ceased, African music was ringing out loudly coming from the local band of musicians. The ladies danced and waved to Mama Peace, it was a wonderful welcome for us and once again I was truly overwhelmed.
The Helicopter Arriving
I had been worried about what kind of reception I would receive in my home state of Bayelsa but witnessing the outpouring of love and acceptance of the people, my fears quickly vanished.
The local radio flashed a report as we arrived: The hero of Otuoke, former President Goodluck Jonathan has touched down in Bayelsa State amidst fanfare and jubilation as a crowd of locals thronged to welcome their beloved son. For the next few minutes the first Lady and I walked the red carpet that was spread in our honour. I shook the hand of many friends, ministers and government officials, traditional rulers and elders. They were all welcoming me. The welcome we received on the streets was so compelling for the First Lady and me – we were astonished. As we drove to the reception venue, people marched and danced along the major road leading to the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre where once again the reception planned was more than ordinary.. We walked into this huge room that had been specially set up for a concert, and my eyes quickly reverted to the sign hanging from the middle of the stage. In huge letters alongside a picture of me were the following words:
The government of Bayelsa state heartily welcomes our great leader President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan back home to the
GLORY OF ALL LANDS. Civic Reception in Yenagoa.
I couldn't believe the reception so carefully planned by the State Governor and people of Bayelsa.
Questioning thoughts plagued my mind.
Was this happening? Had I not just lost the elections? How could these people welcome me in this manner? After enjoying the wonderfully planned entertainment, it soon came time for me to address the people. I walked up to the podium fully aware of my feelings and what was in my heart, this was a time that I had been dreading, but suddenly I truly felt at home and loved by my people.
My Speech To The People
“I thank all of you here, and my brothers and sisters outside who cannot come in because of the size of the hall . . . Firstly, let me say that sometimes when exposed to high office and you finish serving . . . No, I will say it, I was afraid to come back home . . . Because in one way or another, I knew my people expected more of me politically. Yes, in a different world, I could have done more for my state . . . Always we can do more if responsibilities permit . . . I began to fear whether you would receive me or simply curse me . . . Or, would you hoot at me. Do you know that because of my doubts I had wanted to come back quietly. But the state governor insisted that it must be a celebration. I don't know what to say, the only thing I can do is to thank all Bayelsans, Ijaw people, people from the South- South, and indeed all Nigerians for giving me this privilege. “Often, during my term, when I would doubt what I was doing there. I used to think that probably if I had stayed in Bayelsa, I'd have been more useful to my people. But vacating the seat here gave others an added opportunity, and by all accounts, they have done wonderfully well. I want you all to know that it is my belief this new administration will work with Nigerians to make better the lives of the people. I'm indeed happy that one of the statements President Buhari made was that he doesn't belong to any clique, but rather he belongs to Nigerian's! I congratulate him for that bold statement.
Applause filled the room. I walked off the stage knowing that my people understood. I slowly sat down by the First Lady, and she turned and smiled. We held that smile for a long moment.
The show of affection for us continued with performance by first class, exceptional and talented array of professional musicians, singers, dancers, actors, and actresses. The African dancing was spectacular. The crowd was taken by surprise when the beat of the reverberating drums rang out, Suddenly an athletic, muscular and well-built African man with unusually flexible joints, appeared on stage. He danced to the loud beat of the music wearing only long, silk, yellow sweat pants and the crowd went wild as he made unusual moves with his flexibility. They were held captive as he danced, shook his body at an exceptional speed, and gyrated back and forth. He brought the house down as he did the ever famous, Michael Jackson moonwalk to African traditional music up and down the stage.
I want to mention one reenactment that sent a great message. Apparently, it had been well thought out for my benefit, creatively exhibited through the talented drama of a fish. This enormous costume masquerade of a giant fish, carried high by two performers, uniquely appeared on the stage running and turning all around like a crazy person, taunting the audience to the beat of African music. The fish played to the crowd but, more importantly, it wanted them to read the inscription displayed on both sides: DO OR DIE POLITICS! What message, was this? The crowd began questioning what was going on. It became a little disturbing as their boos rang out. What did this mean? The music mimicked the drama. Then within seconds another performer came onto the stage, he appeared holding a huge net, he confronted the fish for a few seconds, the music keeping pace, then with a mighty force he flung the net, throwing it over the fish and capturing it. The fish struggled and struggled to get free, but couldn't. The music struck up as the drama continued. Finally, the fish lay motionless, imitating the death of the fish. It was an end to Do or Die Politics! The crowd cheered and applauded enthusiastically as many of the women dancers dragged the fish off stage.
What an incredible after-party it was, and I must add once again, all the celebrations held for me in Bayesian State, were a credit to the executive talent of our Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson. My thanks to you and your wife!
18:00 Hours Home To Otuoke
“To many, he has become an icon of peace and a beacon of hope for a better future, not only for Nigeria but indeed Africa as a whole.”
Next, we were on to what would be the last reception of this special day. Let me quote excerpts from newspaper reports that came out the next day regarding my homecoming, it may best describe what was happening to the First Lady and me while driving to our village:
News Report:" Activities to welcome Mr. Jonathan to Otuoke hit a feverish pitch on Friday morning as various community groups hoisted their banners around the community as they rolled out their drums. Police patrol vans stationed at the two roads leading into Otuoke while security was beefed up at Mr. Jonathan's villa. From Government House in Yenagoa, he proceeded to his country home in Otuoke where the mother of all receptions awaited him partying well into the night." Interestingly, as we approached the crowd at the village for the reception, I noticed a lot of young people who were not from Bayelsa state. I met one young man from Katsina state, which was the home state of President Buhari. The young man had trekked from Katsina to my village. I was astounded to see him there, rather than being at Eagle Square, in Abuja, to celebrate his state's man.
We walked into the reception ground, Dame Patiance Jonathan Square, to another scene that I will always remember. Taking our seats we listened to various speeches and finally I was called upon to speak. I left the First Lady and was immediately ushered out to the excitement of the people. I felt a little tense, but hearing the cheers and well wishes relaxed me, I walked up to the podium about to address my people. I was feeling overwhelmed by the level of reception.
The cheering from the crowd uplifted my spirit, feeling emotional I began: I was born in this small village, many years back . . . The village has grown a little, but of course, it's still a small village by today's standard. I left the village after secondary school, and when I started my political career, I was living in Port Harcourt. With all politicians, we must have our base, our unit, where our umbilical cord gets cut . . . for that is where you belong . . . And this is my place of birth! I paused looking out over the sea of faces then continued. Over the years, during all my elections, I came back here to vote, my wife and myself. Today is significant for me in as much as ever since I left this village, I've never actually spent a reasonable amount of time here. I would come maybe one or two nights and go back. But today . . . All I want to say about that is— I have come home!
The crowd responded enthusiastically, much to my surprise, so I decided to add something tangible happening in Bayelsa state. I want to apologize to my guests for the difficulties you encountered in accessing my community. I know it's not easy to get here. However, the governor is building an airport in Yenagoa, and when finished you will no longer have to pass through Port Harcourt Airport while traveling to Bayelsa state. For sixteen years we have made great strides in contributing to the societal development, starting from the state and ending up in Abuja. For my wife, and myself we say thank you. We belong to this place; we are one of you . . . We are back
The crowd received my comments without any hesitation, and I was very happy.Walking back to where my wife was sitting the music struck up, the entertainers came on stage, and the singers began to sing. We sat there for the next two hours being entertained by some very talented people we have in my country. I felt proud of my administration's support for the entertainment industry.