Jonathan's Goodluck

By Donnelly, Elizabeth | The World Today, June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Jonathan's Goodluck

Donnelly, Elizabeth, The World Today

For many Nigerians, relief has followed months of uncertainty, they can afford to be hopeful again for the first time in a longwhile. Goodluck Jonathan,who has become President after the death of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, hasmade every effort to present himself as a self-assured reformer, capable of quick-decisions and tactical thinking.But it is early days and important to be cautious on what the President can and will achieve. However nimble an operator, he may well be tripped-up by the scale and complexity of Nigeria's challenges, or eventually have to bow to pressure to protect a vested interest.

GOODLUCK JONATHAN HAS HAD a speedy and surprising ascent to the office of President of Nigeria. Even in 2007 he was an unexpected choice as running-mate for UmaruMusa Yar'Adua. The son of a canoe-builder, the 53 year-old holds a doctorate in Zoology and only entered politics in 1998. In 2005 Jonathan became Governor of Bayelsa state in Nigeria's Niger Delta region after his boss was impeached, having been charged in Britain with money laundering. Less than two years later, Jonathan was Vice-President.

Yar'Adua, who had long suffered ill-health, was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment last November. This triggered a power vacuum, and then a power struggle. Even as the President's health worsened, the patronage networks that benefited from his office would not allow him to step aside.

The wrangling over power-holding - that is access to resources and lucrative deals - meant that Nigeria was leaderless for more than two months. Investors and international partners became nervous; Nigeria is the world's nineteenth largest recipient of foreign direct investment, according to UNCTAD, and supplies the United States with eleven percent of its oil. The regional influence of thisWest African giant, with the continent's largest population and probably its biggest oil reserves, is considerable.


Tensions, rumour and legal challenges proliferated until February 9 when the Senate declared Jonathan Acting President. But things became even more confused when Yar'Adua was suddenly flown back to the country under cover of darkness later that month.

Yet Jonathan persevered and, as Acting President he surprised observers with the speed of his actions and bold headline-catching demotions and sackings. He almost immediately removed the allegedly dubious Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, and less than a month later sacked the national security adviser Abdullahi SarkiMukhtar, one of the Yar'Adua presidency's inner circle.

The energy and decisiveness with which Jonathan has come to his new job has certainly been remarkable, particularly as he has risen so quickly from relative obscurity. His actions signal that he has not simply thrown caution to the wind, rather he is thinking tactically and in all likelihood, intends to continue beyond next year's presidential elections.

He has already visited the US - the most vocal critic of Nigeria's power vacuum during Yar'Adua's illness - and met President Barack Obama ahead of April's nuclear security summit inWashington. This came a week after the long-awaited signing of the USNigeria Binational Commission agreement. Jonathan is expected to visit Britain in July.

The question is how far the President, sworn in onMay 6, will be able to take the reforms begun by his predecessor before things start to heat-up ahead of presidential elections.

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