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Friday, May 7, 2010

Nigeria's new president

Who is Nigeria's new president, Goodluck Jonathan?

In keeping with his name, he is sometimes regarded as one of the luckiest men in Nigerian politics. Goodluck Jonathan, 52, with a degree in zoology worked as an environmental officer until he entered politics. He ran as deputy governor for Bayelsa state in 2001-- one of Nigeria's main oil-producing states in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
(Goodluck Jonathan, pictured in April, has a full plate of issues to tackle as Nigeria's new president)
After the state governor -- Diepreye Alamieyeseigha -- was indicted by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on corruption charges in 2006, Jonathan was promoted to governor of one of the richest regions in Africa.

This rather obscure politician is then widely regarded by political analysts as having been hand-picked by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to run as vice-president with Umaru Yar'Adua in the 2007 national elections.

In what are widely considered the most flawed in Nigeria's history they won.

Then in November 2009, President Umaru Yar'Adua was taken to Saudi Arabia because of a heart condition -- but without signing over power to his vice president.

Since November, Jonathan and his supporters struggled to gain presidential power against an array of factions competing for influence and power. In February, Jonathan was finally made acting president by the House of Representatives. With Yar'Adua's death and the consequent swearing in of Jonathan to the presidency he has now solidified his position.

Some Nigerians put Jonathan's rise to power down to 'good luck.' The removal of those above him -- through no act of his own -- provided the opportunity for his rise. Others credit him with the political patience to sit out events until they play in his favor.

Whatever the case he has no further to rise and his political prowess and skill will now be truly tested to try to introduce any of his promised reforms before elections next year.

How well known is he on the African stage?

Not at all, and not especially even in Nigeria. Jonathan's first main interview after assuming the vice presidency was CNN's "Amanpour" show.

He is a quiet man, who appears to have had little obvious ambition in reaching the dizzying heights of the presidency.

However, his recognition has skyrocketed as he assumed the presidency of Africa's most populous country, with about 150 million people. His agenda before the elections will be less about projecting Nigeria's image across the continent and world -- but maintaining stability and preparing the country for elections next year.

What was his relationship with Yar'Adua?

Very little is known about the private relationship between Yar'Adua and now-President Jonathan, who had little public influence in the administration during Yar'Adua's tenure.

Nigeria holds an unofficial policy of power sharing between the south-west, south-east and north. Yar'Adua was the north's "turn" and Jonathan's appointment to the vice presidency was seen as appeasing the South-East in the power-sharing arrangement.

However, both Yar'Adua and Jonathan were members of Nigeria's biggest political party -- the PDP or Peoples Democratic Party. With little opposition it's a party with little coherent political alignment other than maintaining control of Nigerian politics. Both Yar'Adua and Jonathan agreed on the main polices of the administration and now Jonathan promises to continue Yar'Adua's main agenda of political reform and peace in the Niger Delta.

How likely is Jonathan to get re-elected next year?

The 2011 elections are the prize for the on-going political struggles. Jonathan has not said publicly that he will run but he has also not ruled out running.

Already several of Nigeria's big political players are intimating that they will run -- in particular Ibrahim Babangida, an ex-president who annulled the country's elections in 1993.

However, holding the presidency would give Jonathan considerable influence and support as the incumbent if he decided to run. But many analysts believe Jonathan's much touted electoral reform will be difficult to implement if he decides to run in a race that he is also trying to influence through his reforms.

Jonathan also hails from Nigeria's south, and the PDP's unofficial policy of power rotation means that the presidency still belongs to the north. They are traditional powerbrokers in much Nigeria's history since independence in 1960 and feel that despite Yar'Adua's death, the president should continue to belong to a northerner for at least one more term.

In April Jonathan fired the whole of the cabinet. Why did he do this?

Jonathan and his supporters struggled to maintain their grip on power after Yar'Adua left for Saudi Arabia because of a heart condition.

What was widely criticized by political commentators and even some ministers as a "cabal" of ministers around both the president and his wife, Turai, tried to prevent the transfer of power to Jonathan and keep control of Nigeria's massive oil economy and political power for the upcoming elections for themselves.

During the political impasse, hundreds were killed in ethno-religious violence in central Nigeria, attacks against oil facilities in the oil-rich Niger Delta resumed and thousands of protesters took to the streets.

To try to clear the impasse, assume political control, bring a sense of stability, as well as bow to popular pressure Jonathan fired the entire cabinet. His new cabinet is widely regarded as trying to appease most of the factions -- bringing back some of Yar'Adua's ministers, introducing ministers of his own, as well as Former Goldman Sachs executive Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga as finance minister whom many hope will continue economic reforms.

What is his attitude toward the militants in the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region?

Jonathan is from the Niger Delta, and has plenty of political experience in the region after his time as governor of one most oil-rich states in the region.

As a politician from the Niger Delta he carries considerable political influence with the armed gangs and militants in the Niger Delta, who now see his rise to the presidency as their opportunity to wield true political power and implement long-term changes in favor of the region.

However, the Niger Delta is a region of many ethnic and political groups and many do not support Jonathan -- some even attempting to prevent him assuming the Presidency.

An amnesty for militant groups introduced under Yar'Adua maintains a relative peace in the region -- and Jonathan has stated his aim to support the amnesty and rehabilitation of militants who accepted it.

However, it must be noted that the militants were originally funded and armed by politicians in the Niger Delta who used the armed young men to win political power. This is the background against which politicians like Jonathan rose to power in the region. There is a concern that with the 2011 elections the cycle could begin again.

What other key issues face Nigeria? What are Jonathan's plans?

Nigeria has a host of problems it needs to tackle -- corruption, ethno-religious violence in central Nigeria, armed gangs in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the rise of Islamic sects in the north, dependency on oil (oil accounts for 80% of budgetary revenue), and a overwhelming population explosion.

Perhaps the most important key to alleviating most of these issues is free and fair elections and Jonathan is promising electoral reform.

However, so too have many of his predecessors, and Jonathan's rise to power is on the back of what are widely regarded as some of the most flawed elections in the country's history. But even some a small improvement in the election process would help return from what is a complete erosion in the legitimacy of government in the eyes of Nigerians, and in turn hope to promote better governance.

Jonathan is a product of Nigeria's current political system who has attempted few big reforms against the status quo during most of his time in office. Why would he start now? Nigerians don't care -- they just want him to start.



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