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Goodluck Jonathan: Nigeria’s ‘fortunate’ leader

Lagos – An incumbent president running for re-election who has lost parts of his country to Islamist rebels and whose administration has been hit by waves of massive corruption scandals arguably has reason to worry.

But Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who launched his re-election bid on Tuesday, has repeatedly defied expectations in his rise through the country’s ruthless political world.

Many have described his ascent to power as accidental — or simply a matter of luck.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo greet supporters at a ceremony in Abuja on November 11, 2014. Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan on November 11 declared his bid for re-election, vowing to finally defeat Boko Haram whose rise in strength during his first term has threatened the country's sovereignty. The 56-year-old made the announcement to tens of thousands of supporters in the red, white and green of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at a carefully orchestrated ceremony including patriotic music, dancing, prayers and speeches. AFP PHOTO
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo greet supporters at a ceremony in Abuja on November 11, 2014. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan on November 11 declared his bid for re-election, vowing to finally defeat Boko Haram whose rise in strength during his first term has threatened the country’s sovereignty. The 56-year-old made the announcement to tens of thousands of supporters in the red, white and green of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at a carefully orchestrated ceremony including patriotic music, dancing, prayers and speeches. AFP PHOTO

The 56-year-old southern Christian, the first head of state from the oil-producing Niger Delta, was thrust into the presidency in 2010 following the death of his predecessor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the north.

The mild-mannered Jonathan is from a family of canoe makers who became a zoology professor before joining politics in 1998.

“I personally call him the accidental president. It was chance, good luck,” said Adewale Maja-Pearce, a Lagos-based writer and contributing columnist for the International New York Times.

“He was plucked from obscurity because he was considered pliable.”

– The right place at the right time –

As for his distinctive name, his late father was quoted as saying that he “called him Goodluck because although life was hard for me when he was born, I had this feeling that this boy would bring me good luck”.

Fortune certainly seems to have favoured Jonathan as he grew older.

An unconfirmed report long circulated in local media that Jonathan, elected assistant senior prefect at his secondary school, grabbed the top post when the head prefect was expelled.

His rise in government was similarly fortuitous, becoming governor of his native Bayelsa state in 2005 after his predecessor was impeached over money-laundering charges in Britain.

The night he was nominated by his Peoples Democratic Party as Yar’Adua’s running mate ahead of 2007 polls, most Nigerians had never heard of Jonathan.

A magazine once described the Nigerian leader as “hardly a man to set the pulse racing”.

– Boko Haram, corruption –

Jonathan launched his re-election campaign with Boko Haram controlling more than two dozen towns and villages in the northeast and the day after a suspected member of the Islamist group massacred nearly 50 students in a suicide bombing during morning assembly.

Analysts have said the five-year Boko Haram insurgency will likely hurt Jonathan politically in the northeast, an opposition stronghold, but doubt its electoral impact in the mostly Christian south where tribe and faith are often key factors in determining votes.

Earlier in his tenure, Jonathan won international praise for staffing his cabinet with accomplished technocrats, notably ex-World Bank vice-president Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is his finance minister.

But there have been countless accusations of major government graft, notably from ex-central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who said the state oil company misused nearly $20 billion in public funds through 2012 and 2013.

And Jonathan has failed to connect Nigeria’s masses with the nation’s huge oil wealth.

Despite being Africa’s top oil producer, most of the country’s 170 million people live on less than $1.50 a day and only receive a paltry supply of electricity.


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