His great­est strength: his in­cum­bency

Nige­ria’s Good­luck Jonathan is reel­ing ahead of next year’s poll, writes Daniel Magnowski

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

NIGE­RIAN Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan’s sup­port­ers who are revving up their cam­paign for his re-elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary would ap­pear to have a tough sell.

Is­lamist mil­i­tants loyal to the Boko Haram group have killed thou­sands, kid­napped hun­dreds of school­girls and left much of the north-east a no-go zone.

A third of the pop­u­la­tion lives in poverty, and Jonathan hasn’t met his prom­ise to end crip­pling power cuts in Africa’s big­gest econ­omy.

While Jonathan, 56, hasn’t de­clared of­fi­cially that he’s run­ning, he col­lected the pa­per­work re­quired to reg­is­ter his can­di­dacy last month. Should he de­cide to do so, he can count on the power of in­cum­bency.

The can­di­date of his Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (PDP) has won ev­ery elec­tion since the con­ti­nent’s largest oil pro­ducer re­turned to civil­ian rule in 1999.

The main op­po­si­tion party faces a bruis­ing bat­tle be­tween at least three can­di­dates, in­clud­ing for­mer mil­i­tary ruler, Muham­madu Buhari, a three-time pres­i­den­tial-elec­tion loser.

“I ex­pect Jonathan to win; that’s ab­so­lutely the con­sen­sus among in­vestors,” Kevin Daly, an emerg­ing-mar­ket debt port­fo­lio man­ager at Aberdeen As­set Man­age­ment in London, said by phone. “You don’t see im­prove­ments when it comes to cor­rup­tion, trans­parency and oil theft. Th­ese are the down­sides to the PDP re­main­ing in power.”

Jonathan, a Christian from the south­ern state of Bayelsa in the oil-rich Niger River delta, was vice-pres­i­dent un­til he be­came Nige­ria’s leader when Pres­i­dent Umaru Yar’Adua, a north­erner, died in of­fice in 2010. A year later, he won elec­tions with 59 per­cent of the vote.

With south­ern Nige­ria ben­e­fit­ing most from an eco­nomic ex­pan­sion that Mor­gan Stan­ley econ­o­mists project at about 5.8 per­cent this year and 7 per­cent in the next two years, Jonathan’s sup­port­ers re­main con­fi­dent he can re­peat that per­for­mance.

An ad­vert placed in the Van­guard news­pa­per on Oc­to­ber 31 by two pro-Jonathan groups lists among his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s suc­cesses longer life ex­pectancy for Nige­ria’s 170 mil­lion peo­ple, slow­ing in­fla­tion, more phone lines and bet­ter roads.

“What Nige­ri­ans need is food on their ta­bles, good jobs, good health and good in­fra­struc­ture and other good projects to drive the econ­omy pos­i­tively,” said Ahmed Sal­i­siu, na­tional sec­re­tary of the Good­luck Vot­ers Fo­rum based in Abuja, the cap­i­tal.

“Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan is do­ing all th­ese as well as driv­ing Nige­ria in the right di­rec­tion.”

Jonathan was sched­uled to hold a rally yes­ter­day in Abuja’s Ea­gle Square, Lagos­based ThisDay re­ported, cit­ing Se­na­tor Ani­ete Okon, a mem­ber of Jonathan’s re-elec­tion com­mit­tee.

In his 2011 cam­paign, Jonathan vowed to bring elec­tric­ity to Nige­ri­ans, the vast majority of whom live with­out reg­u­lar ac­cess to grid power. After sell­ing sta­te­owned gen­er­a­tion plants, the gov­ern­ment had to in­ter­vene with a $1.3 bil­lion (R14.6bn) in­dus­try bailout in Septem­ber, while de­mand still far out­strips sup­ply, ac­cord­ing to Power Min­istry fig­ures.

Another in­com­plete task is the Pe­tro­leum In­dus­try Bill, a pack­age of laws stuck in par­lia­ment for years, that would change how rev­enue is col­lected from the oil ex­ports on which Nige­ria’s gov­ern­ment re­lies for about 70 per­cent of its in­come.

Jonathan will also have to con­tend with a drop in global oil prices pres­sur­ing gov­ern­ment fi­nances. The Nige­rian Stock Ex­change All Share In­dex re­treated for a 13th day in the long­est streak of losses since Jan­uary 2009 to the low­est level since April last year. The naira, which ral­lied 2.5 per­cent against the dol­lar on Novem­ber 7 after the cen­tral bank sold for­eign ex­change, de­clined as much as 2.8 per­cent against the green­back.

The dark­est shadow hang­ing over the gov­ern­ment is the case of the more than 200 girls ab­ducted by Boko Haram from their school in the north-east­ern town of Chi­bok in April. The video of the ab­ducted stu­dents, ini­tially handed to re­porters, was later up­loaded to YouTube. But this week’s at­tack on a school in north-east­ern Nige­ria by a sus­pected Boko Haram sui­cide bomber dis­guised in school uni­form was also shock­ing. The at­tacker killed 47 pupils in an ex­plo­sion that ripped through an all-boys school in Po­tiskum just as pupils gath­ered for morn­ing assem­bly be­fore classes be­gan.

The at­tack on Mon­day came just a day after the re­lease of a new Boko Haram video in which the Is­lamist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, again re­jected Nige­rian gov­ern­ment claims of a cease­fire and peace talks.

While the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a cease­fire with Boko Haram on Oc­to­ber 17, the in­sur­gents fight­ing in the mainly Mus­lim north carry out almost daily at­tacks. In a video re­leased two weeks later, a man claim­ing to be Shekau de­nied the rebels had struck any such deal and said the girls had con­verted to Is­lam and were mar­ried.

A sui­cide-bomb at­tack on a school in the north-east­ern town of Po­tiskum killed at least 47 peo­ple on Mon­day and in­jured 79, po­lice spokesman Em­manuel Ojukwu said. No group has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Many peo­ple con­sider the gen­eral in­se­cu­rity in this coun­try as part and par­cel of neg­li­gence on the part of Jonathan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Habu Mo­hammed, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Bayero Univer­sity in the north­ern city of Kano, said.

To Jonathan’s ad­van­tage is the quandary faced by the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC). It’s fac­ing a three-way contest be­tween Buhari, for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar, and Kano state gov­er­nor Rabiu Kwankwaso, all north­ern­ers.

“The op­po­si­tion APC re­mains the un­der­dog, par­tic­u­larly if it fails to unite be­hind its likely pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Muham­madu Buhari,” said Philippe de Pon­tet, Africa di­rec­tor at New York-based Eura­sia Group.

Jonathan’s gov­ern­ment has said it will run an is­sues-based cam­paign un­der the banner of “Four Im­pact­ful Years”. Min­is­ters lined up at an event in Abuja last week to laud the ad­min­is­tra­tion for its suc­cesses in build­ing roads, at­tract­ing for­eign in­vest­ment, start­ing do­mes­tic car man­u­fac­tur­ing and in­creas­ing the out­put of rice, co­coa and ce­ment.

Nige­ria was also able to con­tain Ebola after eight peo­ple died of the ill­ness, com­pared to more than 5 000 in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Yet Jonathan’s great­est strength is the fact that he is al­ready in power.

“Nige­ria’s elec­tions con­form to a rule of thumb about elec­tions in Africa and more widely: When in­cum­bents run for re-elec­tion, they win over 85 per­cent of the time and typ­i­cally with over 60 per­cent of the vote,” Zainab Us­man and Oliver Owen, re­searchers at Ox­ford Univer­sity, wrote in an Oc­to­ber 29 re­port for the Royal African So­ci­ety in London.

In Nige­ria’s last elec­tion, they said, 17 of the coun­try’s 20 in­cum­bent state gover­nors were re­elected, with an av­er­age win­ning vote of 69 per­cent.

“There are three months un­til elec­tions, the pri­maries have not yet been held and there is plenty of po­ten­tial for the pen­du­lum to swing,” Tim New­bold, re­gional di­rec­tor for West Africa at con­sul­tancy afr­icaprac­tice Ltd, said on a Novem­ber 4 con­fer­ence call. “It’s un­likely the APC will win, but a lot can change in the next three months.” – The Wash­ing­ton Post, with ad­di­tional re­port­ing from Sapa-AFP

PIC­TURE: AFO­LABI SOTUNDE / REUTERS

CAN HE DO IT AGAIN? Good­luck Jonathan hasn’t per­formed well in of­fice; still, an­a­lysts pre­dict he’ll serve a sec­ond term.

GRIM RE­AL­ITY: De­spite the pro­pa­ganda, the streets ap­pear dire, left, the food not health­ful, sec­ond left, and there are fre­quent at­tacks such as the re­cent sui­cide bombing, right, and the kid­nap­ping of school­girls by Boko Haram, far right.

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