His greatest strength: his incumbency
Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan is reeling ahead of next year’s poll, writes Daniel Magnowski
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
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.