Profile: Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan

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goodluck-jonathan2011As his name suggests, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has a habit of being in the right place at the right time.

Until November 2009, he was serving out his time as a low-key deputy from the south of the country to a low-key president from the north.

But then, President Umaru Yar’Adua was taken to hospital in Saudi Arabia and was not seen again in public until he died on 5 May 2010.

Step forward, Mr Jonathan. After months of political wrangling, Nigeria’s elite finally accepted him as acting leader in February 2010 when the ailing president returned home, but remained too ill to govern.

Barely 12 hours after Mr Yar’Adua’s death, Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as the new president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Africa’s most populous nation – one of its most fractious democracies.

“Start Quote

There has not been any rise that’s been so meteoric in Nigeria”

End Quote Analyst Charles Dokubo


Not bad for a man who has never been elected to major public office in his own right.

Now he has defied the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s tradition of alternating presidential power between north and south after two terms of office by winning the party’s primaries.

Given that the PDP candidate has won every poll, amid allegations of fraud, since the end of military rule in 1999, he is likely to be elected to the presidency in his own right in April.


Born in 1957 in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, Mr Jonathan is a Christian from the Ijaw ethnic group.

His family’s trade was canoe-making, but he studied zoology at university.

He worked as an education inspector, lecturer and environmental protection officer before going into politics in 1998

Yar’Adua’s death meant the south of the country took over the reigns of power

Just as his rapid rise to power in the federal government owed a lot to luck, so too did his promotion to state governor.

Elected as deputy governor for his home state, Bayelsa, in 1999, he was once again serving his time without particular distinction.

Until, that is, his boss was impeached on corruption charges.

Mr Jonathan took over as governor and two years later was hand-picked by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to run on the PDP’s ticket as vice-presidential candidate in 2007.

The BBC’s Fidelis Mbah says insiders regard him as a politician without a political base – and more of an administrator than a leader.

It had been suggested that Nigeria’s many groups of powerbrokers agreed to let him formally become acting president only because he was not seen as a threat – and would not seek to contest April’s elections.

But the huge margin of his victory at the PDP primaries, with several central and northern states backing him, proves his political acumen and the relative smoothness of his assumption of power.

“There has not been any rise that’s been so meteoric in Nigeria,” analyst Charles Dokubo said in 2010.

On the relevance of the acting president’s name, he said: “What is luck? Luck is when you can take advantage of an opportunity. He was in the right place at the right time.”

Journalist Ben Shemang is among the many Nigerians who believe Mr Jonathan’s name has given him an advantage.

He told the BBC’s World Today programme that Mr Jonathan was doubly lucky as his other given name is equally propitious – Ebele, which means God’s wish.

“That tells you that it was the wish of the parents for him to be successful,” he said.

Militant work

His rise to power, though, has not been without its share of controversy

His wife, Patience, was investigated by anti-corruption officials in 2006 over allegations she tried to launder some $13.5m (£8.5m).

She has never been convicted of any wrongdoing over the affair and officials told AP the case was “an old one”.

If Mr Jonathan’s time as vice-president was distinguished at all, it was through his negotiations with militants in the Niger Delta, who are mostly his fellow Ijaws.

Many of the major militant groups have laid down their weapons as part of a government amnesty.

But his presidency so far will mainly be remembered for the Independence Day bombings last October.

As he was overseeing the pomp and ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of independence in Abuja’s Eagle Square – two car bomb blasts nearby killed 12 people.

A militant faction claimed responsibility for the attacks – and is believed to be behind an upsurge of violence in the Niger Delta.

And with the elections looming there are fears of more violence.

Polls are often marred by intimidation – with politicians sometimes recruiting and arming gangs.

Mr Jonathan wants to introduce electoral reforms, something that could cement his political legacy – but it is unlikely that he can change much before April, even if he is sincere in his desire for reform.

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