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Nigeria’s Jonathan fights on after chaotic year

Goodluck Jonathan (centre) is rarely seen without the fedora hat common to natives of the Niger Delta (© 2009 AFP)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan marked a year since his inauguration Tuesday with fresh pledges to eradicate the Islamist insurgency and corruption that have plagued his tenure so far.

Jonathan, a 54-year-old southern Christian, has faced enormous challenges since winning a vote viewed as the fairest in nearly two decades despite ensuing rioting that killed some 800 people in the north.

The list of issues to tackle has often appeared intractable, including daily power cuts, all-pervasive corruption and an escalating campaign by Islamist group Boko Haram that has killed hundreds.

In a nationally televised speech Tuesday to mark Democracy Day, a public holiday and the day presidents are sworn into office, Jonathan sought to reassure the country that the violence was being addressed.

“I wish to reassure every Nigerian that we will confront this threat against our collective peace and security, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.

“We will confront the few misguided persons who falsely believe that, through violence, they can impose their agenda of hate and division on this nation of good people.”

Suicide bombers have targeted the UN building in the capital Abuja, police headquarters and one of the country’s most prominent newspapers.

Boko Haram’s campaign in the northern half of the country and the government’s perceived inability to contain the violence has renewed fears of a fully-fledged civil conflict in Africa’s largest oil producer.

A police bomb disposal squad on Tuesday safely detonated an improvised explosive device left on a roadside in the northern city of Kaduna, previously rocked by deadly blasts blamed on Boko Haram, authorities said.

Jonathan on Tuesday also pledged to reduce corruption, improve infrastructure and send long-delayed legislation aimed at overhauling the oil industry to parliament next month.

The election of Jonathan, the son of a canoe maker, had raised hopes for change in one of the world’s most graft-ridden nations.

He is Nigeria’s first president from a minority ethnic group as well as the first from the oil-producing Niger Delta region.

However, many analysts rate his time in office so far as a disappointment, calling his government’s response to the insurgency befuddled and citing a lack of a true commitment in attacking corruption.

His easy-going style has frustrated those who say he lacks a sense of urgency, while Jonathan’s supporters and even the president himself argue that his calmness can yield dividends.

“There is a total lack of political will to address any of the problems confronting the country,” said lawyer and prominent rights activist Femi Falana.

Jonathan, a zoologist by training rarely seen without the fedora hat common to natives of the Niger Delta, initially came to office as acting president of Africa’s most populous nation when his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill.

He was sworn in as president after Yar’Adua’s death in May 2010, and decided to run in the following year’s election despite major opposition to his candidacy in the majority Muslim north.

There is the widespread sense that Jonathan’s intentions are good — though whether he can follow through is another matter in a country where most of the population lives on less than $2 per day despite its oil wealth.

Many have said one of his top priorities — ending a graft-ridden fuel subsidy programme — was badly mishandled.

The bid to end subsidies abruptly and without warning on January 1 caused petrol prices to instantly double, pushing tens of thousands to take to the streets in protest and leading to a week-long nationwide strike.

Jonathan was forced to compromise and partially reinstate the subsidies. A parliamentary report in April alleged Nigeria lost $6.8 billion from 2009-2011 through the corrupt subsidy programme.

Some analysts say Jonathan lacks the leadership needed in a country such as Nigeria, a nation of some 160 million people and 250 ethnic groups roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

Others point out that the challenges would be daunting for anyone.

Signature : Ola Awoniyi ABUJA (AFP)

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