(AA) – If your deputy at work is named “Goodluck,” make sure he gets sacked as soon as possible.
This is one of the many jokes Nigerians have about incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
The joke aptly captures the former teacher’s rise to the peak of power – without necessarily standing for election – in Africa’s most populous country.
Jonathan was born on Nov. 20, 1957 to a humble family of canoe-makers in the swampy village of Otuoke in southern Nigeria’s now-oil-rich Bayelsa State.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology, a master’s degree in hydrobiology and fisheries biology and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Port Harcourt.
Until 1998, Jonathan, a married father of two, was a lecturer and an education instructor.
He served as deputy governor under Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was impeached in 2005, allowing Jonathan to take his place as governor.
As the presidency traditionally goes to a northerner while the vice-presidency goes to someone from the oil-rich delta region, Jonathan – a little-known governor – was unexpectedly nominated in a last-minute deal as running mate to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s presidential candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua, in 2007.
Jonathan, according to political analysts, benefited from a PDP internal power play that edged out better known politicians from the region who had been earlier tapped for the post.
It is said that Jonathan’s name was first proposed for the vice-presidency only minutes before Yar’Adua was due to deliver his acceptance speech.
Threatened with a corruption probe, many aspirants had been bullied into withdrawing from the presidential primaries to enable Yar’Adua to emerge.
The PDP easily won the election – which was widely criticized by EU observers as the “worst ever held in any democracy” – and Jonathan became vice president.
The unintended rise to power of Jonathan, who hails from the Ijaw ethnic minority, was a major political triumph for Nigerian minorities who have long played second fiddle to major tribes, such as the Hausa-Fulani of the north, the Yoruba of the southwest and the Igbo of the southeast.
Seen as a victim of a power play by the so-called “Yar’Adua cabal,” Jonathan benefited enormously from public sentiment, with the southwest, southeast and northern minorities – known as the “middle belt” – rallying around him.
In 2010, rallies were held to pressure parliament to declare him acting president, as it became clear that powerful forces around the ailing Yar’Adua were trying to subvert the law by not letting Jonathan – who by law was heir to the presidency – run the country in the absence of the president.
Everybody, including Jonathan, was in the dark about the health status of Yar’Adua, who was admitted to various hospitals in Germany and, later, Saudi Arabia.
On Feb. 9, 2010, Jonathan became Nigeria’s acting president after parliament invoked what it called the “doctrine of necessity” following a national controversy over the health of Yar’Adua, who had been flown out of the country for treatment.
On May 5, 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as substantive president following the death of Yar’Adua, who had been brought into the country a few weeks before.
Jonathan’s ascendancy to the presidency was a first for the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta since the country’s independence in 1960.
Following Yar’Adua’s death and Jonathan’s ascendancy to power, the northern political elite – along with powerful forces within the ruling party – had asked him to only serve out Yar’Adua’s four-year term, after which power would return to the north.
The ruling PDP has an internal rule of rotating power between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. This produced the president between 1999 and 2007, when Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, took over and was expected to serve out the two terms of the region.
But Jonathan sidestepped the PDP’s regional arrangement and became the party’s presidential candidate in the 2011 polls.
In the run-up to the vote, he enjoyed considerable popularity in many parts of the country.
For one, his rise was seen by many as payback for his Niger Delta region, which – despite the fact that the region produces the crude oil that sustains the national economy – had never had a go at the presidency.
Besides, Jonathan ran a campaign that portrayed him as an “ordinary” Nigerian, without any link to the ruling establishment, whose rise to power was the result of providence and his subsequent ambition.
His “I had no shoe” TV advertisement, which portrayed him as a poor boy from the countryside, got everyone talking and appealed to ordinary Nigerians.
Jonathan went on to win the presidential poll – his first-ever electoral contest.
Opposition claims of fraud notwithstanding, the poll was declared to be far more transparent and credible than previous ones.
Jonathan’s honeymoon with the public, however, was short-lived.
Less than a year into office, he announced a rise in the pump price of petrol, saying petrol subsidies were unsustainable.
This led to nationwide protests that lasted over one week, which Jonathan accused the opposition of fomenting.
Then the president fell out with Nigeria’s southwest region, the country’s powerful commercial and media hub.
Analysts believe it is suicidal for a Nigerian leader to alienate both the southwest and northwest regions.
Besides the fact that the two regions have the largest voting populations, they also have very influential economic, political and socio-religious elites.
While he was not responsible for the crash in the international price of crude oil – from a little above $100 per barrel to roughly $52 per barrel – which instantly affected the national economy, the opposition heckled Jonathan for supervising the depletion of the country’s external reserves, from $45 billion in 2010 to below $3 billion now, with little to show for it.
The free fall and eventual devaluation of the local currency – the naira, currently exchanging at roughly 205 naira to the U.S. dollar – has had adverse effects on the local population because the economy relies heavily on imported goods.
Many people also say the president has not fulfilled key electoral promises, such as fixing the country’s epileptic power supply.
The opposition also claims that corruption has reached unprecedented levels under Jonathan’s leadership.
In 2007, following in Yar’Adua’s footsteps, Jonathan declared assets worth a total of 295,304,420 naira (roughly $1.8 million).
On Oct. 9, 2014, however, the richestlifestyle.com website rated him Africa’s sixth richest leader, with a net worth of about $100 million.
The president has threatened to sue the website, describing the rating as “an attempt to portray him as corrupt.”
Jonathan has also been accused of “actively” sponsoring national disunity along ethno-religious lines to further his political ambitions.
In 2014, Jonathan became the first Nigerian leader to go on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Most Nigerian Muslims, estimated at over 50 percent of the country’s population, believe Jonathan is pursuing a Christian agenda – allegations the president denies.
But analysts say it would be unfair to call Jonathan’s presidency a complete failure.
Under Jonathan, many Nigerians have enjoyed a measure of political freedom and free speech. During his presidency, there have been no political prisoners or political exiles.
The Freedom of Information Act, which aims to ensure increased transparency in public administration, was passed by parliament and approved by him.
The same cannot be said of his predecessors, who not only repeatedly thwarted the bill but also repressed their political opponents and promoted media censorship.
His supporters also point to the revival of the national railway network under Jonathan and “unprecedented” affirmative action for women.
For the first time in Nigeria, a woman was appointed chief justice and another woman holds the powerful post of petroleum minister, while women have also made unprecedented professional gains in the military.
The Jonathan administration has also made huge budgetary allocations to education, especially in the area of disadvantaged children.
He also established 14 additional federal universities in states that did not have them previously.
He has also been credited for dismantling the tyranny of middlemen in the national distribution of fertilizers to local farmers, who his administration has registered individually to access the product themselves.
But for many, Jonathan’s leadership has been beset by an intractable security crisis, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions.
While the president inherited the notorious Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, the situation has deteriorated during his presidency.
In the last three years, Boko Haram has gone from being a preaching group to a terrorist movement, with incredible sophistication that has almost discredited the national army.
In 2013, Boko Haram became so active in the northeast that emergency rule was imposed in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
A year later, the militant group made international headlines after abducting 276 schoolgirls from their dormitory in Borno State’s town of Chibok. All but 57 of the girls remain in captivity.
The year became the bloodiest yet since the birth of the insurgency – which turned violent in 2009 – with thousands killed or maimed in suicide bombings, bus station explosions and attacks on other soft targets.
At the end of 2014, Boko Haram had carved out a self-styled “Islamic caliphate” in an area as big as Belgium in the country’s northeast, with its headquarters in Borno’s Gwoza.
The insecurity was so bad that the country’s independent election commission decided to shift presidential and parliamentary elections from mid-February to March 28.
The Nigerian army has since rolled back much of the insurgents’ gains and liberated most of the local government areas earlier seized by the militants.
Although 14 candidates will vie for the presidency, the poll is largely seen as a race between Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler running on the ticket of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party.
The APC is an amalgam of political interests that have come together in a bid to wrest power from the PDP, which has ruled the country since its return to democracy in 1999.