Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Wednesday, September 8, 2010, Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, informed a group of governors that he would run for president in the upcoming January elections. This information came months after much speculation about a campaign. There was even agitation amongst members of the northern elite who argued that the next president must come from the northern half of Nigeria. In more banal news, a group of women promised  "sex starvation" if Jonathan failed to announce his candidacy. Despite all the pre-announcement dramatics, there was never any doubt that Jonathan would run. The lack of surprise is due to many factors including the fact that his campaign website was unveiled before this announcement and that one of his campaign logos features prominently on the federal government's website. In light of his announcement, what remains is the reality that Jonathan missed an opportunity to set an example of Nigerian leadership that could have changed the path of Nigerian democracy and possibly influenced democracy on the continent.

Jokes abound about how Jonathan is the luckiest man in Nigeria. Previously Vice President of the country, he became President due to the death of his predecessor, Umar Musa Yar'adua. Jonathan's advent to the presidency occurred during a period of political insecurity. As such, many looked upon his presidency as an opportunity to being an end to the uncertainty created by Yar'adua's illness-induced absence and the uncertainty it created. That, coupled with Jonathan's performance on international news programs - where he departed from previous Nigerian presidents by sounding and appearing coherent and professional - further increased the support from citizens. And, in no time, many began to clamor for Jonathan to run for office. Different individuals and groups announced their public support for a Jonathan candidacy. Even the United States government announced their support for Jonathan as president in 2011.

Goodluck Jonathan
Source: Artist, Craig Coulthard - Politician Portraits (2008)
Now that Jonathan has finally announced that he will indeed run for office, his candidacy raises questions about the credibility of the upcoming elections. Upon gaining the reigns of power, Jonathan committed his 12-month administration to the creation of a system and atmosphere that would ensure free and fair elections. However, his presence in the presidential polls, coupled with the history of the fraudulent elections that brought him into power in the first place, raise concerns over whether the upcoming elections will be fair. Besides, as has been repeated by many an observer, it is unconscionable for the arbiter of a match to then participate in it.

And it is in that respect that Jonathan missed a unique opportunity to transform the political landscape. As president, he and his ministers could have focused on creating a platform that would limit corruption by further empowering anti-corruption laws or produced verifiable results in education via the simple increase of funding in the budget. Instead, he increased the budget for Nigeria's 50th independence celebrations by 161% and purchased an entire new fleet of planes for his private use. Undoubtedly, Jonathan has taken positive steps such as the plan to privatize electricity supply but, unfortunately, the results from that plan will not bear fruit in the short term.

Jonathan could have ignored the pressure to run for president and instead focused on setting precedents that would create long term economic, social and political benefits. He could have been the first Nigerian leader to resist the temptation of power and set an example for current and future Nigerians that a leader can, in a short period of time, lay the foundations for good governance and solid leadership - some of the very things Nigeria needs. His announcement encourages doubts in the credibility of the upcoming elections and the assumption that like other presidential incumbents before him, Jonathan will not lose the presidential elections which are scheduled to occur on January 22nd, 2011. Under the circumstances, the results will undoubtedly be challenged and if the clear chaos and fraud of the 2007 elections is anything to go by, evidence of rigging, manipulation and voter disenfranchisement will be recorded. Nonetheless, it is not too late for Nigerians to collectively protect their votes and ensure that regardless of who wins the presidential elections, that person will win free and fair. Also, they must ensure that the next president be the best possible candidate for the job.

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