Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan gets a second chance

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Retired Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan may seem a surprising choice for UN Special Envoy on Crisis Management given his lassitude over the Chibok girls crisis.

When UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Goodluck Jonathan as his Special Envoy on Crisis Management in early October it was the first time Jonathan was in the limelight since his presidency ended on 29 May 2015.

These days, he is trying to enjoy a quiet retirement with an occasional foray into diplomacy and local politics.

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But we shouldn’t forget his remarkable political career.

As the first sitting president in Nigeria to accept defeat in an election, Jonathan won a lot of kudos for his democratic credentials, telling his compatriots that fighting over the vote was not worth a single drop of blood.

He has also earned ridicule and suspicion in his retirement for having presided over a government that allowed billions of dollars to be funnelled out of the country in suspect oil deals.

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The best of luck, the worst of luck

Jonathan was dubbed the ‘accidental President’ when, in February 2010, he became acting head of state after his boss Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was incapacitated by kidney disease. Four months later, Jonathan became substantive president when Yar’Adua died.

Before Jonathan, no other politician from the Niger Delta had made it to the presidency.

It is the Delta region’s oil wealth that makes Nigeria the biggest producer in Africa and finances the country’s superclass. Yet the Delta is mired in penury and environmental degradation while federal security forces crack down on its opposition movements.

Jonathan was the only politician outside the military, aristocratic, political or business elite to reach Nigeria’s highest office. Since independence in 1960, all the other heads of state have been drawn from a ruling class of privileged families spanning the officers mess, the polo grounds and the elite academies.

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The son of a fisherman, with a PhD in environmental science, this political outsider was drafted as a running mate to the mercurial Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in the Bayelsa state elections in 1999. When Alamieyeseigha was arrested in Britain, Jonathan stepped into the governor’s job.

Jonathan was picked as running mate to Yar’Adua in the 2007 elections after the most prominent candidates had been ruled out by the anti-corruption agency. Three years later, Jonathan was president. And he and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) went on to win the 2011 elections in the face of accusations of widespread fraud, followed by violent clashes in northern Nigeria.

At first, Jonathan appeared to be a reluctant, as well as an accidental president. Jonathan never looked at ease in the spotlight. Neither did he look in control of the government, let alone the armed forces at a time when the country’s security threats were escalating.

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That reluctance may have made it easier for Jonathan to place that call to his rival Muhammadu Buhari in March 2015, conceding defeat in the presidential elections to the opposition coalition, the All Progressives’ Congress.

In the disputed polls four years earlier Jonathan had beaten Buhari by 10 million votes. But by 2015 some of Jonathan’s key allies had defected to Buhari’s camp.

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