The visit to Washington, DC, in April 2010 by Acting Nigerian Pres. Goodluck Jonathan, ostensibly as part of US President Barack Obama's Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) gave Nigeria the opportunity to "return to normal diplomatic life" after more than a year of relative isolation, in large part due to the illness of Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who remains critically ill and in isolation. Significantly, the visit by Dr Jonathan resulted in Nigeria being removed from the US' terrorist watch-list.
The addition of Nigeria to the watch-list was a hasty US reaction to an attempted terrorist bombing of a US airliner by a Nigerian citizen on December 25, 2009, even though Nigerian authorities -- and the arrested man's father -- had warned the US of concerns over the suspect.
Acting Pres. Jonathan also made a keynote speech to the US Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC during his visit and managed to gain significant policy level attention despite the presence in the city of several dozen heads of state and heads of government.
At the same time, US defense officials have been moving considerable emphasis to planning and operations relating to the security of oil and gas supplies coming from the Gulf of Guinea. One US defense official confirmed to Defense & Foreign Affairs that the US now relied on the Gulf of Guinea for 21 percent of its energy imports.
This has made White House officials increasingly concerned over the stability of Nigeria's government and elections process and about the ongoing insurgency in the Niger Delta region. The White House took the opportunity of the visit by Dr Jonathan to apply pressure on election approaches as Nigeria considers its next round of Presidential elections which will take place either in January or April 2011. The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) has already indicated that it would make its selection of a Presidential candidate by September 2010.
Given the informal arrangements which have prevailed thus far, it is now the "turn" of the North to provide the President, and Dr Jonathan is from the South-South: the Niger Delta region. The previous Administration (ie: before Pres. Yar'Adua, who is from Katsina State, in the North) was that of a southern Christian, Olusegun Obasanjo.
While there is considerable and growing support for Dr Jonathan, the ruling PDP is conscious of the fact that he needs time to build a power base (he was a little-known state governor in Bayelsa until named Vice-President to Yar'Adua), and many in Nigeria, the US, and EU hope that he will run again in 2011 as Vice-President to begin developing his base to run for the Presidency in his own right in the future.