The apparent decision on May 11, 2010 — discreetly revealed by two Nigerian newspapers the next day — that Nigerian Pres. Dr Goodluck Jonathan would be interested in contesting the January 2011 Presidential elections may have been part of a process to “test the waters” on the incumbent President’s chances of electoral success. Whatever the motivation, the leak sent a message of concern through the global energy industry which is increasingly dependent on Nigerian — and Gulf of Guinea — oil and gas output.
Dr Jonathan’s new confidence in his belief that he could take the Presidency in his own right, after so tentatively taking the Presidency with the death of Pres. Umaru Yar’Adua, was confirmed when on the night of May 12, 2010, he appointed another inexperienced politician — at least inexperienced on the national and international stage — Governor Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State, as Vice-President-designate. With that step, and with the almost simultaneous resignation of the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Prince Vincent Ogbulafor to face corruption charges, Dr Jonathan had clearly believed that the carefully guided plans his advisors had put in place to get Nigeria moving again had given him a national power base in his own right.
Basically, Dr Jonathan was walking away from the political and governmental team which had installed him, and which had the experience to resume dealing with the major infrastructural and security crises besetting the country.
Pres. Jonathan, from Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta — the region known as the “South-South” — would, if he ran for the Presidency, usurp the understanding within his own PDP that it was the turn of the North to field a Presidential candidate. Pres. Jonathan inherited the Presidency when, during his Vice-Presidential tenure under a Northern President (Umaru Yar’Adua), the incumbent died. Dr Jonathan’s move could well split the PDP, but now necessarily down the middle. He may find himself with a splinter of the party.
Moreover, Pres. Jonathan does not have a national power base on his own, or even a real track record at a national level. His experience in regional and international affairs has been limited, essentially, to attending — as Acting President — US Pres. Barack Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, in April 2010. Nigerian media have been using his one “photo-op” with Pres. Obama since then to show Pres. Jonathan’s international “credentials”.
What went unnoticed by the Nigerian media was the fact that the Obama White House did not, in fact, treat him as a VIP or vital ally of the US, but lectured him on election reform. At the same time, Acting Pres. Jonathan did not heed the advice of experienced Nigerian Washington hands as to how to phrase his remarks to the US policy community, and in a brief remark, and subsequent questions and answers, to the US Council on Foreign Relations, pushed an agenda which was more suited to a Nigerian rather than a US audience.
Given the indication that Pres. Jonathan would probably contest the January 2011 election, his choice of Vice-President, which should have been announced at the latest on May 11, 2010, was still not announced until late on May 12, 2010. But the indications of the probability of a Presidential bid at the elections by Dr Jonathan almost certainly indicated to observers that the Vice-Presidency would go to a cipher candidate, probably one of the PDP state governors who were on a short-list of candidates. That proved to be the case.
What this means is that Pres. Jonathan was about to lose some of the key power brokers who literally put him in office, getting him from the governorship of Bayelsa (and its record, even under his own term, of extensive corruption) to the Vice-Presidency, and then to the Acting Presidency, and subsequently to the Presidency. These officials feel that Dr Jonathan has now become too ambitious and too disloyal, moving his own — and his wife’s — desires ahead of the country’s needs or expectations.
One source noted: “Dr Jonathan needed another few years of experience in dealing with national and international issues. He is a long way from being ready for the Presidency, and his completion of the Yar’Adua tenure until 2011 would only have been productive, in a real sense, if he retained the support of the really professional insiders who had supported him. Now, it appears as though he is going back to the Yar’Adua model of governance, worrying only about making money for himself and his family and ignoring the crisis in the country, and even his own Niger Delta region.”
The result is likely to be that the security situation in the Niger Delta could get worse in the run-up to the January 2011 elections, impacting the security of oil and gas production, and therefore throwing a measure of uncertainty into global energy markets.
Analysis by Defense & Foreign Affairs GIS Station Abuja, and other sources.