Goodluck Jonathan: Nigeria's unlikely leader under pressure
Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan is a mild-mannered former zoology professor who became an unlikely president in 2010 and faces his biggest challenge yet amid mass strikes and religious violence. Jonathan, a 54-year-old southern Christian and the first head of state from the oil-producing Niger Delta, has drawn a line in the sand with his government's decision to end fuel subsidies, which has doubled petrol prices. The president and his respected economic team say the $8 billion per year saved from the subsidies will allow for spending on the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure. Nigerians however view the subsidies as their only benefit from the oil wealth in Africa's largest crude producer and most populous nation.
Spiralling violence blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram has also put enormous pressure on Jonathan amid fears of a wider religious conflict in a country roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Jonathan was thrust into the presidency in May 2010 following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the north. Jonathan, rarely seen without his fedora hat, a trademark of Niger Delta natives, handily defeated his main challenger in April elections, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. But the election exposed the country's deep divisions and post-poll riots killed some 800 people. An Ijaw, Jonathan is the first president not from one of the nation's three main ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and Igbo.
A series of unexpected events propelled him to the historic victory in April elections. He overcame opposition from within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to become its candidate, with many arguing the nomination should have gone to another northerner to replace Yar'Adua. The former zoology professor had left a job working on environmental protection issues at a government agency in 1998 to enter politics. The following year, he became deputy governor for the key southern oil-producing Bayelsa State.
In 2005, his boss was impeached over money laundering charges laid in Britain and Jonathan took over as governor. Yar'Adua, in need of a Christian southerner to balance his ticket, picked Jonathan for vice president in 2007. Jonathan, from a family of canoe makers, says he was chosen vice president to represent the restive Niger Delta.
In one of the US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, he purportedly acknowledged his inexperience in a meeting with the US ambassador while he served as acting president during Yar'Adua's illness. "I was not chosen to be vice president because I had good political experience," Jonathan was quoted as saying. "There were a lot more qualified people around to be vice president, but that does not mean I am not my own man."
As for his name, his late father was quoted as saying in a biography of the president that he "called him Goodluck because although life was hard for me when he was born, I had this feeling that this boy would bring me good luck." His mother Eunice said although she had a history of lengthy labour in childbirth stretching for several days, Goodluck was born in record time — the very day she went into labour.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.