Goodluck Jonathan promises credible elections in 2011

One of the great ironies of reporting overseas is that it’s often much easier to hear a political leader speak candidly here in Washington than in an interview back home. Such was the case today, as Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations as part of his trip here for ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

One of the great ironies of reporting overseas is that it's often much easier to hear a political leader speak candidly here in Washington than in an interview back home. Such was the case today, as Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations as part of his trip here for Barack Obama's nuclear summit. And it wasn't just him: his delegation included five state governors and the minister of petroleum and finance. In other words, that's more high-level Nigerian officials than any gathering I'd ever been present to in Abuja.

What struck me most about Jonathan was his almost anti-politician persona. He's a charismatic guy, who laughs often, slouches when he sits, peppers his points with anecdotes. But when he read his prepared statement,  he was ice cold -- an unpracticed speaker in that context. He was in his element discussing things he knows in and out -- the Niger Delta, where he is from and where he is leading an amnesty program for militants there; election reform, which he says is a top priority.

On the substance, here's what Goodluck Jonathan promises to deliver for Nigeria while in office: First, credible elections in 2011 -- a big advance for anyone who watched the fiasco that was the last presidential poll in 2007. "I promise Nigerians and the rest of the world that 2011 elections in Nigera will be credible," he told the audience, explaining that this was an objective that could certainly be achieved in his short time left in office (maximum 12 months). He promised advances in the fight against corruption; progress on the Niger Delta amnesty deal; security reform to prevent outbreaks of violence in the North (and elsewhere); and a serious review of the power sector (or more accurately the power-cuts sector in its current state today). 

One of the great ironies of reporting overseas is that it’s often much easier to hear a political leader speak candidly here in Washington than in an interview back home. Such was the case today, as Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations as part of his trip here for Barack Obama’s nuclear summit. And it wasn’t just him: his delegation included five state governors and the minister of petroleum and finance. In other words, that’s more high-level Nigerian officials than any gathering I’d ever been present to in Abuja.

What struck me most about Jonathan was his almost anti-politician persona. He’s a charismatic guy, who laughs often, slouches when he sits, peppers his points with anecdotes. But when he read his prepared statement,  he was ice cold — an unpracticed speaker in that context. He was in his element discussing things he knows in and out — the Niger Delta, where he is from and where he is leading an amnesty program for militants there; election reform, which he says is a top priority.

On the substance, here’s what Goodluck Jonathan promises to deliver for Nigeria while in office: First, credible elections in 2011 — a big advance for anyone who watched the fiasco that was the last presidential poll in 2007. "I promise Nigerians and the rest of the world that 2011 elections in Nigera will be credible," he told the audience, explaining that this was an objective that could certainly be achieved in his short time left in office (maximum 12 months). He promised advances in the fight against corruption; progress on the Niger Delta amnesty deal; security reform to prevent outbreaks of violence in the North (and elsewhere); and a serious review of the power sector (or more accurately the power-cuts sector in its current state today). 

The question I was hoping to ask but wasn’t able to, however, is to me the crux of whether these promises will come to fruition: does Jonathan have the support and political flexibility he needs to get all this done? To follow Nigerian politics over the last several months has been to try and sort through the dramatic reversals of allegiance, apparent purges of whole swathes of people, and resurrections of swathes of other once-purged former officials. Only if that ends will any policy promises even begin to move forward.

Here’s my hope: As I’ve written before, Jonathan ended up as the president by a series of accidents. He hasn’t been voted into office, either for the presidency or the governorship, except as a running mate. So maybe he can rise above the politics and do the things he spoke about today. There would be nothing accidental about that happening. 

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Africa

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