Goodluck Jonathan is perhaps the most unknown quantity in world politics; even Nigerians are somewhat hazy about his background and exactly how he managed to land Nigeria’s top job. True to his name, his career has been characterised by being in the right time at the right place. First as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, in the Delta region, when his boss was impeached on corruption charges: step forward Jonathan. Then again two years later, when Umaru Yar Adua, alive and well and making his own decisions, picked him as his running mate. The logic was simple. He was a southerner, complimenting the northern Yar Adua, and he posed no political threat, having no significant power base. Then Yar Adua went on his little medical vacation to Saudi Arabia: step forward Jonathan, this time as president.
In a country where backroom deals are the currency of power, Nigeria’s biggest Big Man is someone with few favours to return and no specific constituency to favour. He has little political baggage, and this could mean that he, alone of Nigeria’s post-independence leaders, has the power to make decisions purely on their merits. The initial signs are promising. He’s cleaned out the cabinet, and has just sacked the notorious head of the electoral commission, who presided over intimidation, ballot-stuffing and fraud on a massive scale.
There are new elections just around the corner, in 2011, and a lot hinges on whether Goodluck decides to participate. If he does not, he has a once in a lifetime opportunity to clean up Nigeria’s electoral system. If he does run for president, then chances are all reform will be designed with his victory in mind (especially given the track record of his party). We are cautiously optimistic, despite his trademark hat.