When I first heard the news that Goodluck Jonathan had suspended the Nigerian football team from international football for two years after their abject performance in the World Cup, I thought he’d gone crazy. Nigeria were bad, but they weren’t that bad. France were worse. And Nigeria were lucky to be in the World Cup at all, only getting there after a playoff with Kenya. So no one should really have been surprised at their early, undistinguished exit. The team don’t deserve to be sent into the footballing equivalent of Siberia (although even Siberians remain eligible for international football).
And it makes Goodluck Jonathan – and Nigeria – look rash, amateurish, and generally incompetent. But maybe, just maybe, he’s not. Nigerian football is notoriously corrupt, and a two year clean up could be exactly what it needs. Jonathan’s ordered a detailed financial audit of the Nigerian Football Association, and I imagine some senior heads will roll. Two years is enough time to restructure the Football Association into something that might be able to effectively steer Nigerian football for many years to come.
Once again with Goodluck Jonathan, too little is really known about him to understand whether this is serious reform or a publicity stunt. Once again, we’re cautiously optimistic.
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.
Another great leader in a great hat
Nowhere does politics better than Nigeria. Take this story. There’s a manhunt, there’s corruption, there’s money, there’s death threats. There’s even public nudity. Here are the very basics: former Governor Ibori, of Delta State, is being investigated for corruption. He’s on the run, but still able to fight back, loudly proclaiming his innocence and saying that this is just a witch hunt because the head of the investigating body – Chief Edwin Clark – wants the Delta State governorship (and is unseemingly close to President Jonathan). Supporting Ibori are hundreds of women from his hometown. They show their support by taking all their clothes off and marching down the street in protest. This is not as crazy as it sounds: in local tradition, a nude protest makes the evil intentions of one’s enemy rebound upon themselves. So whatever harm Clark wishes Ibori will come back to haunt him (or so the theory goes). And this has got Clark very worried indeed – he’s claiming that Ibori is trying to kill him, and cites a previous assassination attempt in 2008 as evidence to back his claim. We await the next development eagerly. Who needs Hollywood – or Nollywood – when politics is this much fun?