Governor By Chance Now Nigeria's Acting President

Governor By Chance Now Nigeria's Acting President

Published February 10, 2010

LAGOS, Nigeria – Goodluck Jonathan has once again lived up to his name by becoming acting president of Africa's most populous nation.

He took over as governor of an oil-rich state only after his predecessor was indicted; militants dynamited his country home but he wasn't there. Now he's leading Nigeria after the president's lengthy hospitalization in Saudi Arabia prompted legislators Tuesday to take action.

"There has not been any rise that's been so meteoric in Nigeria," said analyst Charles Dokubo of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. "It's nothing more than luck or chance. But what is luck? Luck is when you can take advantage of an opportunity. He was in the right place at the right time."

Jonathan gave a televised speech Tuesday night announcing that he had assumed power after the National Assembly voted him into the presidency. The move came amid public outcry over elected President Umaru Yar'Adua's more than two-month absence as he undergoes treatment for a heart condition.

Now Jonathan, a quiet 52-year-old biologist who remains largely an unknown in Nigeria, is at the helm as the West African country faces endemic corruption, a simmering militancy and historical religious tensions that led to more than 300 deaths last month.

Perhaps with all that in mind, The Guardian newspaper offered a wish of a headline Wednesday for the new acting president: "Jonathan, good luck!"

Militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta region where Jonathan grew up have threatened to take up arms again to disrupt the oil industry, which is a top U.S. supplier. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group in the region, had blamed Yar'Adua's absence for stalling peace talks.

Jonathan had been involved with the peace negotiations and is a member of the Ijaw ethnic group that is spread throughout the Delta, two things that may help him in salvaging an amnesty program started by Yar'Adua, said Kissy Agyeman-Togobo, a U.K.-based political analyst with IHS Global Insight.

However, MEND issued a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press saying it remains ready to fight.

"We are not sentimental about the origin of the individual that occupies the position of president," the statement read. "Should Goodluck Jonathan fail to accede to our demands, we will continue with our fight regardless of the fact that he hails from the Niger Delta."

That likely is not an empty threat. As Jonathan awaited being sworn-in as vice president in 2007, Niger Delta militants dynamited his country home. Goodluck was not there at the time and escaped injury.

Beyond the Delta, Jonathan faces a government hobbled by corruption and a country plagued by faltering public electricity.

He also will remain a target for politicians in the Muslim-dominated north. An unwritten power-sharing agreement within the PDP between Nigeria's Christians and Muslims calls for the presidency to alternate between the two faiths. Jonathan, a Christian, is taking over for Yar'Adua, a Muslim, before his appointed time is up.

It isn't the first time luck has touched Jonathan's life.

Jonathan, who has degrees in zoology and hydrobiology, worked as a government ecologist and lectured at a local university into the 1990s. He later served as director of environmental protection for the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, a one-time government agency aimed at managing oil production.

It was from there that the People's Democratic Party picked Jonathan to serve as a running mate to Bayelsa state Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. The duo took power in 1999, but allegations of corruption followed Alamieyeseigha to Britain.

Alamieyeseigha later fled Britain for Nigeria disguised as a woman, but was later impeached and lawmakers stripped him of his immunity from prosecution.

Jonathan then took over as governor of the oil-rich state, but a corruption charge clouded his wife, Patience, in 2006. The Economic and Financial Crime Commission, the nation's anti-corruption investigators, seized $13.5 million of her money that they claimed she tried to launder through a friend.

What happened to the corruption case against Jonathan's wife remains unclear. Femi Babafemi, a commission spokesman, described the case as "an old one" Wednesday and said he was unaware of any money being seized from her.

Then-President Olusegun Obasanjo hand-picked Yar'Adua and Jonathan to run on the PDP's presidential ticket in 2007. Jonathan had no real connection to Obasanjo, beside both men being Christians from Nigeria's south, Dokubo said. But Yar'Adua's health problems may have played a part in the decision.

"I think Obasanjo realized that Yar'Adua needed someone with solid hands to handle the ship of state if something happened," the analyst said.

Written by JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer


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