Nigeria’s Jonathan Faces United Opposition, Divided Party
An alliance of Nigerian opposition groups and splits in the ruling People’s Democratic Party are threatening to leave Goodluck Jonathan as a lame-duck president with fading chances of winning re-election in 2015.
The coalition, announced Feb. 6, is targeting what the opposition says is the failure by Jonathan, 55, to meet his pledge to fight corruption, invest in infrastructure and reduce poverty. At the same time, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who backed Jonathan’s nomination in 2011, has criticized his handling of the fight against Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that has waged a violent campaign since 2009.
“The people are very upset, and I don’t see looking at what’s on the horizon that it will improve,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in the capital, Abuja, said in an interview. “A single strong opposition party against the ruling party would provide a basis for genuine competition for political power.”
Without a unified party behind him, Jonathan may struggle to implement his legislative agenda in Africa’s top oil producer and garner enough support to win the PDP’s presidential nomination. The opposition parties are betting this may be their best chance to defeat a party that won all presidential votes since military rule ended in 1999.
The PDP’s support slipped in the last election, with Jonathan taking about 57 percent, down from the 70 percent of his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, four years before. The PDP won 56 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives compared with 73 percent in the 2007 vote, which observers such as the European Union said was flawed by rigging and widespread violence. In the Senate, the party’s strength in the Senate fell to 65 percent from 81 percent over the same period.
The All Progressives Congress alliance includes parties that represent regional blocks and crosses the divide between the mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south in Africa’s most populous nation.
The Action Congress of Nigeria controls six states in the southwest, including Lagos, led by Governor Babatunde Fashola. The Congress for Progressive Change is headed by former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who lost to Jonathan in the last elections while winning a majority of votes in the north.
“The leaders of those parties realize that they’ll probably become extinct, becoming irrelevant, if they don’t come together,” Ukoha Ukiwo, a political science senior lecturer at the southern University of Port Harcourt, the home of Nigeria’s oil industry, said in a phone interview.
The alliance’s regional and ethnic diversity may prove its downfall, according to Roddy Barclay, West Africa Analyst at Control Risks, a London-based business consulting group.
“The APC represents a marriage of convenience for opposition parties,” Barclay said in a Feb. 7 report. “The parties have formed an unnatural alliance riven by ethnic and personality differences that will be hard to assimilate ahead of the polls.”
The PDP’s own divisions have centered around Obasanjo, a former military ruler who won the first elections after the return to civilian rule almost 14 years ago. Since he quit as the PDP’s Chairman of Board of Trustees last year, attempts to replace him have stalled amid bickering between his supporters and those of the president.
“Disagreement between the two began to grow as Jonathan felt Obasanjo was trying to install his own men in positions of power within the PDP in order to undermine his leadership,” said Fred Saugman, an analyst on sub-Saharan Africa at IHS Inc., an Englewood, Colorado-based research company.
Jonathan came to office raising expectations for change by naming Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former managing director of the World Bank, as finance minister, Olusegun Aganga, an ex-Goldman Sachs managing director, as trade and investment minister, and retaining Lamido Sanusi as central bank governor.
He had to abort his bid to completely end fuel subsidies last year and has been unable to win approval for a law to change how the oil and gas industry is regulated and funded that has been stalled in parliament for the past four years.
Critics say he failed to act after a parliamentary report showed fuel importers received 1.1 trillion naira ($7 billion) in illegal payments in the three years to 2011. Another investigation commissioned by the Petroleum Ministry found that Nigeria may have lost more than $29 billion in revenue through underpayments over the last decade.
Jonathan has said the investigations are continuing and that anyone found guilty will be prosecuted.
While annual economic growth averaged 7.2 percent from 2004 to 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund, the number of Nigerians living on less than $1 a day rose to 61.2 percent from 51.6 percent over the same period and may have climbed in 2011, according the National Bureau of Statistics. The unemployment rate rose to 23.9 percent in 2011 from 19.7 percent in 2009, according to the agency.
Economic expansion is expected to slow to 6.7 percent this year compared with about 7.1 percent in 2012 and 7.4 percent in 2011, according to IMF estimates.
Nigeria’s benchmark stock index has risen 29 percent since Jonathan took office as an elected president in May 2011, to 33,341.99 at the 2:30 p.m. close of trading in Lagos. Yields on the country’s international dollar bonds due January 2021 have dropped 187 basis points, or 1.87 percentage points, to 4.352 percent in the same period, while the naira has fallen 0.4 percent to 157.25 naira per dollar.
If he seeks re-election, Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-rich southern Niger River delta, may reignite criticism by northern party members that his first candidacy broke a PDP agreement to rotate the presidency between the north and the south every eight years. He had taken over the previous year after his northern Muslim predecessor, Yar’Adua, died before completing his first four years in power.
Following his election, hundreds of people were killed in riots in the north when Buhari’s supporters took to the streets.
“If Jonathan was to be on the ballot, the violence levels would be very high in the north,” Nwankwo said. “The level of anger against him is incredible.”
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