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Nigeria's Jonathan Gets Mixed Reviews After Year in Office

  • Heather Murdock

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (file photo)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (file photo)

ABUJA, Nigeria - One year after President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as Nigeria's elected leader, and two years after he assumed office, Nigeria celebrates “Democracy Day,” a holiday that commemorates the 1999 transition from military to civilian rule. Analysts are giving the president mixed reviews.

President Jonathan has been leading Nigeria for two years since the death of his predecessor Umar Yar'Adua, and his signature fedora hat is still popular on the streets of the capital. But many Nigerians say the enthusiasm is fading as old troubles do not get solved and new dangers arise.

Others say, give him more time, in the hopes that his stated policies of developing the energy sector, reducing corruption, getting more children in school, growing the economy and increasing security will make Nigeria more peaceful and prosperous.

Idang Alibi, a columnist at one of Nigeria’s most prominent newspapers, The Daily Trus, says the president’s plans to streamline the government, privatize the electricity sector and encourage farming will, as the president hopes, “transform Nigeria.”

"We have to be generous to the Goodluck Jonathan administration. It has not achieved so many tangible things but there are prospects. There are a few areas that I think that he has gotten it right and in no time we will begin to see some successes," Alibi said.

Hussaini Abdu, who heads anti-poverty organization ActionAid, says some of these policies could work if they are implemented, but others are misguided. He says for example the government plan to attract investors by raising the cost of electricity will only alienate the poor, which is the majority of the population.

Abdu says the president’s first year has been marred by “bombs and scams,” referring to the rise of the Islamist militant group known as Boko Haram, and the discovery that high-level officials may be guilty of stealing nearly $7 billion worth of public funds last year.

He says it’s hard to judge a government with so little time in office, but things are not looking good for Jonathan.

"A lot hasn’t gone right since the elections. Violence has been increasing and the level of insecurity in the country is unparalleled. Since the civil war I don’t think the country has found itself with this level of insecurity. Poverty is increasing, inflation is soaring, unemployment is increasing tremendously," Abdu said.

The Nigerian president did not create these problems, but Abdu says he is being held responsible and people are losing their faith in his leadership.

Supporters of President Jonathan say one major accomplishment he has achieved as a leader is helping to broker and then maintaining a 2009 peace deal in the Niger Delta between the government and militants, who claimed to be fighting for the people’s share of the nation’s considerable oil wealth.

Anna Ihabor, a lawyer from the Niger Delta, says before the government offered amnesty to the militants, her region was a war zone. “With Jonathan’s administration we have experienced peace in this one year he has been in power. Most especially in the Niger Delta,” she said.

Many here in Abuja look to the southern peace agreement as an example of one of the ways the government should consider dealing with Boko Haram. Other analysts say the amnesty program itself is flawed.

Isitoah Ozoemene, the chairman of the academic staff of the National Commission for Colleges of Education, says “amnesty” for militants amounts to paying criminals not to commit crimes. "It is not really working. It is not really working. What they have succeeded in doing is giving people free money so they don’t go and disrupt operations or transport in the seaport," Ozoemene said.

Like many Nigerians, Ozoemene says the government continues to promise the right things. The only question is: In the next three years, can President Jonathan deliver?

Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta