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May 11, 2010

Expectations High for Nigeria's New Leader

Nigeria's new president has less than one year to finish out the term of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who died last week at the age of 58.

President Jonathan says his brief administration will aspire to uphold the values that Mr. Yar'Adua represented including a commitment to good governance, fighting corruption and enacting electoral reform before next year's nationwide vote.

Former military ruler Yakubu Gowon says electoral reform should top the new president's agenda.

"I hope that Mr. President will concentrate on ensuring that we have free and fair elections in the country and therefore reorganizing the election machinery to make sure they are able to deliver," he said.



President Yar'Adua came to power in a 2007 vote that he said was seriously flawed.  So he set out to make changes that are not yet complete.

Human rights activist Joseph Adekpe says electoral reform and corruption should be the focus of President Jonathan's work because they are the issues that most directly affect the lives of the Nigerian people.

"He could do something within this short period.  Let him prove himself.  You can hear of this one-man-one vote campaign.  If he could give us a good election, that would be a good," he said. "Then he should emphasize more on this anti-corruption drive.  He should not be intimidated by any powers."

Attorney Simeon Efenudu says fighting corruption in Nigeria begins with an honest cabinet.

"We pray to God that those people who he has selected to work with him should be good people who will share his aspirations and make sure that they move Nigeria forward," he expressed.

In his Cabinet, President Jonathan has taken personal responsibility for boosting electricity.  Many people in Africa's largest oil producer still do not have reliable power supplies.  Efenudu says improving electricity is central to economic development.

"If he is able to bring power, you see unemployment will be drastically reduced in Nigeria because there are many artisans who want to work, but they don't have power with which to work.  They can't buy generators to work. Many industries, small-scale industries that people want to set up, they can't set them up because they can't power them," Efenudu stated.

Mr. Jonathan had already replaced much of President Yar'Adua's Cabinet, in his capacity as acting president.  So his formal swearing-in, last Thursday, brought no substantive change at the top of Nigeria's government.

Former ruling-party ward chairman for Delta State Gabriel Osekene says, if President Jonathan has surrounded himself with good people, he should be confident enough to listen to their advice.

"He should have a very good cabinet, a very good executive cabinet that can advise him wisely," Osekene said. "And, he should heed their advice, positive advice as regards the way forward for the administration."

For Osekene, the new president's biggest priority should be securing the gains of an amnesty that President Yar'Adua reached with Niger Delta militants. "In the issue of Niger Delta, this amnesty deal, try as much as possible to make it work," he said.

Niger Delta activists say the federal government has profited from the region's oil wealth, without reinvesting in its people.  President Jonathan says he is moving to revitalize that amnesty plan to protect oil exports, better develop the region's infrastructure and ensure that former gunmen are properly reintegrated into the workforce.

Securing the Niger Delta amnesty, fighting corruption, enacting electoral reform, boosting electricity:  it is a lot to do in less than one year.  Mr. Jonathan says he knows Nigerians have high expectations. That is why he is calling for bold action from his cabinet and says he will tolerate no distractions.