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Insurgency, Corruption Challenge Jonathan in Nigerian Reelection Bid

FILE - Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan inspects the honor guard at a naval warship commissioning event in Lagos, Feb. 19, 2015.
FILE - Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan inspects the honor guard at a naval warship commissioning event in Lagos, Feb. 19, 2015.

To say it hasn’t been an easy four years for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan would be an understatement.

Endemic corruption, an economy weighed down by sinking oil prices and, most of all, the brutal Boko Haram insurgency may turn out to be millstones that prevent him from being reelected on March 28.

The government's struggle to end the militants' nearly six-year insurgency in particular has fueled opposition to Jonathan and raised the prospects for his main challenger, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Nigerian forces backed by troops from Chad, Niger, Cameroon and a small number of private foreign private mercenaries have recently retaken many areas formerly held by Boko Haram. But it is not clear what effect that will have at the polls.

The violence in the northeast has killed thousands of people since 2009 and displaced more than a million from their homes, including 150,000 who fled to neighboring countries.

North versus south

Nigeria’s north has never been a stronghold for Jonathan since he took office in May 2010, after the death of President Umaru Yar'adua.

Yar’adua was a Muslim, like most people in the north, while Jonathan is a Christian southerner. The switch upset northern Muslims who felt that, under an informal understanding among national political leaders, it was "their turn" to hold the presidency in a country sharply divided by religion.

Jonathan upset more northerners when he decided to run for a full term in the 2011 election. He defeated Buhari in that poll, spurred on by strong support in the south. Allegations of vote rigging sparked sectarian-fueled violence in the north that killed about 800 people.

The Jonathan administration has enjoyed some major successes, such when an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Lagos was quickly contained last year. The southern Niger Delta region — home to the country’s massive oil reserves — has remained quiet under his watch, after Yar'adua gave amnesty to militants who were attacking the vital oil industry.

Despite the violence in the northeast, the ruling People's Democratic Party last year renominated Jonathan as its presidential candidate.

If the 57-year-old wins reelection, he will have to contend with a major funding shortfall for Africa's leading crude oil producer. The worldwide slump in oil prices has cut government revenues deeply.

Rebels remain chief issue

Boko Haram, however, is likely to remain the primary problem. Analysts predict that even if the military succeeds in retaking all areas captured by the group, suicide bombings and raids on small towns will continue.

Jonathan also has drawn criticism, at home and abroad, for not doing more to locate more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram last April. The Nigerian military says it has found no clues to the girls' whereabouts as troops recapture the militants' former strongholds.