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Nigeria's accidental president

Goodluck Jonathan has rocky start to re-election campaign.

The opposition Campaign for Progressive Change, led by former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, has received a boost in some areas of the north because of Jonathan’s selection.

In an effort to win support in the north, Jonathan came to Lafia in northern Nasarawa state to launch his presidential campaign. But before the rally, youths threw stones at Jonathan’s convoy as it approached the stadium. The next day the CPC candidate for governor of Nasarawa was arrested by police, sparking violent clashes between PDP and CPC supporters. During the clashes police shot dead two children caught in the melee. 

There are rifts between People’s Democratic Party grandees in several regions of the country and this will increase tension and could lead to more such demonstrations, observers say.

“Jonathan is not as good at imposing his will on politics as his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo,” said Bashir Sa’ad Abudullahi, editor of the BBC’s Hausa service. “If there was a squabble between people in the party before, president Obasanjo would sit them down and say ‘this is what I want, do it or leave the party.’ Jonathan wants to please everyone. That makes him not as strong.”

Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer but Nigerians lack jobs, electricity and other services. Bad governance prevents money earned from oil from improving ordinary people’s lives.

Security has also suffered in recent months.

Hundreds have died in violence between communities in Plateau state, the Islamist militants of Boko Haram have emerged in the north and militants in the southern oil-producing Niger Delta have threatened more attacks. There are also vital reforms to the oil industry that Jonathan has promised to enact before May.

If he wins the election, fortune may continue to favor Goodluck Jonathan.

The international price of oil is high at more than $100 per barrel, and may stay that way for some time.

Nigeria’s power sector is also about to be privatized. There are several Nigerian financiers eager to invest, according to people close to the process but who are not authorized to speak to the press.

To seal the success of the privatization, international power-generating companies that would build and run the power stations for the Nigerian investors, must be attracted to work in Nigeria.

This is where Jonathan comes in to his own, key government figures say.

“Jonathan is very popular with the outside world, his connection with the international community is vital to Nigeria’s future success,” said present governor of Bayelsa state Timipre Sylva.

While Jonathan is busy assuring the outside world that he will bring reform and positive change, the message at home is more confused.

As the band in Lafia sang about how Jonathan would change Nigeria, the incumbent governor, a member of the same party as the president, is running for re-election under the slogan “continuity for progress.”

Two politicians from the same party, running under contradictory slogans.

The answer, according to one top party figure, is that although things must change, the same people must hold on to power.

“Change and continuity are really one and the same thing the same thing,” party grandee Ibrahim Mantu said. “What is important for Nigeria is that in the process of keeping the political continuity, we must change the prospects for the poor.”