If your deputy at work is named "Goodluck," make sure he gets sacked as soon as possible. This is one of the many jokes Nigerians have about incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. The joke aptly captures the former teacher's rise to the peak of power, without necessarily standing for election, in Africa's most populous country.
Jonathan was born on Nov. 20, 1957 to a humble family of canoe-makers in the swampy village of Otuoke in southern Nigeria's now-oil-rich Bayelsa State. He holds a bachelor's degree in zoology, a master's degree in hydrobiology and fisheries biology and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Port Harcourt. Until 1998, Jonathan, a married father of two, was a lecturer and an education instructor. He served as deputy governor under Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was impeached in 2005, allowing Jonathan to take his place as governor. As the presidency traditionally goes to a northerner while the vice-presidency goes to someone from the oil-rich delta region, Jonathan – a little-known governor – was unexpectedly nominated in a last-minute deal as running mate to the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP)'s presidential candidate, Umaru Yar'Adua, in 2007. Jonathan, according to political analysts, benefited from a PDP internal power play that edged out better known politicians from the region who had been earlier tapped for the post. It is said that Jonathan's name was first proposed for the vice-presidency only minutes before Yar'Adua was due to deliver his acceptance speech. Threatened with a corruption probe, many aspirants had been bullied into withdrawing from the presidential primaries to enable Yar'Adua to emerge.
The PDP easily won the election, which was widely criticized by EU observers as the "worst ever held in any democracy", and Jonathan became vice president. The unintended rise to power of Jonathan, who hails from the Ijaw ethnic minority, was a major political triumph for Nigerian minorities who have long played second fiddle to major tribes, such as the Hausa-Fulani of the north, the Yoruba of the southwest and the Igbo of the southeast. Seen as a victim of a power play by the so-called"Yar'Adua cabal," Jonathan benefited enormously from public sentiment, with the southwest, southeast and northern minorities, known as the "middle belt", rallying around him. In 2010, rallies were held to pressure parliament to declare him acting president, as it became clear that powerful forces around the ailing Yar'Adua were trying to subvert the law by not letting Jonathan, who by law was heir to the presidency, run the country in the absence of the president. Everybody, including Jonathan, was in the dark about the health status of Yar'Adua, who was admitted to various hospitals in Germany and, later, Saudi Arabia.
On Feb. 9, 2010, Jonathan became Nigeria's acting president after parliament invoked what it called the"doctrine of necessity" following a national controversy over the health of Yar'Adua, who had been flown out of the country for treatment. On May 5, 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as substantive president following the death of Yar'Adua, who had been brought into the country a few weeks before. Jonathan's ascendancy to the presidency was a first for the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta since the country's independence in 1960. Following Yar'Adua's death and Jonathan's ascendancy to power, the northern political elite, along with powerful forces within the ruling party, had asked him to only serve out Yar'Adua's four-year term, after which power would return to the north.
He became the party's presidential candidate in the 2011 polls. In the run-up to the vote, he enjoyed considerable popularity in many parts of the country. For one, his rise was seen by many as payback for his Niger Delta region had never had a go at the presidency. Besides, Jonathan ran a campaign that portrayed him as an "ordinary" Nigerian, without any link to the ruling establishment, whose rise to power was the result of providence and his subsequent ambition. His "I had no shoe" TV advertisement, which portrayed him as a poor boy from the countryside, got everyone talking and appealed to ordinary Nigerians. Jonathan went on to win the presidential poll, his first-ever electoral contest. Opposition claims of fraud notwithstanding, the poll was declared to be far more transparent and credible than previous ones.