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Will Jonathan’s good luck hold out?

February 10, 2010

goodluckThe puns were too much for the Nigerian press (and me) to resist in headlines after Goodluck Jonathan quietly managed to get himself into the top job without even appearing to want a position left open for more than two months by the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Suddenly it seems that everyone and his brother is congratulating themselves on having found such a wise way out of the impasse that derived from the ambitions of those in the various camps and the ambiguity of a constitution that had never foreseen such an eventuality.

Even Justice Minister and Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa, among those who most vociferously defended the idea that no change of power was needed, gave full support to Jonathan and pointed out that the de facto transfer happened two months ago anyway.

Politicians in few countries may be able to sustain a crisis for quite so long, cause quite as much concern – among foreigners if not among their own people – and then find a way to resolve it more easily than any might have thought possible.

But can it all be so clear cut?

Even if Jonathan has the political consensus on his side, there are undoubtedly still questions over the constitutionality of the way he became Acting President.

That may be fine while everyone agrees with him, but what if he wants to challenge someone or signs into effect a law that doesn’t meet everyone’s approval?

It now appears very unlikely that Yar’Adua will ever return to office, but that only intensifies the battle ahead of the election due by 2011.

According to an unwritten agreement within the ruling PDP party for rotating power between Nigeria’s regions, Jonathan would not be able to stand because he is from the south and the next term should still go to Yar’Adua’s north – although no doubt some of his aides will be wondering whether they really need to stick to that.

Most likely the fight for the PDP nomination will be among northerners and there is no shortage of contendors. But it also means it needs to be someone happy to serve only one term so that the presidency can return to the south in 2015.

Although the army has firmly insisted on staying on the sidelines so far (perhaps another good reason for the backslapping in Abuja), there is no guarantee it would if the transition turns out to be chaotic, corruption soars on a spending spike and there is no improvement in the irregularities that are anything but irregular when it comes to Nigerian ballots.

What do you think Jonathan’s prospects look like? What will it all mean for Africa’s giant?

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