Current Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan is considered a rising star among many in the international community. Good luck seems to be the hallmark of his life.
He ascended to the presidency last year with the untimely death of his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua. Mr. Jonathan, a zoologist by training, is not your typical Nigerian politician.
Upon completing his education, he worked as an education inspector, professor, and environmental protection officer. He has only been involved in politics since 1998. He served as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State in 1998 before becoming governor later that year. The incumbent governor was impeached on charges of money laundering.
In 2006, Jonathan was chosen by Yar’Adua as his vice presidential running mate and they won election in 2007. In 2010, during his role as acting president of Nigeria (while Yar’Adua was medically incapacitated), Jonathan was elected chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is a regional group of 15 West African countries founded in 1975. Its mission is to promote economic integration across the region, as well as to serve as a peacekeeping force in the region.
Since becoming president, Jonathan is seen as being totally committed to eradicating the culture of corruption that has plagued Nigeria for most of its existence. He is well thought of by the international community and his own people seem to be very optimistic about his leadership.
Jonathan is facing reelection in April. As of this writing, he is expected to win reelection, but in politics, fortunes change very quickly.
This is why I am quite surprised that Jonathan has not taken advantage of the platform he has as chairman of ECOWAS. They have been the lead mediator in the current post election controversy in Cote D’Ivoire (a West African country with Liberia to the west and Ghana to the east). The current president of Cote D’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo refuses to abdicate his office even though every neutral observer has concluded that he lost the election.
Jonathan has been given the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership on the world’s stage, but he seems a bit shy about injecting himself; instead he is delegating the heavy lifting to other members of ECOWAS.
Politically, this is a huge mistake. If he is seen as major instrument for peace in a country like Cote D’Ivoire, he can then make the argument that he has the same skills to bring peace to his own country of Nigeria.
This is a goldmine for a political consultant—to have a client who can use a foreign crisis to bolster his own standing back home this close to an election. There is no downside to Jonathan for his personal engagement. He would be acting as the leader of ECOWAS, not as president of Nigeria.
Jonathan has made very few public comments during this crisis, but rather, allowing others to speak on behalf of ECOWAS. I find this is not uncommon for African leaders. They don’t seem to fully grasp the necessity of engaging the global media in their efforts to affect public opinion.
Africans constantly complain about how they are portrayed in the world, especially in the U.S. and Europe, but they never pursue a media strategy to change this.
Jonathan has a bright future, not only in Nigeria, but also on the world stage. He is a very likable person with a great deal of charm. But, he is going to have to display more political and media savvy. If he learns to appreciate the role of the media in the pursuit of his agenda, he can not only bring good luck to himself, but more Goodluck to Africa.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine (www.excellstyle.com) & U.S. Africa Magazine (www.usafricaonline.com).