Jonathan on back foot over missing girls

2014-05-14 15:32
Goodluck Jonathan (File: AP)

Goodluck Jonathan (File: AP)

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Lagos - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan faces an uncertain political future after attracting a torrent of criticism over his handling of the mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram extremists.

Jonathan was already on the back foot even before Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from the remote north-eastern town of Chibok in April, sparking a global social media campaign and international outrage.

His People's Democratic Party (PDP) has been hit by mass defections, eroding his power base and parliamentary majority and strengthening the hand of the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

The 56-year-old Jonathan was still expected to declare his candidacy for next year's elections and seek a second term in office, but with anger growing over the government's lack of response in the first weeks after the kidnapping, some commentators say his political stock has been irreparably damaged.

Dapo Thomas, a political commentator from Lagos state university, called for Jonathan to step down.

"In a sane society, Jonathan should have resigned or [been] impeached," he told AFP.

"In South Korea, the prime minister had to resign because of a ferry accident that claimed hundreds of lives.

"But in Nigeria, where politicians lack morality and integrity, more than 200 girls were kidnapped and the president is acting as if nothing has happened."

Domestic factors

Nigeria is almost equally split between a Muslim majority north and predominantly Christian south, with an unwritten rule that presidential candidates rotate between the two regions.

Jonathan is a southern Christian and stepped up from vice-president in 2010 after his predecessor Umaru Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, fell ill and later died.

It has been claimed that he promised privately to serve only one term after winning the last election in 2011.

Critics claim he has done little to improve life in the north, where poverty, poor services and mass unemployment are seen as a factor in fuelling the five-year Boko Haram insurgency.

Some attribute the government's lack of response to the kidnapping as a reflection of his indifference to the region and the lack of values in Nigerian politics.

Olatunji Dare, a popular columnist with independent daily The Nation, said Jonathan "had proved unequal to the task".

"No matter how this crisis is resolved, Dr Jonathan is unlikely to emerge as a president who can be trusted to lead Nigeria through the challenges that lie ahead," he wrote in Tuesday's edition.

"It would be selfish and unpatriotic of him to seek to continue... If the ruling PDP loves and cares about Nigeria, it should urge Dr Jonathan not to seek another term. If he refuses, it should reject him decisively."

Rallying call

Thomas described the latest Boko Haram video, which showed about 130 of the 223 girls still missing, as an indictment on Jonathan and his acceptance of international support an embarrassment.

The invitation to US, British, French and Israeli teams to assist Nigeria's military in the rescue effort was "a shame on Nigeria, which claims to be the giant of Africa", he added.

"Jonathan is a disgrace. He has no reason to remain in office and if he decides to seek a second term he will not get 20 percent of the votes," he said.

Others have argued that Jonathan was right to accept foreign assistance and seek talks with Boko Haram.

In the complicated, internecine world of Nigerian politics, nothing is guaranteed and observers have cautioned that Jonathan could yet emerge from the crisis favourably, taking credit in the event of a rescue and shifting blame if the girls are not found.

Niyi Akinasso, a columnist with the Punch newspaper, also criticised Jonathan's response to the abduction but said domestic politics should be put to one side to concentrate on the search.

"It is hoped that participating Nigerian security agents would learn something useful from the experience," he said.

"Whatever the case is, however, we must now rally round our president to complement international efforts to find and rescue the girls."
Read more on:    boko haram  |  goodluck jonathan  |  nigeria  |  nigeria kidnappings  |  abductions  |  west africa

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