Jonathan, Goodluck Ebele (Nigeria)

Reference work entry


The National Assembly appointed Goodluck Jonathan as acting president in Feb. 2010, replacing President Umaru Yar’Adua. An academic and former governor of Bayelsa State, Jonathan had been vice-president since Nov. 2007. He became president in May 2010 on Yar’Adua’s death and was then elected to the post in April 2011. His term in office became increasingly dominated by an escalating insurgency in the northeast of the country by Islamist militants aligned to the Boko Haram movement. Amid concerns over his government’s inability to contain the security situation, he was defeated by Muhammadu Buhari at the polls in March 2015. He remained in office until handing over power in May.

Early Life

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was born on 20 Nov. 1957 in Otueke, Bayelsa State, in the oil-rich Niger Delta. A member of the indigenous Ijaw people, he was raised as a Pentecostal Christian by his father, a canoe builder and fisherman. After attending local primary schools Jonathan went to Mater Dei High School in Imiringi. He graduated in zoology from Port Harcourt University in 1981.

After completing military service Jonathan pursued an academic career, gaining a master’s degree in hydro-biology and fisheries in 1985 and a PhD in zoology 10 years later, both from Port Harcourt University. He worked as a lecturer, education inspector and environmental protection officer before entering politics in 1998 with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He was appointed deputy governor of Bayelsa State in 1999 and again in 2003. When state governor Diepriye Alamieyeseigha was charged with corruption in the UK in 2005, Jonathan replaced him.

In Dec. 2006, months after his wife Patience Faka was accused of, but not charged with, money laundering, Jonathan was elected vice-presidential running mate to Yar’Adua for the 2007 elections. The pair won, although opponents questioned the legitimacy of the vote and Jonathan’s house in Bayelsa was bombed shortly after.

Jonathan’s knowledge of the Niger Delta region helped Yar’Adua secure a ceasefire and disarmament with Delta rebels, generally considered the biggest achievement of his time in office. In Nov. 2009 Yar’Adua left Nigeria for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia without designating an interim presidential replacement. Jonathan was granted presidential powers after much wrangling by a parliamentary resolution of 9 Feb. 2010, though its constitutional validity was questioned. Yar’Adua returned to Nigeria in Feb. 2010 but remained out of public view, fuelling speculation about his condition.

Career Peak

On becoming acting president, Jonathan made moves to secure his tenuous position. In a government reshuffle he replaced two-thirds of Yar’Adua’s appointments, including the justice minister and the national security adviser. He selected a London-based Goldman Sachs banker as finance minister and named the first female oil minister.

Jonathan vowed to calm militancy in the Delta region and address electricity shortages. He met with major oil corporations in Feb. 2010 after one of the main rebel groups renewed its campaign against the oil infrastructure in Dec. 2009. In April 2010 he dismissed the head of the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. After Yar’Adua died on 5 May 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as his successor the following day.

In Sept. 2010 Jonathan announced that he would contest presidential elections to be staged in 2011. The following month Nigeria marked 50 years of independence from Britain, although the celebrations were marred by a car bombing in Abuja in which at least 12 people were killed. The presidential poll took place in April 2011 and Jonathan was returned with almost 60% of the vote, although voting was divided along religious and ethnic lines.

In Feb. 2013 the main opposition parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), a new anti-PDP electoral alliance. At the same time, Jonathan faced serious divisions within his own party, as rival factions fought for influence ahead of the presidential poll scheduled initially for Feb. 2015. Having replaced several cabinet ministers in Sept. 2013, Jonathan then lost his majority in parliament in Dec. after 37 dissident PDP deputies defected to the APC. A powerful faction of state governors similarly crossed over to the APC, leaving the PDP with fewer governors than the opposition.

From 2011 Jonathan’s administration was confronted with serious sectarian violence between the Christian and Muslim communities and an escalating insurgency, particularly in the northeast, orchestrated by the extremist Islamist Boko Haram sect. Most prominent among the continuing series of attacks and atrocities committed by Boko Haram, both in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries, was the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok in April 2014. The apparent inability of the security forces to obtain their release or contain the growing Islamist threat damaged Jonathan’s domestic and international credibility. At elections postponed from Feb. 2015 until the following month, Jonathan was defeated by Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, who had been president in the 1980s. Jonathan remained in office until Buhari was sworn in on 29 May.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Personalised recommendations