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Nigeria: Jonathan’s One-Year Report Card

Nigeria: Jonathan’s One-Year Report Card

Last month marked one year since President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration took office. It has been a tumultuous year that has stretched the President’s governing capacities to the limit. Frederick Mordi looks at how he has fared so far.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s immediate task after the elections in 2011 was to strengthen the country’s unity following sporadic election violence that trailed his victory at the polls.
Economic issues also occupied the front burner. He took his time to pick a crack team of experienced technocrats that included Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Managing Director of the World Bank, to drive his economic vision. He also enlisted some leading lights in the private sector to join his National Economic Management Team.

A look at the scorecard in the last year shows that Team Jonathan has achieved a number of milestones in some key areas, while in others more work still needs to be done. He scored high in the following areas:

Power reforms

One critical area where Nigerians expected quick results from Jonathan is power, a key driver of the economy. His administration has made significant progress in raising electricity output from a little over 3,000MW, when he came into office, to more than 4,000MW currently.

A number of independent power plants (IPPs) are at various stages of completion across the country.

The Minister of Power, Professor Barth Nnaji, the man in charge of driving the reforms in the sector to a logical conclusion, has demonstrated tenacity of purpose despite opposition from the electricity workers’ union. He sacked three top officials in the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the nation’s electricity body, recently, over their perceived lackadaisical attitude to the reform programmes. Obviously impressed with these reforms, foreign investors are moving in to exploit the opportunity that the privatisation of PHCN has thrown up. General Electric (GE), which has indicated interest in Nigeria’s rail and power sector; and Canadian firm, Manitoba Hydro International, which won a $23.7m contract to manage the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), are among the early entrants. The government has announced a new electricity tariff regime, which will take off on 1st June 2012, in a bid to attract more investors.

Supply of petroleum products

Jonathan has also made progress in ensuring uninterrupted supply of petroleum products. Apart from occasional short-lived strikes by the workers’ unions in the petroleum sector, product supply has been generally consistent. However, his administration’s decision to remove the controversial fuel subsidy regime on petroleum on 1st January 2012 led to a nationwide strike, which paralysed the Nigerian economy. The strike eventually forced the government to back down on its decision and in the end, it adjusted the price of a litre of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol, to N97 ($0.65) from N141 ($0.94). Before the hike, a litre of petrol sold for N65 ($0.43). Okonjo-Iweala had put the economic loss suffered due to the week-long strike at N300bn (about $2bn).

Militancy in the Niger Delta Militant activities in the region eased somewhat, leading to a rise in Nigeria’s oil output by 45.4%, since Jonathan’s swearing in. The government’s Amnesty Programme for reformed militants helped to curb youth restiveness that had in the past crippled oil production, even though there were occasionally a few sparks here and there. Some of the reformed militants are currently undergoing training in vocational skills in South Africa.

Economic achievements

In the economic sphere, Jonathan achieved some pass marks as well. For instance, the banking industry reforms spearheaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, have gained more momentum over the last year – three ailing banks have been nationalised and five others under the care of the CBN have been sold. The CBN announced plans to diversify 5%-10% of Nigeria’s external reserves, which stood at $35.3bn as at March 2012, into the Chinese yuan currency as part of a strategy to court China, a major purchaser of the nation’s oil and an increasingly important investor.

The government has also paid more attention to the non-oil sector, particularly agriculture, job creation initiatives and support for small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), in line with its determination to diversify the economy away from oil, which currently accounts for more than 80% of the nation’s earnings. In addition, there were new multimillion-dollar investments in the manufacturing sector, by both local and foreign investors, that have taken advantage of the enabling environment created by the government to do business in the country.  

The completion of ongoing infrastructural projects, reduction of public spending and fiscal discipline have received greater focus, while a new minimum wage of N18,000 ($120) was announced by the Jonathan administration as part of efforts to boost workers’ welfare. However, some states have not yet fully implemented the new wage structure, citing lack of funds as the reason.

Deft political moves

On the political front, Jonathan had quite a few surprises in store. For instance, his proposal for a single term of six years for the President and the governors in the country left many second-guessing his real intentions. To some, it is nothing more than tenure elongation for the incumbent President, who had before now promised that he would not run for a second term, while others see the initiative as a panacea to succession problems.

One of the benefits of a single tenure, Jonathan explained, is the fact that it will drastically reduce the enormous cost of conducting elections in the country every four years. Unofficial reports have it that the Nigerian government spent about N1 trillion (over $6bn) to conduct the last general elections in the country in April 2011.

Jonathan’s appointment of former boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, as head of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, a body charged with instilling probity and accountability in the Nigerian oil and gas sector, is also considered a masterstroke.

The President further demonstrated political savvy when he tactfully prevented Timipre Sylva, the immediate past governor of Bayelsa, his home state, from returning to Government House in favour of his own man, Seriake Dickson, who has since been sworn in as governor. This follows a Supreme Court ruling that removed Sylva and four other governors from office early in the year.  

Jonathan also confounded critics by ensuring that his choice of National Chairman of the ruling PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, a businessman and politician, emerged the winner, despite all the shenanigans at the party’s national convention. These deft moves clearly showed that Jonathan is the quintessential politician. However, despite these achievements, there are some areas where improvement is needed if Jonathan is to endear himself to the electorate. They include:

Security

The spate of bombings in some northern states, notably Borno, Kano, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, by aggrieved militants, has raised concern over safety of lives and property. Analysts say the President needs to be firmer in handling this threat, which has created an air of uncertainty in the country. They have also called for the total reorganisation of security agencies. Even though Jonathan has responded to criticisms by sacking the nation’s police chief and appointing a new man, the menace still remains unresolved. Security experts have demanded a change in approach in tackling the growing security threat to the nation.

Corruption

Another issue that the President is grappling with is endemic corruption in the polity. The government removed Farida Waziri as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in November 2011, and replaced her with Ibrahim Lamorde, a veteran crime fighter, to add more of a fillip to the ongoing anti-corruption war. But the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICRC), the government agencies in charge of fighting graft, appear to be facing internal challenges that have made them less forceful and effective. Political watchers say the President needs to muster more willpower to tackle corruption rather than handle it with the kid gloves, as he is perceived to be doing at the moment.

As the President marked one year in office in May, Nigerians can only hope that Jonathan’s reforms agenda will be driven to a logical conclusion. On balance, Goodluck Jonathan’s report card so far has been ‘good to very good’. Can he turn that to ‘excellent’ by the end of his term? 

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Written by African Business Magazine

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