LAGOS // Goodluck Jonathan’s rise to the top of the pile in Nigeria’s ruthless political world had been described as accidental – a matter of good luck.
But the amazing run of coincidence and chance that brought the son of a canoe-maker to the presidential villa in the capital Abuja has come to an end, with his electoral defeat at the hands of challenger Muhammadu Buhari.
The 57-year-old southern Christian – the first head of state from the oil-producing Niger Delta – was thrust into the presidency in 2010 following the death of his predecessor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the north.
The mild-mannered Mr Jonathan is from a family of boat makers. He became a zoology lecturer and worked on environmental issues before entering politics in 1998.
“I personally call him the accidental president. It was chance, good luck,” said Adewale Maja-Pearce, a Lagos-based writer and contributing columnist for the New York Times.
As for his distinctive name, his late father was quoted as saying in a biography of the president that he “called him Goodluck because although life was hard for me when he was born, I had this feeling that this boy would bring me good luck”.
His mother, Eunice, said although she had a history of lengthy labour in childbirth, Goodluck was born in record time.
Fortune certainly seems to have favoured Mr Jonathan as he grew older.
An unconfirmed report has long circulated in local media that Mr Jonathan, elected assistant senior prefect at his secondary school, grabbed the top post when the head prefect was expelled.
His rise to the top was similarly fortuitous, becoming governor of his native Bayelsa state in 2005 after his predecessor was impeached.
The night he was nominated by his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as Mr Yar’Adua’s running mate before 2007 polls, many Nigerians had never heard of Mr Jonathan.
In one of the US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Mr Jonathan purportedly acknowledged his inexperience in a meeting with the US ambassador while he served as acting president during Mr Yar’Adua’s illness.
“I was not chosen to be vice-president because I had good political experience,” Mr Jonathan said. “There were a lot more qualified people around to be vice-president.”
Though always calm in public, Mr Jonathan headed a nation plagued by a range of crises.
Nigeria is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt nations and the north is wracked by the brutal Boko Haram militant insurgency.
The main opposition All Progressives Congress had made Mr Jonathan’s perceived failure to tackle both problems a central plank of its campaign.
Despite living in Africa’s top oil producer, most of the country’s 173 million people live on less than US$2 (Dh7.30) a day and only receive a paltry supply of electricity.
“I think he meant to do well ... but it seems there was never clarity in his head of where he wanted Nigeria to be,” said Pat Utomi, a prominent political commentator.
* Agence France-Presse