With Abuja on lock down due to restriction of human and vehicular movement, President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday declared his bid for re-election, vowing to finally defeat Boko Haram the Islamist group that has not only made his government look impotent but has also threatened the sovereignty of Africa’s most populous country
“Four years ago, precisely September 18, 2010; I stood in this Eagle Square, to offer myself for election as the President of our beloved country on the platform of our great party; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),” the 56-year-old Jonathan told a crowd of supporters.
“Seven months after that declaration, you elected me to lead this country with overwhelming support from all parts of our Nation. I remain grateful for the trust you reposed in me to lead our Nation through uncommon challenges in our march of progress as a united and democratic country,” he continued.
Nigeria goes to the polls to elect a new president on February 14, with Jonathan effectively given an early Valentine gift – a free run at a second term after the PDP endorsed him as its only candidate.
Wearing his trademark black fedora hat and a PDP scarf draped around his neck, Jonathan asked for four more years to build on his first term in office.
“It is now time to look to the future. With your tremendous support, we have collectively done so much in the last three and half years but to take our country to the next level, there is still more to be done,” he said.
He added: “I, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, have accepted to re-present myself, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, for re-election.”
The party festival in Abuja, dubbed “the mother of all rallies” by his supporters, came just a day after nearly 50 schoolchildren were killed in a suspected Boko Haram suicide bomb attack.
Violence linked to the five-year Islamist insurgency — and Jonathan’s inability to stop it — has been a feature of his presidency and a key point of criticism for his opponents.
On his watch, Boko Haram violence and the military’s response to it has killed more than 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more homeless while the Islamists now reportedly control more than two dozen northeast towns.
Most significantly, Jonathan has come under fire for his lacklustre response to the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in mid-April, which provoked global outrage.
More than six months on, 219 are still being held, despite recent government claims of a ceasefire deal and peace talks with the militants that would lead to the girls’ release.
Jonathan said Monday’s attack had “cast a dark cloud on our nation but we will surely win the war against terror”.
“A number of young men and women have been kidnapped by these criminal elements, including our daughters from Chibok. We will free our daughters and defeat terrorism,” he further said.
Jonathan’s critics have condemned his record on tackling endemic corruption poor governance and accountability, as well his administration’s investment in badly needed infrastructure, particularly roads and electricity.
Despite seeing Nigeria become Africa’s leading economy earlier this year, the country still rates poorly on social development indicators such as access to education and health, while unemployment is rampant.
Dwindling oil revenue has also been pinpointed as an area for concern, particularly with falling prices worldwide and Nigeria overwhelmingly dependent on income from the sector to shore up its economy.
Jonathan has been head of state after stepping up from vice-president in 2010 after president Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill and later died, going on to secure a popular mandate in 2011.
He has long been expected to seek re-election but speculation that he would run again saw a number of powerful governors defect to the main opposition.
The bolstered opposition ranks raised hopes it could mount a serious challenge to the PDP, which has never been out of power since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
But most commentators expect Jonathan to secure a second term, given the power of incumbency, its greater funding and better organisation.