Nigeria: Drama and intrigue unfold as presidential race begins

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After Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan finally declared he would run for presidential election, northern politicians have vowed to oppose his candidacy. His national security adviser has also resigned in order to run against him. Meanwhile, the electoral commission is bidding for more time to put things together ahead of the national polls.

Indeed, the run up to the presidential elections in Nigeria promises to be intriguing and dramatic.

After his Facebook announcement, President Jonathan’s next step was an open mic declaration at a rally in Abuja: “I, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan have decided to humbly offer myself as a candidate in the presidential primaries of our great party, … in order to stand for the 2011 presidential elections”. A decision that has not gone without question.

The twist to the Nigerian democratic story is that there is an unwritten rule by the dominant political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – which is to rotate its candidates between the Muslim north and predominantly Christian south every second term.


But President Jonathan, a southern Christian who succeeded president Umaru Yar’Adua — a Muslim who died before his first term was up — is signatory to this unwritten rule. And despite his non-partisan efforts since taking over from the late President, some argue that another northern candidate should be chosen based on the PDP code.

In fact, a northern-based Civil Rights Congress has said it was “unethical and politically immoral” for President Jonathan to run, describing Goodluck Jonathan’s bid as “nothing but desperation to (hang) onto power, rabid ambition and political opportunism.”

Nigeria’s political setting has since seen Influential politicians from the north demand that the PDP must prevent President Jonathan from seeking its ticket.

“We demand that the party issues a declaration, restraining President Goodluck Jonathan from participating and presenting himself as an aspirant in the 2010 PDP presidential primary election. If we follow our party’s practice and constitution, which we must, the party must nominate a northerner as our presidential candidate,” read a letter from the group, revealed by AFP.


The scenes of the power play in Nigeria has also seen divisions amongst members of the PDP over backing President Jonathan or a candidate from the country’s mainly Muslim north.

The cry for a northern Nigeria politician has however unveiled another unanticipated setback. National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, Aliyu Gusau who is a Muslim northerner submitted his resignation letter to President Jonathan on Thursday and on Friday informed him he intended to enter the presidential race.

This renegade-like move by a northern subordinate to President Jonathan meant a planned trip to the United States by President Jonathan would later be canceled.

Indeed, the power sharing rule thrives to balance ethnic, religious and social divides of the over 170 million Nigerians, but its validity is being tested in the unfolding political play in Nigeria ahead of the ruling party’s primaries.

A political play that is already seen as a dilemma for Mr. Jonathan. Several northern candidates, including former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who have declared their ambition to seek the PDP nomination might be preferred over President Jonathan given the clauses of the unwritten rule.


Regardless of the fact that President Jonathan has helped cement an amnesty in the oil-producing Niger Delta, overseen a 7 percent economic growth since January, and has unveiled a blueprint to solve the chronic power shortages in Nigeria, many power brokers in the north are expected to rather stand by Ibrahim Babaginda, or former vice president Atiku Abubakar,

Nonetheless, it is believed that Mr. Jonathan musters the support of more than two thirds of powerful state governors for the launch of his re-election campaign. The PDP will decide who its flag-bearer will be on October 23,

Observers also witnessed another surprise in Nigeria’s unfolding political drama as the electoral commission INEC said it would seek to push back the date for the elections to enable it to credibly overhaul a deeply flawed voter register.

On Sunday INEC asked to postpone the polls by several months, warning that the January poll date wouldn’t give workers enough time to conduct a new voter registration drive.

A statement issued by the commission said it would hold “sacrosanct” a planned May 29 inauguration date for winners. That means an election could be held in April and still meet the requirements of a newly passed election law.

The drama continues…

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