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Northern Nigerian Governors Split on Support for President Jonathan

  • Joe DeCapua

In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan could face less opposition than first thought if he decides to seek election next year. Powerful northern governors in the ruling PDP have failed so far to put up a united front against his candidacy.

Mr. Jonathan is finishing out the term of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. But President Jonathan is from the south, while Mr. Yar’Adua was from the north. Many northern politicians have said one of their own should run next year. It’s part of what’s known as the zoning agreement – an informal pact that has likely presidential winners alternate between the north and the south.

Difference of opinion

VOA reporter Chinedu Offor, who’s on assignment in Nigeria, says, “This is pretty significant in the sense that if the north were to produce the next president of Nigeria, that candidate would have to come from the governors of the north. And to the extent that they have failed to agree on a common front is a boost for the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan if he decides to run.”

Northern governors held a long meeting Thursday in Kaduna and were split on whether they should support Jonathan or choose one of their own as the ruling party candidate next year.

“Some of the governors wanted to oppose him, but others said, no, he’s doing a good job. He should be allowed to run if he wants to. So that puts a huge stumbling block on the path of the north to choose the next president.” says Offor.

Despite the political party process, it is the governors who choose the candidates.

“If you recall, even the current president was a governor and the current vice-president was a governor of Kaduna State. So, it is believed that if the north were to produce the next candidate based on the zoning formula of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, one of those governors, who are now meeting, will emerge as the president and candidate of the ruling party,” he says.

Northern Nigerian Governors Split on Support for President Jonathan

Northern Nigerian Governors Split on Support for President Jonathan

The disagreement has caused the governors to expand their meeting to include other powerful northerners, including former military heads of state, traditional rulers and leaders of grassroots groups. They’ll meet next week to make a final decision on whether to choose a candidate or support Jonathan.

“If the governors are unable to agree, then chances are that the enlarged form of that governors’ forum…may also not likely agree. Because to oppose Goodluck Jonathan might take some doing because he has all the powers of the presidency at the moment,” he says.

Gentleman’s agreement at stake

The unwritten agreement between the north and south may now be in jeopardy.

“Even among the northern powerbrokers and northern governors there’s also disagreement on whether an agreement actually exists. While some of the governors say it’s a gentleman’s agreement that was just a handshake, others say it was included in the ruling party’s constitution. But not by the relevant authorities that have the powers to do so,” he says.

Some northern governors say Nigeria doesn’t need such an agreement. They say candidacy should be based on competence, not geography.

“They are saying it is not the fault of Jonathan that a northern candidate and late president Umaru Yar’Adua could not complete his term…that to the extent that Jonathan is now the current president, it will also be unfair to deny him a second chance,” says Offor.

Good grades so far

President Jonathan’s been getting good marks since taking office. For example, Offor says the daily power supply has increased from one to two hours to around six hours daily. The lack of reliable electricity supply has been a major problem for many years.

The president has also promised to spur long-promised development in the oil-rich and violence-plagued Niger Delta. This includes planned railroads and highways. Also, Delta governors, who are very influential and wealthy in their own right, are giving him their support.

Offor says Mr. Jonathan has also given more support to agencies battling corruption in Nigeria, a problem of concern to the international community as well.