Print options

January 10, 2011

Nigerian Analyst Sees Close Contest in Ruling Party Primary

by James Butty

University of Abuja professor Kabiru Mato says both President Goodluck Jonathan and former VP Atiku Abubakar have certain advantages

A Nigerian political analyst has told VOA the possibility exists for either Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan or former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to be chosen as the presidential candidate for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Tuesday, the PDP certified three candidates for Thursday's scheduled presidential primary.

President Goodluck Jonathan will compete against former vice president Atiku Abubakar and veteran politician Sarah Jibril to be the PDP’s candidate in the scheduled April election.

Professor Kabiru Mato, chair of the political science department at the University of Abuja, said the PDP made a wise decision in choosing President Jonathan and former Vice President Abubakar to compete in the primary.

“Given the nation’s political temperature, it would be unwise for the party to disqualify any of its contenders, especially the two most serious ones, among them the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, and his challenger, Atiku Abubakar. So, I think it’s not an issue that came to anybody in Nigeria as a surprise,” he said.

Mato said both candidates stand a chance of being chosen as the PDP’s flag bearer during Thursday’s primary.

“Each of the two major candidates, in my view, has ample opportunity and chance of striking a major political victory, especially in the last hours leading up to the primary. So, the pendulum can go either way. I think it would depend to a great extent on what advantages the two major candidates would take in the minutes and hours leading up to the party primary,” Mato said.

He said both President Jonathan and former vice president Abubakar enjoy certain advantages.

“The first thing is that a candidate wins by enjoying a simple majority of votes. Basically, there are three aspirants, but only two of them are serious aspirants. What I think is very essential is the factor of incumbency, which I think President Jonathan might enjoy. But, also, another factor is regional sympathy and political sophistication, which Abubakar possesses. But certainly, each of the candidates has almost similar chances of taking the party’s ticket,” Mato said.

The PDP has a custom of rotating power between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south every two terms. Mr. Jonathan is from the south, but he became president when Umaru Yar'adua, a northern Muslim, died in office.

Some in Nigeria had protested Mr. Jonathan's candidacy. But, on Monday, a Nigerian court threw out a suit brought by three PDP members to try to stop Mr. Jonathan from running.

Mato said the rotating presidency issue could sway a number of northern votes in favor of Abubakar.

“That’s one of the factors that, in my view, could sway quite a number of northern votes toward Abubakar because, truly, the question of rotation and zoning of political offices, especially the presidency, has always been an integral part of the PDP constitution,” Mato said.

Mato said he hopes the PDP convention committee that would be running Thursday’s presidential primary election would be transparent.