News / Africa

New Nigerian President Considering Choices for New Vice President

President Goodluck Jonathan is from southern Nigeria and is expected to nominate a northern politician to maintain the country's regional balance of power.

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Nigeria's new president is expected to nominate a new vice president in the coming week. That person could quickly become the frontrunner for next year's presidential election under an informal power-sharing deal.

President Goodluck Jonathan's choice as deputy may show what he is thinking about next year's vote.

Mr. Jonathan is from southern Nigeria and is expected to nominate a northern politician to maintain the country's regional balance of power. Northern and southern leaders have an informal arrangement that rotates the presidency every two terms.

Because Mr. Jonathan is filling out the end of the first term of the late northern president Umaru Yar'Adua, that arrangement would preclude him from running for president himself. But there is no constitutional provision stopping him, and he has not ruled out doing so.

So if Mr. Jonathan chooses a strong northern vice president, he will be seen as abiding by that arrangement because that deputy would then become the ruling party's frontrunner. But if Mr. Jonathan chooses a weaker northern vice president, many here will see that as evidence that he is considering his own run for the presidency.

Among those in the group of stronger choices are Senate President David Mark, National Security Advisor Aliyu Gusau and the man who currently holds Nigeria's third-most powerful post: Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mamud Ahmed Yayale.

President Jonathan has already started meeting with with former heads of state, governors, and ruling party leaders to discuss the vice presidential post.

Cross River State Governor Liyel Imoke says they will help the president in whatever way he thinks best. "As governors, our responsibility is to provide support where necessary. Where there is some consultation, of course we will be glad to provide whatever advice is required," he said.

Former military ruler Yakubu Gowon says the next step in Nigeria's political process should be handled with the same calm as this past week's transfer of power following President Yar'Adua's death.

"This has been done very peacefully and orderly," he said. "Now the tasks and responsibilities for Mr. President are for him to do his best for the country as he has done in the past."

Asked about potential vice presidential choices, Information Minister Dora Akunyili said only that President Jonathan will choose a team in the nation's best interests. "President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan will build solidly on the successes of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua as promised," he said.

Among those in the group of weaker vice presidential choices are Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Nuhu Ribadu, and the former minister of the Federal Capital Territory Nasir El-Rufai.

While some members of President Jonathan's team say he will present his choice for approval by the National Assembly as soon as Tuesday, ruling party chairman Vincent Ogbulafor says he believes the selection process will take longer.

"I think it is too early. We will flow with the president, President Goodluck Jonathan, and when he is ready. At least he has declared seven days mourning for President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. Let's respect the dead. After that we can now talk of the vice president," he said.

Ogbulafor has said publicly that President Jonathan will not be the next ruling party's nominee  because of the regional power-sharing agreement. But Ogbulafor is facing federal corruption charges at a time when President Jonathan assumes greater control of the party following Mr. Yar'Adua's death.

Political reforms could weaken the party power of state governors and potentially allow for independent candidates, which would open the way for President Jonathan to run on his own if the ruling party chooses a northern nominee.

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