Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has kicked off his election campaign with a rally in the capital, Abuja.
President Jonathan says he is running for the ruling-party nomination because Nigeria is going through a great period of change, and he says he is the one to lead the country through that change. "The past four months that I have served as the president of Nigeria have opened my eyes to the vast potentials of this office as a potent instrument for the transformation of our country," he said.
The president says he has already helped Nigeria's ailing textile industry, is protecting deposits in previously-failing banks and is reducing fuel shortages while improving the supply of electricity.
President Jonathan's bid upsets an informal power sharing agreement within the ruling party that says the next Nigerian president should be from the north. That deal rotates power between north and south every eight years. President Jonathan took power following this year's death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, so the agreement entitles northern politicians to finish out what would have been President Yar'Adua's second term instead of continuing on with President Jonathan, who is from the south.
Before Saturday's campaign launch, the president's campaign director Dalhatu Tafida told reporters that Mr. Jonathan intends to spend only four more years in power to complete the Yar'Adua term. But he would not commit to Mr. Jonathan not running for re-election in 2015, saying for now, Nigerians should give him four years to see how he performs and then decide whether he should continue.
Mr. Jonathan says he has waited until now to declare his candidacy because the atmosphere surrounding President Yar'Adua's death was too politically charged.
"From the moment I was sworn in as president, I came under intense pressure to make a declaration concerning my political future but I declined to do so because it would have immediately distracted us from the little we have achieved so far. As president and leader of this government, I decided not to play partisan politics above the immediate needs and priorities of our people. I therefore told Nigerians to give me time to concentrate on my work and at the appropriate time I will make a public statement on my political future after wide-spread consultation. Those consultations have now been concluded," he said.
President Jonathan faces several formidable challengers for the ruling-party nomination, among them former vice president Atiku Abubakar and former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, who used the same Abuja parade ground to launch his campaign Wednesday.
President Jonathan not only enjoys the considerable power of incumbency. Since taking power, he has also named a new cabinet, a new head of the ruling party, a new head of the electoral commission, and new chiefs of security forces.
The president was joined at his campaign launch by more than two thirds of Nigeria's powerful state governors. Among them were several northern governors, including Bauchi State governor Isa Yuguda who told the crowd that Nigeria's northeast provinces will rally around the president and deliver the highest number of votes. It was an especially prominent endorsement given that Yuguda himself was once seen as a presidential contender.
The ruling People's Democratic Party has won all three presidential elections since Nigeria's return to civilian rule 11 years ago. The party says it will choose its nominee during three days of nationwide polling beginning October 18. It plans to present a single candidate to the nation on October 23 for presidential elections scheduled for January 22.