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Ruling Party in Niger Delta: Jonathan Has Right to Run

Ruling party members in the Niger Delta say northerners cannot keep President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, from running in Nigeria's next presidential election.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has not yet said whether he will run in elections that are to take place before April. That has not stopped the debate raging in his People's Democratic Party, or PDP, as to whether Mr. Jonathan, a southerner, could or should run.

Northern politicians say Mr. Jonathan's candidacy would violate an informal power-sharing - or zoning - agreement in the PDP that rotates the presidency between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south every two terms. Previously vice president, Mr. Jonathan became president in May after the death of President Umaru Yar'adua, who was from the north.

Northerners say they still have four more years to retain power under the zoning arrangement. However, some PDP members in the Niger Delta say Mr. Jonathan, a native of the region in the south, has a right to run.

The president of the Ijaw Youth Council in the Delta, Chris Ekiyor, says Nigeria is moving beyond questions of north and south. He says primaries should decide who will be the PDP's candidate.

"For the Nigerian people, Jonathan's running is a must," said Ekiyor. "We will mobilize Nigerians, devoid of ethnic bias, devoid of region, to support a man who will do what Nigerians want. And to my mind, Jonathan right now is taking the direction Nigerians are asking for. That kind of a man is the one that we need."

Opponents of the zoning system say it is outdated, undemocratic and not written in Nigeria's constitution.

Awani Akande is a PDP women's leader in the Delta state and a Jonathan supporter.

"This is the opportunity now for the Niger Delta to handle the seat of presidency, for us to deliver as we are meant to. They should not deprive us of this right. It is our right. Let everyone come out and try his own right. It's one man, one vote that we are talking about and not zoning. The people are ready to deliver for the president if he is willing to run," said Akande.

Northern politicians have threatened to take Mr. Jonathan to court if he runs, but Akande says actions like that could destabilize the country, in particular the Niger Delta.

"Forget about going to court and allow everybody to try his potential," said Akande. "If the people vote for you, you win. If they do not vote for you, then you lose and go. That is the sportsmanship spirit."

Some militants in the Niger Delta warn they will resume hostilities if Mr. Jonathan is prevented from running. There are fears that would endanger an amnesty with rebels that has greatly reduced the violence, which plagued the region for years.

But not everyone in the Niger Delta thinks Mr. Jonathan should run.

Ovie Joseph is secretary to the PDP chairman in the Ughelli North local government area. He says the party agreed on zoning, so Mr. Jonathan should wait until the northerners have completed their tenure.

"There is mutual understanding, and if there is a zoning system of mutual understanding within the party, we still agree that that understanding can still be for the presidential system. The zoning formula to me, to what I understand as a person, I feel the mutual understanding is that the presidency remains with the north."

The PDP has won the last three presidential elections, holds majorities in both houses of parliament and controls more than three-quarters of Nigeria's state governorships.

But some party members fear the zoning debate and other internal disputes threaten the PDP's unity and dominance of Nigerian politics.