Nigeria’s ruling party wants the next president to be a northerner in line with a principle that power rotates around the country, effectively ruling Acting President Goodluck Jonathan out of elections due next year.
Although not formally set in writing, there is an agreement among senior members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that the presidency should alternate between north and south after every two presidential terms.
But Jonathan, a southerner, took over as Acting President last month while President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, remains too sick to govern and Jonathan’s assertive grip on power has led some to suggest he could win support for the presidency.
Jonathan chaired a cabinet meeting yesterday, the first since Yar’Adua returned from a Saudi hospital a week ago, in a further sign that he is consolidating his position.
Elections are due by April next year and, if the principle of rotation is maintained, the presidency should go to the north as Yar’Adua is still in his first 4-year term.
“The south had the presidency for eight years and it is proper to allow the north to have the presidency for eight years,” PDP National Chairman Vincent Ogbulafor said after a meeting with top party officials late on Tuesday.
“(Yar’Adua) is still the President, Goodluck Jonathan is still the Acting President. What we discussed has to do with 2011,” he said.
Any shift in the balance of power is deeply sensitive in Nigeria, a country of 140 million split between the Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, scores of ethnic groups and myriad other factions seeking a share of state resources.
An electoral reform bill before parliament could bring the polls forward to as soon as November, meaning the PDP will need to move fast to agree on a northern presidential candidate.
Potential northern candidates named by analysts include former National Security Adviser Aliyu Gusau, state governors including Kwara state’s Bukola Saraki and Bauchi state’s Isa Yuguda, and secretary to the government Mahmud Yayale Ahmed.
But the race is wide open.
Jonathan has not said he might stand for the presidency but his statesman-like approach since he assumed executive powers had led even some northerners to openly say they would support him if he were to run.
“If Goodluck shows real leadership over the next few months, many of us will campaign for him to be president,” Nasir El-Rufai, a northern reformist politician told Reuters last month.
Yar’Adua was flown back to Nigeria a week ago after three months in a Saudi hospital but is still too frail to govern, raising fears that his inner circle were fighting to maintain influence as Jonathan consolidates his grip on power.
The 58-year-old leader has not been seen in public since he left Nigeria in November to get treatment for a heart ailment. Presidency sources say he is in a mobile intensive care unit.
Jonathan has still not met with Yar’Adua since his return.
“The Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is steering the ship of the nation very well. He is not an ambitious person,” Ogbulafor said.
“The President just came back and he has given him time to recuperate. He will see him at the appropriate time.”
A six-member ministerial team went to Saudi Arabia to visit Yar’Adua on February 23 but was unable to see him as he left for Nigeria the same day, according to a report submitted to the cabinet meeting yesterday.
Pic: Ailing Nigerian president- Umaru Yar’Adua