Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to commit to whether or not he will contest elections due next January, his office after a presidency source said he was considering not standing.
Jonathan’s spokesman, Ima Niboro, said that until the president made a declaration either way any other comment was pure speculation.
Earlier, a source told Reuters the president may not run in the polls and would make his intentions known by the end of the month.
“The truth is that the president has not said he will not run. Neither has he said he will,” Niboro said in a statement.
“At different times he has given clear reasons why he considers it premature, in the interest of governance, to make any commitment… At the appropriate time, the president will inform his countrymen and -women of his future plans.”
An election bid by Jonathan, who is from the southern Niger Delta, could split the ruling party due to an agreement that power rotates between the Muslim north and Christian south every two terms, meaning the next president should be a northerner.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has said Jonathan has the right to run, because he previously was vice president on a joint ticket with northern President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died mid-way through his first term earlier this year. But the party also said that it would uphold the principle of “zoning” and that other candidates were free to contest its primaries, expected to be held in September.
“He is not likely going to run, simply because his party has retained the zoning of the presidency to the north for the next four years,” the presidency source said, asking not to be named.
“Though his party said he can run despite the zoning, the party said this because they didn’t want to offend him.”
A decision by Jonathan not to run would come as a surprise to many in Africa’s most populous nation. Never before has an incumbent leader, constitutionally allowed to seek re-election, withdrawn from a presidential race.
It could also lead to protests from his restive Niger Delta homeland, the centre of the mainstay oil and gas industry. Jonathan is Nigeria’s first president from the Ijaw ethnic group, the largest in the vast wetlands region.
Recent announcements by Jonathan’s administration, from pledges to end chronic power shortages to the imminent passage of long-awaited reforms to the energy sector, have looked more like campaign pledges, heightening expectations he will stand.
“Everybody knows that groups and interests are campaigning for him, and they are well-funded … Nobody is deceived,” said Abubakar Momoh, politics professor at Lagos State University.
“I don’t believe in this idea of mobilising but then saying, ‘I’m not too sure yet’,” he said, adding that Jonathan’s failure to declare was “impinging on his integrity”.
But sources close to the president have been saying for weeks that he is concerned about the implications of ending zoning and about his own credibility as a candidate in polls he says he wants to make free and fair.
Should Jonathan not run in 2011 in order to uphold the zoning principle, the south would be next in line to present a presidential nominee in 2015 and he could be in a position to stand with his credibility intact, his allies say.
Nigeria is roughly equally split between Christians and Muslims and is made up of more than 200 ethnic groups, all of whom generally live peacefully side by side.
But more than 13,500 people have died in religious or ethnic clashes since the end of military rule in 1999, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, violence whose roots lie more in rivalry for land and economic power than in religious fervour.
The notion of sharing power between north and south aims to prevent such disputes becoming a factor in federal politics.
Two northern candidates — former military leader Ibrahim Babangida, known by his initials IBB, and former vice president Atiku Abubakar — have already declared they would run against Jonathan to seek the PDP nomination for 2011. More northerners are expected to follow.