Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan won a decisive victory in ruling party primaries including in key states in the mostly Muslim north, making him clear favourite to be the country’s next leader.
Jonathan’s selection as the People’s Democratic Party candidate puts him in a strong position to win the presidential election on April 9 as the PDP has won every such poll in Africa’s most populous nation since military rule ended in 1999.
In a stark demonstration of the power of incumbency, Jonathan trounced rival Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, in all but a handful of the country’s 36 states, Reuters reports.
“The People’s Democratic Party has spoken with one strong voice … Our people have chosen the unity of our country above all other considerations,” Jonathan, dressed in his trademark fedora and caftan-like attire, said in an acceptance speech.
Jonathan won 2 736 votes compared to 805 for Abubakar in Thursday’s vote, said chief returning officer Tunde Adeniran.
His candidacy had been controversial because of a zoning agreement in the PDP under which power is meant to rotate between the north and largely Christian south every two terms, a rhythm his victory ruptures.
Jonathan, who is from the southern Niger Delta oil region, inherited the presidency when his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died last year during his first term. Some factions in the PDP said only a northerner should complete what would have been Yar’Adua’s second term.
Abubakar, a businessman from the northern Hausa ethnic group, had hoped to win overwhelming support in the north. He won in some northern states such as Kano, Sokoto and Zamfara but lost in other key areas including Kaduna, Katsina and Kwara.
That lack of consistency suggests hopes of a strong northern alliance to challenge Jonathan at the elections may be fading.
“In the end, the PDP is the only true national party so at the presidential election, their candidate should be fine, especially as the key opposition parties can’t agree a workable alliance,” said Kayode Akindele, a director at Lagos-based consultancy Greengate Strategic Partners.
Abubakar’s campaign manager, Ben Obi, complained of irregularities, saying the delegates’ lists had been doctored, and Abubakar himself made a fiery speech at the convention condemning Jonathan for breaching the zoning pact.
“If rules can be thrown away by just anyone who feels he is powerful enough to do so, then it is an invitation to lawlessness and anarchy,” he said, raising doubts about whether he would quietly accept defeat and back Jonathan.
Africa’s most populous nation is a patchwork of more than 200 ethnic groups, roughly equally divided between Christians and Muslims, who generally live peacefully side by side, but regional and ethnic rivalries bubble under the surface.
A New Year’s Eve bomb in Abuja killed four people. A series of blasts and subsequent clashes have killed more than 80 in the central city of Jos, the scene of frequent bursts of ethnic and religious unrest.
Analysts fear the national debate could become polarised around north-south rivalries if the violence intensifies in the run-up to April’s presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections.