Sep 17, 2010 | 20:29 GMT

7 mins read

Jonathan's Presidential Run and Nigeria's Power-Sharing Agreement

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan announced Sept. 15 that he intends to seek the People's Democratic Party (PDP) presidential nomination. Jonathan, who became president when former Nigerian President Umaru Yaradua died in May, is testing Nigeria's zoning agreement — an unspoken power-sharing arrangement between the country's north and south — by seeking a four-year presidential term of his own. Some elements within the PDP are opposed to a Jonathan presidency even as Jonathan tries to garner support from the northern state governors and the Igbo in the south.
Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) established the dates for its party primaries and national convention Sept. 15, the same day Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan posted his intent to seek the PDP presidential nomination on his Facebook account. The PDP will announce its presidential nominee Oct. 23, at which point it will be clear who Nigeria's next president will be, as the PDP nomination is as good as an election win. Jonathan's campaign could result in a rise in regionalism within the Nigerian democratic experiment in the long term, creating instability in sub-Saharan Africa's largest oil-producing nation. Winning the PDP presidential nomination in large part rests on support from the party's state governors — currently in office in 28 of Nigeria's 36 states. The primaries are conducted according to a delegate system. Nigerian governors hold the power of patronage over lower-level officials in their respective states, allowing them to tell delegates which presidential candidate to vote for. The governors' ability to deliver votes has been key to the agreement known as "zoning," which has held Nigeria together since the dawn of the Fourth Republic in 1999. STRATFOR has written extensively on zoning, an unspoken arrangement that mandates that executive authority rotate between north and south every two terms, or eight years. An equally important part of the zoning agreement is that north and south are also to share non-presidential power. Thus, when a northerner is president, the president's deputy comes from the south, and vice versa (there are also provisions for top posts such as senate president and speaker of the house, as well as subdivisions within north and south which must be figured into the regional rotation). While the overwhelming power of the PDP and rampant corruption among politicians mean that Nigeria is not the most democratic place in the world, it is not run by a military dictatorship as it often has been; zoning is a key factor in preventing a return of military rule. All six of Nigeria's geopolitical zones (three in the north, three in the south) feel invested in the democratic experiment so long as they are assured of a shot at governing. The death of former Nigerian President Umaru Yaradua, who was supposed to hold office until 2015, shook up the understanding of the zoning agreement. Yaradua, a northerner, died in May. His deputy — Jonathan, a southerner from the Niger Delta — took over to finish out his term, and now will seek his first full four-year term. While his selection of northerner Namadi Sambo as his vice president shows he is not trying to consolidate all power in the south, he is still aware that his move is not in line with the true spirit of zoning. A large contingent within the PDP known as the "pro-zoning" faction fundamentally opposes a Jonathan presidency, though the group has yet to rally around a single candidate. When the PDP leadership met to determine primary dates, it initially appeared the presidential primaries would be held before gubernatorial primaries. This would break with PDP tradition, which normally puts presidential primaries last. A cadre of pro-zoning governors lobbied so intensely against this — even reportedly threatening to quit the party at one point — that by the time the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting concluded late Sept. 15, the order was reversed. If the presidential primaries were held before the gubernatorial nominations, gubernatorial candidates would have faced a great deal of pressure to vote for the incumbent, lest they risk facing retribution when their own primaries were held — prompting some governors to protest the initial timetable. The new timetable means Jonathan will have a much harder time winning the support in the primary of the 36 PDP gubernatorial nominees in the presidential primary than originally expected, since they will have more freedom to vote against him once their nominations are solidified. Jonathan also has been looking for support among the Igbo, who populate Nigeria's Southeast geopolitical zone, as has his main opponent, northerner and former military dictator Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (known in Nigeria as "IBB"). At just under 20 percent of the national population, the Igbo are one of Nigeria's largest ethnic blocs and yet have been almost entirely locked out of power since their effort to secede was quashed in the 1967-1970 Biafran War. Recently, Jonathan made the historic step of appointing an Igbo, Azubuike Ihejirika, as chief of army staff, a first since the civil war. This was seen as an attempt to ensure Igbo loyalty to the overall southern cause. Such Igbo support is not a given, as some members of the group fear that if Jonathan wins, the north will use the zoning agreement to justify demands that it regain the presidency in 2015 for eight more years. The Igbo believe that their southeast zone would have been next in line for the presidency in 2015 had Yaradua not died. A Jonathan victory could force them to wait until 2023, or even 2027. Babangida has tried to tap into discontent running through the southeast zone to win Igbo support. Thus, he said Sept. 12 that should he win, he would step down after only one term and then campaign for an Igbo presidency. This is most likely campaign rhetoric, as Babangida has a track record of unwillingness to relinquish power. (He is best remembered in Nigeria for annulling the results of the 1993 elections, held during his military rule.) But many Igbo believe this promise, and have given him their support. As a pro-zoning candidate, Babangida has been careful to cater to the interests of other southern voters as well. His selection of former Rivers state Gov. Peter Odili, a southerner and fierce Jonathan opponent, as his running mate is a reminder to the president that not even his home region, the Niger Delta, should be considered an automatic win in the primaries. Jonathan has made countermoves to garner support outside the south. For example, he left the NEC meeting early to travel to the northern states of Kebbi and Sokoto after intense flooding there, making sure to mention that people were more important to him than politics. He also has chosen six sitting governors from each of Nigeria's geopolitical zones to serve as his campaign coordinators across the country, showing that he can gain support beyond the south. In the end, however, the north's inability to unite behind a single candidate may be his biggest advantage: The entry of the governor of the northern state Kwara, Bukola Saraki, will likely siphon votes from Babangida. The overall significance of the battle for the 2010 PDP presidential nomination goes far beyond Jonathan's personal ambitions or even the next four years in Nigerian politics. The key question is whether the zoning agreement will survive. Even though some believe that a southerner is trying to take the north's rightful spot in the presidency in 2011, Jonathan's placement of northerners in his Cabinet has allowed him to garner support in the north. The disturbance in the past 10 months to the order established in 1999 could lead to an increase in regionalist tendencies, hastening the disintegration of the north-south compromise that keeps all of Nigeria invested in democracy.

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