The chairman of Nigeria's ruling party said July 8 that the power-sharing agreement designating the rotation of the country's presidency between its north and south ended in 1999. This statement could clear the way for President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, to run in national elections due in 2011. Whether or not a zoning agreement formally exists, political power sharing among the country's sub-regions will continue, and Jonathan — and Nigerian northerners — will still have their work cut out for them before agreeing upon a presidential candidate.
The National Chairman of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), Okwesilieze Nwodo, said a zoning agreement the party established in 1998 ended in 1999, Nigerian media reported Aug. 8. The agreement, an understanding reached during the country's transition to democracy from military rule, stipulated that national political offices would rotate among each of the six regional zones of the country, particularly as applied to the presidency, which was to rotate every two terms (meaning eight years) between the country's north and south. In the political negotiations that led to the zoning agreement, Nigerian northerners — men who dominated the country’s military junta that ruled with only infrequent interruptions since independence in 1960 — needed assurance that if they were to yield to civilian rule, their interests would be protected. One of these assurances was that the new civilian leader would be Olusegun Obasanjo, a former junta leader (albeit a southerner) and Christian from the Yoruba tribe in the country’s South-West zone, who had ruled Nigeria as dictator from 1976 to 1979. A second understanding in the agreement was that while Obasanjo could represent southern interests as president for two terms, a northerner would become president afterward. Obasanjo governed as president from 1999-2007, together with his vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who was a Muslim from Adamawa state in the country's North-East zone. Obasanjo and Abubakar were succeeded respectively in 2007 by Umaru Yaradua, a Muslim from Katsina state in the North-Central zone, and Jonathan, an ethnic Ijaw from Bayelsa state in the country's South-South zone (sometimes referred to as the Niger Delta region). However, Yaradua served less than one full term before dying of heart-related medical issues in May, and Jonathan is now fulfilling the remainder of the current presidential term. (click here to enlarge image) The PDP is now in the midst of political infighting to determine who will lead the government during the 2011-2015 term, and Nwodo's announcement opens the door for Jonathan to seek a full term. Though Jonathan has not declared whether he will run, his possible candidacy will generate opposition among Nigerian northerners who expected one of their own to complete Yaradua's second term, as per the terms of the zoning agreement. Whether Jonathan announces his candidacy will depend on whether he and his allies can buy enough support, through spreading patronage projects and appointments throughout the country, to overcome northerner hostility. Whether or not the zoning agreement formally exists, power sharing among PDP politicians from the country's sub-regions will continue as a means of maintaining political stability in Africa's most populous country — as evidenced by Jonathan, after becoming president, fulfilling his part of the zoning agreement by appointing Namadi Sambo, former governor of Kaduna state from the country's North-West zone, as vice president. Political and economic appeasement between northern leaders and Jonathan's backers will continue in the coming weeks while negotiations for an exact date for the 2011 elections are taking place. This will set the terms for the trade-offs and reassurances to be made — whether Jonathan runs for president or he and his supporters yield to a northerner.