Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party settled its primaries late Jan. 13, with President Goodluck Jonathan securing the party's presidential nomination by a wide margin. His opponent, Atiku Abubakar, was heretofore hailed as the "northern consensus candidate," but failed to win several key northern states. Abubakar has limited options for reaction — he has no ties to the Niger Delta and thus cannot prompt attacks there, and Nigerian security forces would put down any attempt to spark sectarian violence in the north. Jonathan, in the meantime, is using as much of his influence as he can to reassure northerners that their interests will not be left by the wayside.
Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) settled its primaries late Jan. 13, with President Goodluck Jonathan overwhelmingly winning the party's presidential nomination. Jonathan received roughly three times as many votes as his top opponent, Atiku Abubakar. The PDP has operated under an unwritten agreement that political offices would rotate among the country's six geopolitical zones, dividing power between the country's north and south. This arrangement has held Nigeria together as a democracy since 1999. However, the zoning agreement was disrupted in May 2010 when northerner President Umaru Yaradua died and Jonathan, who hails from the Niger Delta region in the south, became president. There was a great deal of debate about Jonathan becoming president, as it violated the country's zone-based power-sharing arrangement. Thus, STRATFOR expected the PDP presidential nomination race between Jonathan and Abubakar, a northerner, to be closer than it was. (click here to enlarge image) With the settling of the PDP primary — the most important election in the country, since the PDP's dominance guarantees that it will sweep Nigeria's elections in April at the federal, state and local levels — Abubakar will now consider how to respond. His camp has already claimed that vote rigging occurred during the primary and will likely continue to make further accusations regarding the election's fairness. Beyond that, Abubakar's options are limited. Though in recent weeks he has intimated that a defeat at the primaries could cause an outbreak of reactionary violence, it will be difficult for him to unleash such a reaction on any meaningful scale; he has no ties to the Niger Delta, a stronghold for Jonathan, and so could not prompt attacks against oil infrastructure there. Furthermore, even if he managed to foment reactionary violence in the north in the coming weeks or months, it would not rise to the level of strategic threat. Jonathan has been working to reassure northerners that he has not forgotten their interests, so inciting violence in the north over the PDP primary would not necessarily be easy. Abubakar could quit the PDP and seek the presidential nomination from another party, particularly the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party. The other top opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, said it would not accept Abubakar if he lost the primary, but ACN leaders have already said they would invite the loser of the PDP primary to represent their party in the national elections in April. However, Abubakar already tried running on the ACN ticket in 2007, when the party was known as simply the Action Congress, and he received only 7 percent of the vote. The PDP's influence and incumbency is so great that he did not stand a credible chance. Jonathan has several options for keeping any discontent in the country under control. He has appealed to younger Nigerians by campaigning as a modernizer and a member of a new political generation not restrained by the old system. He has billed himself as a national politician — a candidate who, though from the south, has the entire country's interests at heart. Furthermore, he chose a northerner, Namadi Sambo, as his vice president in an attempt to appease northerners within the PDP. Sambo will be first in line to succeed Jonathan when the new presidential term ends in 2015. There is also an emerging expectation that Sambo will have two terms, or eight years, of presidential power — something that would restore the balance between the north and the south. Jonathan is using as much influence as he can to keep the situation stable in Nigeria. By doing so, he is making unrest after the PDP primary less likely.