Jonathan keeps voters guessingComment on this story
Abuja - Nigeria has set a date for its presidential and parliamentary elections but the main question dominating discussion in the country is whether Goodluck Jonathan will seek a second term.
The 56-year-old, who stepped up to the top job in 2010 when former head of state Umaru Yar'Adua fell ill and later died, has yet to declare his candidacy.
But sustained speculation that he will run for re-election on February 14, 2015 has caused deep rifts within his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Five influential governors quit the PDP for the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in November last year, while further defections from lawmakers cost the PDP its parliamentary majority.
At issue is Jonathan's alleged refusal to abide by an unwritten party rule to rotate the presidential candidate between the majority Muslim north and the mainly Christian south.
Jonathan, a southern Christian, is also said to have pledged privately to serve only one, four-year term after he won the last elections in 2011.
Last week he removed the unpopular PDP chairman Bamanga Tukur from his post and appointed a number of northern politicians to ministerial jobs.
That was interpreted as an attempt to ease internal party tensions and clear the way for a tilt at a second term.
“I think Jonathan sacked Tukur for his own ambitions,” said Dapo Thomas, a political analyst from Lagos State University.
“By all calculations he will now think that the removal of Tukur was enough to pacify the aggrieved PDP members,” he told AFP.
“Emphatically and categorically I know he's going to contest.”
Should Jonathan decide to step aside, however, northern politicians are likely to figure prominently among the hopefuls.
The north dominated the presidency during military rule and lawmakers from the region Ä on all sides of the political divide Ä are unlikely to want to wait another four years for another chance.
In addition, Nigeria's political landscape could be radically different in 2019. Younger candidates and other ethnic groups such as the Yoruba or Igbo may lobby for a presidential ticket.
PDP names mentioned already include Jonathan's deputy, Namadi Sambo, who is a former governor of Kaduna state, as well as the former vice-president and founding member of the party, Atiku Abubakar.
Niger state governor Babangida Aliyu and his counterpart in Jigawa state, Sule Lamido, could also contest, as could the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal.
Abubakar has twice tried and failed to secure the party nomination: for the 2007 vote, he defected to an opposition party, while in 2011, he rejoined the PDP but saw Jonathan win the ticket instead.
His influence in the PDP, however, is seen as increasingly limited after a number of close allies formed the smaller opposition Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) party.
Lamido, 65, is known to enjoy the open support of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who still wields considerable influence in the PDP and was foreign minister in his government.
Obasanjo in December last year wrote a critical open letter to Jonathan, accusing him of failing to tackle Nigeria's most pressing problems, such as widespread corruption and security.
He also accused Jonathan of training a private militia to assassinate rivals.
Aliyu, 58, is an experienced civil servant and is chairman of the northern governors forum.
Tambuwal, who hails from the northern state of Sokoto, has previously been linked with a move to the APC but on Friday was reported to have ruled out any defection. For now, PDP presidential hopefuls are keeping mum on their own ambitions until Jonathan pronounces, mindful that to run against him would likely end in failure.
“He has the power of incumbency. He has everything, every resource possible (to see off challenges),” said Thomas. “Until he decides, for now nobody is going to declare.”