Nigeria: Is Goodluck Jonathan running for president or what?

Nigeria's presidential race kicked off unofficially this week, with the entry of former president and military ruler Ibrahim Babangida and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar (both Muslims from the north) announcing their intent to run. Will incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, enter the fray?

Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (l.) speaks with the chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) Okwesilieze Nwodo at the party's central executive council meeting in the capital Abuja August 12. Will Jonathan run for president in the next election?

Goodluck Jonathan is oscillating so much on his 2011 plans, he makes Hamlet look decisive. He can't just be doing this for kicks - what's his end game?

From all the tea leaves before us, this next election is not going to be pretty. Northerners want a northern president (well, they always do) because Yar'Adua didn't have his full term due to his protracted illness and eventual death. To zone or not to zone has been a question for months.

Former military president Babangida has voiced interest, so he and former vice (and now out-of-favor with ruling party heads) Atiku are said to be the choices for the Northern leaders' endorsement as the election draws nearer.

Attahiru Jega, electoral body INEC head, has already started playing doomsday prophet even after the senate granted him funds for conducting the election.

It's interesting times in Nigerian politics, and I don't blame anyone wanting to stay away. I sincerely doubt, though, that Jonathan is "scared." One expects, in fact, that if he keeps his Golden Boy image, he's one more CNN and BBC interview away from Kagame (pre-election) status, and he's earned himself a soapbox for life, abroad if not at home.

There's a lot of real politique going on here. Jonathan is not Igbo (which probably wouldn't have helped much anyway), not Yoruba, and certainly not Hausa. It's already a very long shot that he gets the nomination with the heavy-hitters gunning for it, so he has to speak softly and not look like he's trying to assert authority from leaders he doesn't have within a party system that very much depends on where you come from.

Waving a cane in the face of leaders from the north and south when you don't have the political pedigree and support that they do would strike me as quite silly on his part.

For my money, GEJ absolutely wants to run for president, but he has to win the staring contest first. And if he does, and earns his party's nomination, then he's certainly worth his first name.

Saratu Abiola is a Nigerian journalist who blogs on Method to the Madness here:

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