Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan receives important northern endorsement

Nigeria's incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan received an endorsement from a prominent northern politician that could be critical for the southern-born candidate in the April 9 presidential election.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
A man walks past an election banner for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo before the start of a campaign rally in Lagos on March 1, 2011. Africa's most populous nation is due to hold presidential, parliamentary and state elections in April.

Nigeria’s presidential elections are less than a month away. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, continues to pursue outreach toward the north. Jonathan, whose candidacy undermines a north-south power-sharing agreement in the eyes of some northerners, has campaigned heavily in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” and has promised economic development in the “Core North.” Now, he has secured the endorsement of a prominent northern politician, former President Shehu Shagari.

Nigeria has a number of living former heads of state, some of whom remain active politicians (Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo) and some of whom do not (Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari). Securing the support of active politicians will be important to Jonathan’s campaign, but Shagari’s backing lends the gravitas of an older Northern statesman to the younger Southerner’s presidential bid:

Mr Shagari, who received Mr Jonathan in his home in Sokoto yesterday, said he was happy that as politicians like him become old, young ones like Mr Jonathan have emerged to take up the task of leading the country. He spoke of the need to allow younger Nigerians like Mr Jonathan to take over the leadership of the country from the older ones.

“I’m getting old and I don’t think I can join any political party for active politicking now, but I’m happy that you (Jonathan) have emerged to undertake the onerous task of leading this country.

I believe you will succeed, having worked so hard,” he said.

The former president said even before the nation’s independence in 1960, when the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was looking for an alliance with the Southern region, it was the politicians from the Niger Delta that volunteered to form a coalition with the party.

By invoking historical alliances between the Niger Delta (in Nigeria’s “South South” zone) and the “Core North,” Shagari has given northern voters a reason to believe that Jonathan will represent their interests even though he is not a northerner. We will see what effect Shagari’s endorsement has in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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