Nigeria’s leader declares election bid on Facebook

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by Bashir Adigun

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP)—President Goodluck Jon­athan announced Sept. 15 on Facebook that he will run in the oil-rich nation’s January election, ending months of speculation over his plans after he assumed power following the death of Nigeria’s elected leader.

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ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY—In this May 31 file photo, Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan waves as he arrives for a dinner at the Prefecture in Nice, southern France, during the 25th Africa-France Summit.

Jonathan’s announcement, as well as a campaign rally last Wednesday by former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida, signaled the start of campaigning ahead of the Jan. 22 presidential election in Africa’s most populous nation.

But with the polls only four months away and voting equipment yet to be purchased, Nigeria could see a repeat of the notoriously corrupt elections that have plagued the country since it became a democracy a decade ago.

Nigeria is a top supplier of crude oil to the U.S., putting an additional importance on a peaceful transition of power in the nation of 150 million.

While Babangida took to a stage with a traditional stump speech, Jonathan announced his candidacy through a message on his profile on the social-networking website Facebook.

Jonathan’s decision, coming in a country where most earn less than $1 a day and few have access to the Internet, appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from Babangida. Jon­athan’s announcement also answered questions over whether the politician fond of bowler hats and the traditional black caftans of the Niger Delta region would contest.

Bolaji Adebiyi, a special assistant to Jonathan, confirmed the Facebook message came from the president.

“I make no pretense that I have a magic wand that will solve all of Nigeria’s problems or that I am the most intelligent Nigerian—far from it,” Jonathan’s message read.

“What I do promise is this—if I am elected president in 2011, I will make a covenant with you, the Nigerian people, to always do right by you, to tell you the truth at all times, to carry you along and most importantly to listen to you, fellow citizens in our communities and also those of you on this page.”

Babangida, a general who took power after a 1985 coup, said he was able to make the “difficult decisions” required of an elected president. He also promised to serve only one, four-year term in office.

However, many remember Babangida for annulling the presidential election of June 1993, which Nigerians and foreign observers considered to be the country’s freest and fairest.

“After almost two decades of deep and serious reflection, increased exposure and review of our past and present, I am today more convinced and indeed determined to take on the challenges of this country,” Babangida said.

Both Babangida and Jonathan hope to be the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, the nation’s ruling party.

The party, whose membership includes many of the nation’s wealthy elite, has held the presidency since the nation embraced democracy in 1999.

Its operatives have the political connections and muscle necessary to control Nigeria’s unruly and corrupt electoral system.

Both men, as well as former vice president Atiku Abubakar, will face each other in what could be a hard-fought primary campaign.

The ruling party announced last Wednesday that office holders and party delegates will vote in primaries by regions across the country in October, followed by a national convention.

Religious and ethnic politics undoubtedly will play a part in delegates’ decisions.

Jonathan, a Christian from the country’s south, became president after the May 5 death of elected leader Umaru Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the north. An unwritten power-sharing agreement within the ruling party calls for the presidency to alternate between Nigeria’s mainly Christian south and Muslim north. However, Yar’Adua died while still in his first term and leaders in the north had expected him to serve two.

Both Abubakar and Babangida are Muslims. Analysts warn their candidacies could split northern and southern leaders in the ruling party when unity is necessary to hold onto power.

Still, Jonathan enjoys the trappings of incumbency—which included him last week replacing all the heads of military and security agencies, cementing his power ahead of the polls.

“Although the Facebook declaration will generate consternation amongst party officials…it signals that the president is increasingly confident of brokering a deal that would give him victory in the nomination contest, and wants to keep a step ahead of his rivals,” said Rolake Akinola, a London-based analyst with the Eurasia Group.

Jonathan has pledged repeatedly that Nigeria will hold a credible election come January. Yet the country has yet to purchase the needed equipment to register its estimated 70 million eligible voters, nor has it hired poll workers.

Despite that, William Fitzgerald, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told reporters during a conference call that the U.S. supported Nigeria’s election timetable.

(Associated Press Writers Austin Inyanda and Jon Gambrell contributed from Lagos, Nigeria.)

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