Nigeria’s governing PDP party appears to be disintegrating. Several leading officials have left and founded a new party. They are opposed to President Jonathan running for re-election in 2015.
Since seven functionaries of the governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) stormed out of a party convention at the end of August and set up their own party, politics in Nigeria have been in disarray.
The PDP has been in power continuously since the end of the military dictatorship in 1998. Now it appears to be falling apart and the influence of President Goodluck Jonathan is dwindling. The reason is the upcoming presidential elections in the oil-rich West African nation, due in 2015, for which major players are moving into position.
The seven rebels are, with one exception, governors of federal states in the predominantly Muslim north. Together they represent just over 20 percent of the Nigerian electorate and are, therefore, an important electoral factor for President Jonathan.
The rebels accuse the president of not sticking to the rules. Under an unwritten law, top political positions alternate every other legislature period between the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south. Jonathan comes from the south. He became president in 2010 after the unexpected death of President Umar Yar'Adua, a northerner. One year later an election confirmed Jonathan in office. That means he is coming to the end of his second term, say his opponents.
But the president seems to have every intention of running again in 2015. The rebel governors want to bring pressure to bear on him to respect the traditional way of doing things, says political scientist and analyst Garba Umar Kari from the University of Abuja in the Nigerian capital.
Serious threat to Jonathan
Up to now, with more than 60 percent, Jonathan's PDP had a comfortable majority in the Nigerian Governors' Forum. Now it has the backing of less than half of the 36 governors. This is not the first time there has been a power struggle within the PDP. But never before has one wing come out so strongly against the head of state and Jonathan's hold on power could now be seriously at risk.
"The people behind the so-called new PDP are experienced politicians, several of them are much more experienced than Jonathan and his group," Kari told DW. The rebel governors are also very powerful because they have financial resources and a large support base in their respective states, he added. "If the population follows the governor, they could easily defeat Jonathan," Kari predicts.
Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi is one of the governors who have publicly declared their opposition to Jonathan
A Nigerian professor, Dr Abdul Raufu Mustapha, who lectures on African politics at Oxford University, warns that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many other governors and members of parliament support the anti-Jonathan course, he says, but they have not yet gone public, fearing they would come under pressure from Jonathan.
Critical candidates not wanted
What provoked the split within the PDP? Mustapha says Jonathan and his party chairman Bamanga Tukur had attempted to influence internal elections and remove unwanted candidates. "70 candidates had registered to compete for 17 positions. Just a few minutes before the election, 50 of them were not allowed to take part - all those who belonged to a different faction within the party. The new PDP says it was undemocratic to disqualify people minutes before an election and give them no chance to defend themselves," Mustapha told DW. The rebels took the case to court. The judges called on both sides to remain calm until the verdict is announced. However on Saturday (8.9.2013) the police, apparently acting on the orders of the president, closed down several offices of the new PDP.
The rebellion against Jonathan has nothing to do with a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims, say both Kari and Mustapha. It is more a conflict of interests between Jonathan and his opponents within the party. There is considerable dissatisfaction with Jonathan's leadership style. As Kari sees it, "He has not yet been able to tackle a single one of Nigeria's fundamental social, political and economic problems. In fact, things have gotten worse." According to Kari, Jonathan had neither reacted appropriately to attacks in the north by Islamist terror group Boko Haram which left hundreds dead nor had he taken action to combat poverty and illiteracy in the country.
In addition to the new PDP, a strengthened opposition bloc could add to Jonathan's woes. In February this year four opposition parties joined together to form an alliance, the All Progressive Congress (APC). If they were now to link up with the new PDP, that "would be the end of Jonathan's amibitions, as the opposition already controls 11 of Nigeria's 36 states," Kari said.
Jonathan has not yet made an official statement on whether he plans to run for a further term in office. However, observers say he is bringing his followers, most prominently party chairman Tukur, into position. This is seen as a clear indication that he does intend to make a renewed bid for the presidency.
For the time being, reconciliation does not seem a likely prospect. However, much can happen between now and the elections in 2015.