Nigerian governors who defected from the ruling party to an opposition bloc have underlined the growing electoral threat to President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
The five governors’ defection on Nov. 26 leaves the opposition All Progressives Congress as the main group capable of dislodging the People’s Democratic Party, which has held power since 1999, and Jonathan, who’s battling an Islamist insurgency in the north and falling oil revenue.
“Power brokers within the PDP may start to question whether Jonathan is the right candidate, looking at his lack of management of this issue,” Martin Roberts, senior Africa analyst at IHS Country Risk, said by phone from London.
At stake is control of Africa’s biggest oil producer that’s home to more than one in 10 of the continent’s people and a $263 billion economy. The gathering of four opposition groups into a single party means the battle for votes in 2015 may be Nigeria’s toughest since military rule ended almost 15 years ago.
“This has added a dimension of ‘do-or-die’ to the political landscape,” said Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, based in the capital, Abuja.
Jonathan, 56, became president in 2010 when his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, died in office, and won an election the following year. He postponed his 2014 budget speech twice this month, delaying it on Nov. 19 after lawmakers failed to agree on the benchmark oil price in the spending plan. Crude accounts for about 80 percent of Nigerian government revenue.
West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery traded at $92.19 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 16.6 percent from its Sept. 6 peak, at 7:39 a.m. in London.
The government is also fighting a group of Islamist militants known as Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin,” that has carried out attacks across the north and in the capital since 2009.
In the absence of clear ideological differences between the two parties, the 2015 campaign will be dominated by individual politicians jockeying for position, rather than advocating distinctive policies, Hassan said.
“Their agendas are very similar, and neither the APC nor the PDP has been able to tell us how they will implement their agendas,” Hassan said in a phone interview.
The original splinter group of PDP members was led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and seven state governors. It broke away in August to demand that Jonathan, a southern Christian, respect a party convention to alternate the presidency between the mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south by announcing that he won’t run in 2015.
The defections to the opposition, which left the ruling party in control of 18 of the country’s 36 states to the APC’s 16, may “give further encouragement to those within the party who say it’s time for a northern candidate,” Roberts said.
Nigerian voting traditionally follows the nation’s religious and ethnic contours. Jonathan’s victory in 2011 relied on the south and the central area known as the Middle Belt, where many voters are fearful of northern, Muslim rule.
Jos, a city in the central state of Plateau, has been hit by frequently violent land disputes between predominantly Muslim cattle herders and mainly Christian farmers. Gunmen killed 37 people in four villages in the state on Nov. 26 in the highest daily death toll in fighting in the area this year.
The ruling party has dismissed the importance of the defections, with spokesman Olisa Metuh saying in a Nov. 26 statement on the PDP’s website, “we are now rid of detractors and distractions.”
The opposition faces a dilemma in its potential choice of presidential candidate. While former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a 70-year-old Muslim, could count on strong backing in the north, he may find less support among Christians.
“The APC has its own power struggles, regional fissures and unresolved candidacies,” said Philippe de Pontet, Africa director at Eurasia Group, in e-mailed comments. “The newly integrating ex-PDP governors, many of whom have presidential ambitions, may complicate matters further.”