Nigeria succession wide open after Yar’Adua’s death

By Nick Tattersall – Analysis

LAGOS (BestGrowthStock) – The death of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua is unlikely to plunge Africa’s most populous state into crisis, but it intensifies what was already shaping up to be the fiercest succession race since the end of military rule.

Yar’Adua has been absent from the political scene since last November, when he left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, and his deputy Goodluck Jonathan has been running the country since February, when he assumed full powers as Acting President.

After initial fears of a power struggle as the camp around Yar’Adua fought to maintain influence, Jonathan has consolidated his position, naming a new cabinet and advisers, and Yar’Adua’s death is unlikely to have any immediate impact on policy in the OPEC-member nation.

But it does pile pressure on the powerbrokers in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to resolve a months-old impasse over who should succeed him.

Yar’Adua’s illness already had raised uncertainty over how his succession would be handled by the PDP, whose candidate has won every election since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule just over a decade ago, making it a virtual one-party state.

According to the party’s constitution, power should rotate between Nigeria’s geographical zones, and there is an unwritten agreement that the presidency should alternate between the Muslim north and Christian south every two terms.

The conventional thinking was that should Yar’Adua — a northerner — die during his first term, as has happened, Jonathan — a southerner — would pick a new northern vice president and the pair would finish the unexpired term.

That northern vice president would then stand as the ruling party’s presidential nominee in the next election in order to ensure that power remained in the north for two terms.

While Yar’Adua was incapacitated, Jonathan served only as acting president without a deputy, allowing the ruling party to defer its decision on who that key player should be.

Under the terms of the constitution, Jonathan should now quickly be sworn in as head of state after Yar’Adua’s death and appoint a new vice president, leaving the PDP with two choices.

Either it agrees quickly on the northern candidate it wants as its presidential nominee and Jonathan swears that person in, or it runs the risk of losing influence over the outcome of the next election.

RACE WIDE OPEN A string of northern names has been bandied around in the media and by political analysts as possible candidates to serve with Jonathan and then run at the next election.

Among them are National Security Adviser Aliyu Gusau, who was appointed by Jonathan in March and was the main contender alongside Yar’Adua to be the PDP candidate in the 2007 elections.

The powerful state governors’ caucus in the PDP is seen as likely to back one of its own, such as Bukola Saraki, the well-connected governor of the central state of Kwara.

A younger generation of northern reformers also could try their hand.

Nasir El-Rufai — a former minister under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo — returned from two years of self-imposed exile this week and has said he would not rule himself out of running for public office.

Nuhu Ribadu, a respected former anti-corruption chief, told Reuters last month he was ready to return from voluntary exile after a charges against him were dropped.

But all of these scenarios assume the agreement to rotate power between north and south is maintained.

There is no constitutional requirement for such a rotation and Jonathan has not ruled out running for president himself. El-Rufai has even said he would support him.

The PDP’s inability to agree risks splitting it apart, a scenario which could mean more than one strong candidate contesting for the first time since the end of military rule.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who ran unsuccessfully as the opposition Action Congress candidate in 2007, has said he may seek to run again but this time on the PDP ticket.

Former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida also has said he intends to seek the PDP’s presidential nomination, although he pulled out of the race at the last minute before the 2007 polls.

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(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Nigeria succession wide open after Yar’Adua’s death