Religious conflict looms large in Nigeria’s politics, but religion is not the only or even the main issue at stake in this year’s presidential elections. As President Goodluck Jonathan tours the country on his re-election campaign, he has devoted substantial attention to the North, where some voters reject the idea that a Christian Southern president might serve out the remainder of what they consider by rights a Northern Muslim’s turn to rule the country. As Jonathan woos Northern leaders and voters, he has tried to build a sense of national unity by focusing on themes of shared economic prosperity and greater attention to Northern development.
The Nigerian Tribune surveys Jonathan’s campaign so far. Note the President’s outreach to the North (he has not even visited two of the Southern “geo-political zones” yet):
President Jonathan had early this month kickstarted the presidential campaign at the zonal level by transversing the six geo-political zones. In each of the zones, the President assured the people of his readiness to meet their desires during the four year tenure he is currently seeking. In each of the zones, he raised the basic desires of the people and insisted that he has got the capacity to deliver.
After the zonal campaigns, the PDP also kicked off the state to state campaigns. The campaign that would end late in March has so far taken the President through states in the North Central, the North East, North West and South East. He has campaigned in states like Ebonyi, Niger, Benue, Plateau, Anambra and Delta.
In the Northern states, Jonathan raised his desire to revive the textile companies, fund agriculture and tackle unemployment. He also assured on infrastructure, especially the power infrastructure and the roads.
In the North Central, Jonathan insisted on reviving the near moribund Ajaokuta Steel Company, complete the dredging of River Niger and support the states’ capacity in food production. The promises are endless but the president has not made it a campaign of promises. He also used the opportunity of the campaign to tell the people what his government has done in each of the states and the zone, using that to bolster the promise to do more.
Jonathan’s emphasis on the North focuses largely on the Middle Belt, an area with a roughly even Muslim-Christian split, but his campaigning has taken him close to the “Core North” as well, and promising economic revival may resonate with voters there. I initially surmised that his strategy was to win the Middle Belt while minimizing his losses in further North, but he may make a stronger effort in the “Core North” than I expected. Jonathan is also succeeding in rallying the support of some Northern leaders. Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether Jonathan can build strong support not just in the Middle Belt, but across Northern Nigeria. I expect some opposition-held areas like Kano and the North East to remain in opposition hands, but Jonathan’s outreach might increase the competition.