Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, campaigning for re-election, has stopped in each of the country’s 36 states. This national tour has included heavy emphasis on Northern Nigeria, where many elites and voters believe the presidency should return to their region as part of an informal national power rotation. For Jonathan, a Southerner, to win the April election, he will need some Northern support. That’s why he has devoted time to the “Middle Belt” or North Central Zone, emphasized themes of shared national prosperity and unity, and sought endorsements from Northern statesmen. And that’s why two of his last campaign stops were Katsina and Kano, strongholds of the Core North.
In Kano, with tight security, Jonathan addressed thousands of supporters from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Reuters analyzes the electoral calculus at work:
Securing support in this ancient Islamic city, Nigeria’s second most populous after the southern commercial hub of Lagos, will be key if Jonathan, who is from the southern Niger Delta, is to clinch victory in the first round of the April polls.
As the incumbent, Jonathan is considered the front-runner, but his main rival, Muslim ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, has strong grass roots support in many parts of the north and the opposition is hoping to force a run-off.
Much is at stake in Kano and Nigeria’s other northern cities. Jonathan must win at least 25 percent of the vote in two thirds of the states to clinch victory. The core north, along with opposition strongholds in the southwest, are seen as the most likely regions to prevent him succeeding.
In addition to boosting his own support, Jonathan’s last stops in the North seem calculated to show that Jonathan is willing to take on Buhari on the latter’s own turf.
On Tuesday Jonathan attended a rally in neighbouring Katsina, Buhari’s home state, where he was treated to a rousing welcome at the city’s main stadium.
Before that he had flown to Daura, Buhari’s hometown, where he visited the traditional chief in what is considered the oldest chiefdom in northern Nigeria and the heartland of the Hausa, the largest ethnic group in the north.
Jonathan’s “Northern outreach” is not over – around three week remain in the campaign. In his states’ tour, though, Jonathan has already systematically courted the North, from the Hausa Muslim areas of Kano and Katsina to the mixed areas in the Middle Belt. I do not expect Jonathan or the PDP to win opposition strongholds like Kano. But if Jonathan outperforms expectations in the North, he may return to office with ease, and with what the PDP will call a decisive mandate to continue in power.