LAGOS Aug 2 Uncertainty over whether Nigerian
President Goodluck Jonathan will contest a presidential election
in six months time is clouding the outlook for policy and reform
in sub-Saharan Africa's second-biggest economy.
The incumbent has increasingly acted like a head of state
who plans to be in office after the January polls, announcing
initiatives and policies with timeframes of several years in
sectors including power and infrastructure.
But should he run, Jonathan, a southerner, would break an
unwritten agreement in the ruling People's Democratic Party
(PDP) that power rotates between the Muslim north and Christian
south every two terms. [ID:nLDE66Q1EY]
He is only likely to do that if he is sure he can win, which
means securing the backing of the country's powerful northern
governors, some of whom are bent on the north taking what would
have been late northern President Umara Yar'Adua's second term.
Whether or not he runs could have implications for security
in the restive Niger Delta and parts of the north, as well as
for the passage of key pieces of legislation including reforms
to the mainstay energy industry.
Following are some of the factors to watch:
RULING PARTY PRIMARIES
The ruling PDP has won all three presidential races since
the end of military rule just over a decade ago, making the
outcome of past elections a foregone conclusion and turning
Nigeria into a virtual one-party state.
But disagreement over who the PDP nominee should be with
just six months to go until the polls means this time the race
remains wide open. The primaries are expected in September or
October, although no date has yet been set.
Powerful state governors from Jonathan's southern home
region have unsurprisingly called on him to declare his
candidacy and urged other parts of the country to also back the
But the northern governors have failed to give him their
full endorsement, recognising his constitutional right to run
but saying only the PDP can decide whether or not to abandon the
"zoning agreement". [ID:nLDE66Q0XI]
Should Jonathan decide not to run, his supporters in the
Niger Delta could launch protests. Should on the other hand the
PDP decide to back him, this could stoke resentment among
northern youths who have already held small-scale protests.
What to watch:
-- The debate within the PDP over zoning. A clear statement
that the party no longer believes zoning is necessary would be
seen as a green light for Jonathan to run.
-- The emergence of a strong northern candidate who would be
a challenger to Jonathan and the preferred nominee for PDP
members wishing to maintain the rotation principle.
Parliament has approved a constitutional amendment which
requires polls to be held in January. The Independent National
Electoral Commission (INEC) has said the date is likely to be
between January 8-15. [ID:nLDE66Q1Y5] [ID:nLDE66L1PJ]
The amendment, which requires elections be held 120-150 days
before the presidential term ends instead of a previous 30-60
days, aims to allow more time for the resolution of any legal
challenges before the new head of state is sworn in in May.
But apart from putting pressure on the PDP to decide who its
nominee will be, the accelerated timetable also leaves electoral
authorities with little time to implement reforms needed to
avoid the sort of chaos seen at its last polls in 2007.
An electoral roll riddled with fictitious names and omitting
legitimate voters was among the many problems in polls marred by
ballot stuffing and intimidation. Children were listed, while
registration machines were found in the homes of politicians.
One advantage over 2007 is that many more of the state
governors are incumbents seeking second terms, which means the
regional votes are likely to be less contentious.
But if INEC fails at least to overhaul the voter lists in
the little time left, there is a likelihood of legal challenges
overshadowing the beginning of the new presidential term.
What to watch:
-- Warnings from opposition parties that the vote will not
be credible, signalling a likelihood of court challenges.
-- Efforts to move the election date back, despite the
Should Jonathan win re-election, the reform drive of the
current administration -- including combatting chronic power
shortages, overhauling the oil industry, and supporting ongoing
banking reforms -- is unlikely to change.
But should a new president take office, all bets are off.
Wide-ranging legislation to overhaul the mainstay oil and
gas industry is before parliament, while the oil minister has
also said the OPEC member plans an oil licensing round this
year, but time is running out as elections approach.
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will redefine Nigeria's
relationship with foreign partners, setting a new fiscal and
legal framework, and critics say that without clarity over how
that framework will pan out, the planned oil licensing round
will be a lottery for potential investors.
Government officials have made conflicting statements on the
solvency of state oil firm NNPC, but the war of words obscures
the urgent need for reform of a body whose persistent financial
woes have stalled investment in the development of oil projects.
In the banking sector, reforms driven by Central Bank
Governor Lamido Sanusi have so far enjoyed presidential support.
But the central bank is also pushing for further changes which
will also need presidential backing, including increasing its
own regulatory powers over lenders.
What to watch:
-- Progress on the PIB. If it fails to pass before the
elections it is unlikely to see the light of day until mid way
through the next presidential term, potentially further delaying
billions of dollars of new investment in the oil sector.
-- Any suggestion from a presidential candidate other than
Jonathan that the central bank's powers need curtailing rather
Africa's biggest oil and gas industry has gone more than a
year without a significant militant attack, the result of last
year's amnesty in which thousands of gunmen laid down arms.
But some ex-militants are complaining the post-amnesty
programme has stalled, with promises of stipends and retraining
unfulfilled. Jonathan has made pledges but progress is slow.
Industry sources say there has been a sharp rise in
bunkering -- the theft of industrial quantities of crude oil --
and illegal refining, as militants who took part in the amnesty
but have not been re-trained seek other sources of income.
Some of the armed gangs originally had political backing,
and were used to rig elections. There are concerns history could
repeat itself in the run-up to the January polls.
Kidnapping for ransom has also risen in some areas.
Such insecurity costs foreign firms -- including oil majors
like Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), Chevron (CVX.N), ExxonMobil
(XOM.N), Total (TOTF.PA) and Agip (ENI.MI) -- millions of
dollars a year in security measures.
What to watch:
- Peace talks. Jonathan has made reviving the amnesty a
priority and decisive action could encourage militants to
formally reinstate a ceasefire.
- Attacks on oil services companies. Firms including Shell,
Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total and Agip have borne the brunt of past
attacks but militants have warned new unrest could also target
suppliers and contractors. This might impact global oil markets.
(For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ )
(Editing by Giles Elgood)