LAGOS, Aug 2 (Reuters) - 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:
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 incumbent. [ID:nLDE66P1O3]
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 constitutional amendment.
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 than increasing.
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)