, ABUJA, Sep 18 – Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan was due to formally declare his bid for the January presidential poll on Saturday, two days after launching it on his Facebook page, ending months of doubts over his ambition.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan had used his Facebook page on Wednesday to declare his intention to run amidst a row in his ruling People\’s Democratic Party (PDP) on whether to support him or a northern candidate.
Jonathan said he offered himself and "my services to the Nigerian people as a candidate for the office of president in the forthcoming 2011 elections."
At a rally attended by a mammont crowd of supporters, state governors, ministers and lawmakers on Saturday in the nation\’s capital, Jonathan was accompanied by his wife Patience, Vice President Namadi Sambo and a retinue of aides and party officials, including PDP chairman Okwesilieze Nwodo.
Observers and commentators described the carnival-like event as "the mother of all declarations" with banner-carrying youth and culural groups drumming and singing to eulogise the president.
The 52-year-old southern Christian from Bayelsa State in the oil-rich Niger Delta succeeded president Umaru Yar\’Adua after his death in May. He had been deputy president since 2007.
The PDP, dominant in Nigerian politics since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999, is divided between backing Jonathan or a candidate from the country\’s mainly Muslim north.
An unwritten party policy has long dictated that it rotate its candidates between the Muslim north and predominantly Christian south every second term.
The rule serves as a way of smoothing over ethnic, religious and social divides in the vast west African country of 150 million people and over 250 tribal groups.
Since Yar\’Adua, a Muslim, died before his first term was up, some argue another northern candidate should be chosen.
Several northern candidates, including former military ruler Ibrahim Babaginda and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, have declared their ambition to seek the party\’s nomination.
First Republic information minister and prominent ethnic Ijaw leader Edwin Clark urged Nigerians to back the president\’s bid.
"I have never seen this kind of mammont crowd in my life. Democracy has come to stay in Nigeria," he said of the thousands of supporters massed for the ceremony.
"My message to all Nigerians, from the six geo-political zones, is to unite and stand behind President Jonathan," he said.
Other leaders, including former ministers, governors, community and traditional rulers also spoke in the same vein in favour of the president.
But a group of some influential politicians from the north urged the PDP to bar Jonathan from seeking its ticket, saying the existing party policy on rotating power between the south and north should be respected.
"We demand that the party issues a declaration, restraining President Goodluck Jonathan from participating and presenting himself as an aspirant in the 2010 PDP presidential primary election," read a letter by the group, a copy of which was seen by AFP.
"If we follow our party’s practice and constitution, which we must, the party must nominate a northerner as our presidential candidate and a southerner as our vice presidential candidate because the existing Yar’adua/Goodluck ticket is zoned to the north not the south," it said.
The PDP has announced that its flagbearer will emerge on October 23.
Shehu Sani of the northern-based Civil Rights Congress said it was "unethical and politically immoral" for Jonathan to run.
"The declaration is on breach of \’A Gentleman Agreement\’ between the political leaders of Nigeria and his party to rotate political power between the north and south of which he Jonathan was a signatory to," he said in a statement.
Sani said the declaration was "nothing but desperation to (hang) onto power, rabid ambition and political opportunism typical of that of President Paul Biya of Cameroon."
Biya, 77, who was appointed prime minister in 1975, has been president of the former French colony in central Africa since 1982.