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Nigeria's ruling party tested by dissent

03 September 2013, 12:33

Lagos - The party that has controlled Nigeria's presidency since a return to civilian rule in 1999 has found itself in unfamiliar territory, rocked by dissent and facing a stronger opposition.

The combination of internal dissent against President Goodluck Jonathan as well as serious efforts by the country's main opposition groups to unite have come amid early strategising for 2015 polls.

Whether the ruling People’s Democratic Party can iron out its differences and fend off the opposition will have huge implications for Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer.

The crucial 2015 vote will come after years of deadly Islamist attacks in the north and with oil theft in the south estimated to cost the country around $6bn per year in revenue.

"The party may lose the next election unless genuine efforts to reconcile the aggrieved members are made," said Laja Odukoya, a political science lecturer at the University of Lagos.


Others, however remain more optimistic, believing the PDP remains a behemoth more than capable of righting the ship, flush with cash and with the power of the presidency.

Still, the challenges facing the party cannot be underestimated.

The latest development came on Saturday, when a PDP convention in Abuja exposed the party's divisions.

Seven of the party's 23 state governors (Nigeria has 36 states) along with others, including former vice president Atiku Abubakar, walked out of the event and met nearby for a parallel meeting of what they now call the real PDP.

The rift had been in the making for months, with factions within the party opposed to Jonathan's re-election and several members believed to be plotting their own run.

Regional politics have combined with personal ambitions and other factors to create shifting alliances.

Unwritten pact

Much of the opposition to Jonathan within the party is based on an unwritten pact intended to rotate control of the presidency between Nigeria's predominately Christian south and mainly Muslim north.

According to many northerners, Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-producing Niger Delta region, should have never been allowed to run in 2011 as it was the north's turn.

The dissidents who walked out on Saturday have been seeking to publicly make their case.

One of the most prominent Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of Rivers state in the Niger Delta who has been in a high-profile feud with the president, met with foreign journalists on Monday in Lagos.

The governor, considered a possible vice presidential candidate, said the electorate had come to expect more in a country where corruption and mismanagement has long characterised politics.

"What we're doing is to correct the party to ensure that when we present ourselves before the people in 2015, we will be credible enough to get the number of votes that will put us back in power," Amaechi said.

Unclear strategy

Their strategy is not clear. One option may be to present their own candidate to challenge Jonathan in the PDP primary - though they could eventually fall in line with the president if they are offered enough concessions.

Whatever the outcome, the dissident group is not the PDP's only headache.

Nigeria's main opposition parties moved earlier this year to combine forces, potentially posing a serious threat to the PDP if they can overcome infighting.

The new opposition alignment, the All Progressives Congress, includes parties with significant regional clout as well as a number of influential figures.

Odukoya said the combination of internal splits and a unified opposition held the potential for what may have once seemed unthinkable: a PDP defeat in presidential polls.

However, Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders pressure group was cautious over what may come of the PDP's bickering.

The deal-making inherent in Nigerian politics means almost any outcome is imaginable.

"[The dissidents] may just be cajoling the leadership into making concessions to them ahead of 2015," he said.

As for Amaechi, he insisted the dissident group's actions were aimed at cleaning up the party, adding that it was too early to talk about what he will be up to in 2015.

"In Nigerian politics, one hour is a lot," he said. "In Nigerian politics, one hour can change everything."



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