ABUJA (AFP) – Nigeria?s President Goodluck Jonathan used his Facebook page on Wednesday to announce his candidacy for presidential elections next January, ending months of speculation over his intentions.
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”.
He will make a formal declaration at a rally on Saturday.
The 52-year-old southern Christian said he had made his decision after “wide and thorough consultations” across Nigeria, but he faces deep disagreement within the ruling PDP over his candidacy.
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.
Unwritten party policy has long dictated that it rotate its candidates between the north and predominantly Christian south every two terms.
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.
Jonathan declared his plan to seek re-election just hours before former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida officially launched his campaign for the party ticket, in move observers said was likely meant to “upstage potential rivals”.
Another party heavyweight, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, is also seeking the PDP nomination.
The party will hold primaries to pick its candidate for the presidential race between October 18 and 20 with the winner expected to emerge three days later.
Jonathan, a member of the ethnic Ijaw community of the oil-rich Niger Delta, slipped into the vacant presidency following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua in May. He had been deputy president since 2007.
Since Yar’Adua, a Muslim, died before his first term was up, some argue another northern candidate should be chosen.
Analyst Shehu Sani said Jonathan’s declaration will mark the start of “an open confrontation” between himself and politicians in the north.
Whether he “wins or loses, Nigerian politics will never be the same again. If he wins the north will consider his presidency as a stolen one” because of the breach of the power rotation deal “and if he loses, his people in the Niger Delta will feel there was a gang-up against him”, said Sani.
Information Minister Dora Akunyili said Jonathan had formally told the weekly cabinet meeting of his intention to declare his candidacy at the weekend.
A presidential aide, Bolaji Adebiyi said the Facebook posting was an “authentic representation of his intention to seek the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)”.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald, said Jonathan’s declaration on Facebook “was a unique way” of announcing his candidacy.
A Eurasia Group analyst Rolake Akinola said the “unconventional” way of announcing his plans was likely to deepen tensions in the PDP.
Nearly 2,000 people had posted comments on Jonathan’s page five hours after his announcement.
“Whoever emerges as candidate, we don’t really care,” Fitzgerald told reporters in Lagos in a teleconference. “The US position remains what it has been: that Nigeria has a free, transparent transition.”
He said the winner had to ensure the unrest in the Niger Delta ends and that there was enough funding for development.
Despite its huge oil resources, Nigeria is woefully short of electricity and the majority of its people wallow in poverty.
Jonathan meanwhile said he would not pretend to have a “magic wand” to solve all of Nigeria’s woes.
“I know you are tired of empty promises, so I will make only one promise to you today. The only promise I make to you… is to promise less and deliver more if I am elected,” said Jonathan.
The electoral agency has set January 22 as the date for the first round of the presidential vote.