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Nigeria ruling party wants northerner for 2011 poll

Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja on 16 February 2010
Goodluck Jonathan was made acting president by MPs on 9 February

Nigeria's ruling party will field a northerner as its candidate in next year's presidential election, ruling out acting President Goodluck Jonathan.

The People's Democratic Party said a southerner had led Nigeria for eight years and that it was "proper" for a northerner to do the same.

PDP leaders have agreed that candidates must alternate between the two areas.

The north is largely Muslim, the south mainly Christian, meaning leadership is in effect shared between faiths.

Mr Jonathan, a Christian from the Niger Delta, is in charge as President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim northerner, recovers from ill-health.

The 58-year-old president returned from a hospital in Saudi Arabia last week, but his condition is unknown and it is unclear when he could resume official duties.

'Recuperating'

Under an unwritten power-sharing agreement within the PDP, the party's candidates for the presidency alternate between north and south after every two terms in office.

Goodluck Jonathan is steering the ship of the nation very well. He is not an ambitious person
Vincent Ogbulafor,
PDP national chairman

Mr Yar'Adua, from the northern state of Katsina, became president in 2007, succeeding Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian who served two terms.

"The south had the presidency for eight years and it is proper to allow the north to have the presidency for eight years," PDP national chairman Vincent Ogbulafor told reporters after a meeting with officials late on Tuesday.

"[Mr Yar'Adua] is still the president. Goodluck Jonathan is still the acting president. What we discussed has to do with 2011."

YAR'ADUA ILLNESS TIMELINE
Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua (file photo 29 July 2009)
23 Nov 2009: Goes to hospital in Saudi Arabia
26 Nov: Doctors say he has pericarditis, a heart problem
23 Dec: First court case filed urging him to step down
12 Jan: President gives telephone interview from Saudi Arabia
27 Jan: Cabinet declares president fit
9 Feb: Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan made acting president
24 Feb: Yar'Adua returns

Correspondents say the announcement makes it highly unlikely that Mr Jonathan will seek election in April next year, regardless of Mr Yar'Adua's fate.

The president has not been seen in public since late November, when he left Nigeria for treatment of what his doctor described as acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.

Despite his ill health, Mr Yar'Adua did not follow the constitutional steps that would have granted his vice-president temporary powers in his absence.

It was only on 9 February that the National Assembly appointed Mr Jonathan as acting president, allowing him to sign legislation, chair cabinet meetings, reshuffle ministers and release oil funds.

Last Wednesday, Mr Yar'Adua was flown back to Abuja, again causing confusion among officials despite a statement from his spokesman that Mr Jonathan would continue to serve as acting president.

Mr Jonathan, who has not said whether he intends to seek the presidency, has not seen the seriously-ill leader since he returned.

"Goodluck Jonathan is steering the ship of the nation very well. He is not an ambitious person," Mr Ogbulafor said.

"The president just came back and he has given him time to recuperate. He will see him at the appropriate time."


Correction 4 March 2010: Earlier versions of this story suggested that Mr Ogbulafor wanted a Muslim candidate - in fact, he specified only that the candidate should be from the north and mentioned nothing about religion.



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