By Dulue Mbachu

April 15, 2011

April 15 (Bloomberg) -- Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will probably win tomorrow’s election in Africa’s top oil producer, bolstered by the opposition’s failure to agree on a single candidate to stand against him.

Jonathan, a 53-year-old Christian from the oil-rich southern Niger River delta region, faces two main challengers, both from the Muslim north: former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, 68, and Nuhu Ribadu, the 50-year-old ex-head of the anti-graft agency.

While Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party’s saw its majority in the Senate and House of Representatives reduced in last week’s legislation elections, it still scored well throughout Africa’s most populous nation. To win in the first round, Jonathan must obtain a simple majority and secure 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.

“The PDP has won across the country, unlike the other parties,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, said by phone today from Abuja, the capital. “In places it didn’t win, it came second. I think that lead will be difficult to overturn by the other parties.”

While Jonathan’s campaign slogan is a “breath of fresh air,” his PDP has ruled Nigeria since it emerged from military rule in 1999. There are no real ideological differences between the candidates, said Rotimi Oyekanmi, the chief executive officer of Renaissance Capital West Africa.

Critical Issues

“Instead, there are a number of critical issues. One is the power situation, another is the Niger Delta and then corruption,” he said today by phone from Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. “They all seem to be saying the same things, though saying they’ll do better than the other.”

All land borders were to be closed from midday today until 6 a.m. on April 17 to “ensure a peaceful and hitch-free” vote, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said in an e-mailed statement.

Jonathan has pledged to target spending on infrastructure, including power and railways, in a bid to boost employment in a country where more than half of the people live on less than $1 day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

“The road map for power, which aims to improve power supply by selling the state-owned power companies to investors, is one critical thing he has done,” Oyekanmi said.

Buhari and Ribadu have argued that Jonathan has failed to tackle poverty, corruption and violence.

Opinion Poll

Jonathan was leading in the latest public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos for ThisDay, the Lagos-based newspaper reported on April 6. The survey said 62.1 percent of the voters favored Jonathan for next week’s vote, compared with 23.6 percent for Buhari and 6 percent for Ribadu, with more than 6 percent undecided.

The son of a canoe-making family with a degree in Zoology, Jonathan was relatively unknown when he emerged onto the political stage in 1999 as the deputy governor of Bayelsa state. He became governor when his boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was impeached by the state assembly after being charged in the U.K. with money laundering. In 2007, he was picked as the running mate on the PDP ticket and in May assumed the presidency when Umaru Yar’Adua died.

Yar’Adua started an amnesty program in the Niger delta that calmed militant attacks that had cut more than 28 percent of the nation’s oil output from 2006 to 2009. Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, California, Total SA of France and Italy’s Eni SpA run joint ventures with the state oil company that pump more than 90 percent of the West African nation’s oil.

Leadership Test

Jonathan, an ethnic Ijaw, would be the first elected president from the region.

“It’s an emotional thing for the Niger delta to have one of their own at the top,” Anyakwee Nsirimovu, executive director of Port Harcourt-based Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, said by phone today. “What isn’t clear is if Jonathan will provide the leadership that will address the region’s problems.”

Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, which accounts for 80 percent of government revenue, earned $59 billion last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The competition for the spoils of office spurred a violent electoral campaign with at least 25 people killed during the legislative vote, Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman Attahiru Jega said on April 13.

Delayed Vote

Voting in 15 percent of all legislative seats was deferred until April 26 due to problems with ballot papers that caused the three-stage elections to be postponed by one-week. Voting for state governors and legislators will take place the same day.

Investor concern over election-related violence and mainly Muslim-Christian clashes in the north, which have claimed more than 200 lives since Dec. 24, sparked a surge in demand for foreign currency, according to the central bank. The naira reached an 18-month low against the dollar on March 17.

“In a pre-election period all investments are suspect,” Governor Lamido Sanusi said in a telephone interview from Abuja on April 11.

The Nigerian Stock Exchange All-Share Index declined for the first day in four, falling 0.4 percent to 24,818.63 by 10:35 a.m. in Lagos, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The last elections, in 2007, were condemned as flawed by international and local monitors for violent intimidation of voters, falsification of figures and widespread ballot- snatching. Jonathan pledged a more transparent vote and won plaudits by appointing a respected academic, Jega, to as chief of the electoral commission.

Generally Fair

While there were bomb attacks on some polling stations and ballot snatching and vote tampering in others, most international and local observers said last week’s legislative elections were generally free and fair.

“The crisis that faced Nigeria from 2007 was mainly one of legitimacy arising from the elections not being credible,” Nwankwo said. “Even if it’s apparent that there’s a clear lead, it has to be legitimate, otherwise it will be a hollow victory.”

--With assistance from Elisha Bala-Gbogbo in Abuja and Chris Kay in London. Editors: Karl Maier, Phil Sanders.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dulue Mbachu in Abuja at dmbachu at bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin at bloomberg.net; Andrew J. Barden at barden at bloomberg.net.

(Updates with closing of land borders in seventh paragraph.)

Originally appeared on BusinessWeek.


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