Business, Economics and Jobs

Nigeria's Jonathan campaigns in Kano


A banner showing Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan is pictured at the start of his presidential campaign at the Lafia Township Stadium in the north central town of Lafia, Nasarawa State, on February 7, 2011. The election will be on April 2.


Piius Utomi Ekpei

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan campaigned for reelection in Nigeria's second largest city, Kano.

The northern city has a largely Muslim population and is considered to be key if Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, is to secure victory in the first round of the April 2 election.

Jonathan, as the incumbent, is considered to be the frontrunner, but his main rival is the Muslim, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who has considerable support in the northern area.

Kano has centuries-old markets and mosques it is one of four of Nigeria's 36 states that enforce Islamic Shariah law, including bans on alcoholic drinks and prostitution. Somewhat slow-paced, Kano feels like a different country from the hustling dynamic sprawl of Lagos in the South

Thousands of ruling party supporters flocked to a dusty polo ground in Kano to see Jonathan who carefully shaped his image and message to court the Kano vote.

Jonathan left behind his trademark homeboy-style fedora with a turned up brim and caftan and instead wore the red fez-like cap and white robes that are the traditional dress of the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group of northern Nigeria.

"We will unite this country...and run an open government that does not discriminate," Jonathan told the crowd.

"We are encouraged by the crowd we see here," he said, on the 35th stage of his tour of Nigeria's 36 states.

Jonathan inherited power after the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua last year, earning him the nickname "Nigeria's accidental president." Yar'Adua was from the north and some in the northern political elite feel that if Jonathan wins, they will lose power for the northern region.

Political rival Muhammadu Buhari is capitalizing on that, campaigning as a man of the North who respects Shariah law. Buhari has a reputation as a disciplinarian and he is campaigning against corruption, which appeals to the conservatism of Kano. Buhari ruled Nigeria between December 1983 and August 1985 and ran an iron-fisted administration remembered for its "War Against Indiscipline," a campaign against graft in which corrupt politicians were jailed and drug traffickers executed.

Jonathan must win at least 25 percent of the vote in two thirds of the states to win in the first round. The core north, along with opposition strongholds in the southwest, are seen as the most likely regions to prevent him succeeding.

Four military rulers from the region led the country in the decade and a half before democracy was restored in 1999 but since the end of military rule, the upper echelons of the security forces have increasingly been staffed by southerners and some in the north fear being marginalised.

Southern Nigeria has the oil reserves and sea ports and is home to the headquarters of Nigeria's banks. Rapid economic growth has created a generation of independent wealth no longer so reliant on the political patronage once dispensed by northern strongmen.

For many of Nigeria's 150 million people, scraping by on a few dollars a day, politics is a game played by the wealthy whose prize is control of oil revenues and government contracts and whose outcome has little impact on their daily lives.