Lagos (AFP) - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan is facing an uphill battle if he seeks re-election next year, after a series of unprecedented setbacks that have raised doubts about his political survival. The perceived damage to the 56-year-old's stock has led to questions about whether he can bounce back and whether his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could be heading for its first national electoral defeat.
Last month, Nigeria's former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo accused Jonathan in a critical, 18-page open letter of failing to tackle widespread corruption and piracy as well as kidnapping and rampant oil theft. He even claimed that Jonathan was training a private militia to silence critics on a political "hit list".
The dust had hardly settled on the resulting row when the PDP lost its parliamentary majority, as 37 lawmakers in the lower House of Representatives joined the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Some PDP members of the upper house Senate are now expected to follow suit, handing a further potential advantage to the main opposition, just as parties gear up to hit the campaign trail.
"I think he (Jonathan) is a very weakened president at the moment," said political analyst Clement Nwankwo, director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, in the capital Abuja. "He's been a failure and he really has to do a lot to win back popular support," Nwankwo told AFP.
Political commentator Dapo Thomas suggested that with the PDP riven with in-fighting, it was now make or break time for Jonathan. "He has to choose between the service of the party and the realisation of the damage of his own political ambition," said Thomas, from Lagos State University.
"He has to drop one and allow the party mechanism to operate freely." Jonathan, a Christian from southern Bayelsa state, stepped up from vice-president to become acting head of state in February 2010 when Umaru Yar'Adua fell ill. He took over the top job after Yar'Adua's death, going on to secure a popular mandate in the 2011 presidential elections.
Jonathan has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election in 2015. But he has been accused of ignoring an unwritten PDP rule that presidential candidates rotate between Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and the Christian majority south. That issue is seen as a contributory factor to the defection of five high-profile state governors to the APC in November, which in turn prompted lawmakers to cross the floor.
He is also widely seen as having failed to address major concerns about graft, inadequate development and poor infrastructure, and to end the bloody Islamist insurgency in northern Nigeria.
The president vaunted his government's achievements of sustained economic growth and job creation in his New Year's message while the PDP denied it was irretrievably damaged.
The recent defections were an example of democracy in action, said national publicity secretary Olisah Metuh, even as the APC hailed the apparent shift in the balance of power as a new dawn for Africa's most populous nation. "We have seen movement on one side maybe in the last quarter of last year," he added.
"Let's wait until April. Maybe the PDP will be larger that it was before. "In 2014, we are predicting that the PDP will be larger than it was before. Don't forget that the PDP got the people elected. It's a party that Nigerians love." Nwankwo acknowledged the opposition's hand had been strengthened but said the defections were still no guarantee of electoral success and presidential power could yet help swing support back to the PDP. Nevertheless, he suggested the problems may have reached such a point that recovery was impossible, forcing Jonathan to make way for another candidate. Thomas said the longer the president failed to tackle the issue, the more damage it would do to the PDP.
Jonathan needed to rule out standing again as soon as possible and remove the party chairman Bamanga Tukur, who is seen as having been parachuted in as the president's man, he added. "It's better that he does it now so he can save the party," said Thomas, who lectures in international relations and history. "I don't see the party's fortunes improving. I see continuous decline of the party because the defections are going to continue to be on the increase for as long as this disenchantment persists."
By Phil Hazlewood (AFP)