Nigerian Elections Enter the Gladiators: The Nigerian General Elections, Slated for 9th April, This Year Gather Momentum as the Presidential Flag Bearers of the Various Political Parties Emerge. Frederick Mordi and Anver Versi Look at the Intrigues Surrounding the Emergence of Some of the Candidates and Profile the Leading Aspirants

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Abuja, Nigeria's Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was a hive of activity for two days in January, as delegates from all parts of the country thronged the nation's capital for the presidential primaries of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).

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Given the strength of the ruling party--and the relative weakness of other contenders, the PDP primaries are often referred to as the 'real presidential election'.

Almost all the hotels in Abuja were fully booked for the over 5,000 delegates that attended the convention, coming from all 36 states of the federation.

Security at Eagle Square, the venue of the primaries, was beefed up with over 7,000 police and other law enforcement agencies. Movement of people around the vicinity was restricted: only those that had legitimate business at Eagle Square that day were allowed in.

The extra security measures were not unconnected with the [1.sup.st] October 2010 bombing outside the same venue during an event to mark the nation's 50th anniversary celebration. The bomb blast claimed some innocent lives. Charles Okah, the younger brother of the embattled leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah, who is currently facing prosecution in South Africa, was among those arrested in connection with the unfortunate episode.

Perhaps no other election in Nigeria's recent history has attracted so much interest as the run-up to the 2011 general elections. The PDP presidential primaries, in a sense, proved to be a test for the nation's fledgling democracy.

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To contest or not to contest

Some Nigerians, particularly the Northerners, had vehemently kicked against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to run for the election on the grounds that he would be violating the principle of zoning--a gentlemen's agreement reached by the PDP to ensure that power rotates between the predominantly Muslim North and the largely Christian South every eight years.

The rotation, or zoning, was also designed to serve two other purposes--first, to provide the party with the strongest combined platform and second, to try and avoid the sort of North-South conflict that has in the past deteriorated into violence.

The North, understandably, was looking forward to its own turn, after the exit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Southwesterner, who was in the saddle for two full terms of four years.

He was followed by Umaru Yar'Adua from the North with Goodluck Jonathan, from the South, as his running mate. However, Yar'Adua, suffering from ill health through most of his presidency, died in office before completing his first term. According to the PDP gentlemen's agreement, the North felt entitled to another term in office.

It was on this arrangement that ex-Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babang-ida; the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA), General Mohammed Gusau; Obasanjo's former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State--all Northerners--announced their bid for the PDP presidential ticket.

But nothing in Nigerian politics is ever clear cut or straightforward. The North had taken it for granted that a candidate from their region would contest on the powerful PDP ticket and the search was on for a running mate from the South. Then came the Jonathan bombshell.

He announced his intention of contesting the PDP elections and mounted a vigorous campaign on Facebook, saying the final decision on who should or should not be President should rest with the public, not the party. He told voters to decide on whether "we are Northerners, Southerners or Nigerians". When Jonathan, then Vice-President, took over as acting President in May 2010, following the demise of President Umaru Yar'Adua in office, he had stated on CNN that he had no intention of contesting the 2011 Presidential elections. …