John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Obasanjo Discusses Zoning

by John Campbell
March 28, 2011

Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo speaks during official opening of peace talks in Nairobi. (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters)

During a March 26 speech in Abuja, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007, civilian head of state) underscored the legitimacy of zoning, Nigeria’s informal power-sharing arrangement between the North and the South. Obasanjo—the current Chairman, for life, of the Board of Trustees of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP)—describes zoning as not only “sacrosanct” but also “alive and kicking” in the PDP. However, many understood southerner Goodluck Jonathan’s nomination to the PDP ticket in January 2011 to be the death knell of zoning and the start of political disquiet in the North. In his remarks, Obasanjo responds to northern concerns by arguing that Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency is an “accident of history”—the result of Yar’Adua’s death in office—and suggesting that Jonathan will only seek one term as president.

On the one hand, Obasanjo’s remarks are ironical, particularly given his repeated attempts to extend his time in office. The former president even tried to amend the Nigerian constitution in 2006 in order to run for a third term. On the other hand, Obasanjo’s speech has another purpose: to adress the country’s recent spate of violence. Last Friday I described the uptick in conflict, and the strife continued over the weekend. Members of Boko Haram killed a youth party leader of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, adding to the growing death toll this year. With the presidential election less than two weeks away, I continue to be concerned that political, ethnic, and religious violence will mar the voting process.


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Maiduguri, Nigeria.

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