Abuja – Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan won party primaries on Thursday while the opposition coalition continued voting to choose a challenger for February presidential elections in Africa’s most populous nation.
The 14 February vote is expected to be the most closely contested since decades of military rule ended in 1999 in the continent’s biggest oil producer.
Jonathan was the sole candidate at the governing party primaries though his election early on Thursday flouted an unwritten party rule that the presidency should rotate between a Christian southerner, like himself, and a northern Muslim.
Dozens of ruling party legislators have defected over the issue, costing Jonathan’s party its majority in the lower house of Parliament.
Nevertheless, Jonathan told party faithful on Thursday that “today we are stronger, bigger, and more in tune with the yearnings of our people”.
Both leading candidates of a four-party opposition coalition are Muslim northerners – former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari and a wealthy businessman and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
About 8 000 delegates voted through the night and ballots were being counted on Thursday.
The opposition accuses Jonathan, 57, of failing in the fight to contain an Islamic uprising that has killed thousands and driven about 1.2 million people from their homes.
Buhari, 71, a former army general, is touted as more likely to succeed in the fight against the extremists and is praised for fighting corruption while he was in power from 1983 to 1985.
Jonathan is accused of fuelling corruption in an administration that has confronted one multimillion-dollar scandal after another.
In his acceptance speech, Jonathan said Nigeria’s GDP has grown from $35.9bn when his party came to power in 1999 to $510bn today