Former president Goodluck Jonathan is not disinterested in the 2023 presidential election. On 5 December, he declined to rule himself out of the race following rumours that he is under pressure to take part. He deflected the question by saying it is too early to say but in January 2020 he expressly rejected the suggestion that he had ambitions to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. His spokesman, Ikechukwu Eze, said that his only interest is in running his foundation. Since then, however, there have been moves to drag him into the election and, interestingly, it is coming from a faction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) rather than Jonathan’s own People’s Democratic Party (PDP). 

Former president Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari

On 20 November a delegation of APC governors, including Kebbi State’s Atiku Bagudu, visited him to celebrate his 63rd birthday with him. Sources close to Jonathan claimed that the visit was part of the efforts by a section of the party to woo him into joining the APC before possibly making him its candidate in 2023. 

Bagudu’s presence lent credence to the speculation that Jonathan is being courted. He is one of the APC’s would-be aspirants to succeed Buhari but his ambition is threatened by the party’s SouthWest faction determination to ensure that the Presidency is zoned to the South. There are concerns that the APC will disintegrate if attempts are made to retain the Presidency in the North when it meets to zone it sometime next year. 

This is why the Jonathan option is becoming increasingly attractive to an APC faction that is close to the Presidency. He is seen as a safe pair of hands who will not rock the boat if he is given power. He not only accepted his 2015 defeat — the first-time that the opposition won a Nigerian presidential election — but has largely avoided criticising his successor since he left office. He has also basically worked with the Buhari government by serving as an envoy to several countries on election monitoring missions, and has built a reputation as a democrat and man of peace who is interested in good governance. Jonathan is also unlikely to investigate any of Buhari’s close associates if he is given power which is a key consideration for those close to the Presidency because they do not want to be embarrassed when Buhari leaves office. 

Those pushing for Jonathan’s presidency are, however, more interested because it would lead to a quick return of power to the North. For Bagudu, a Jonathan Presidency would mean he could have a shot at the Presidency in 2027 because Jonathan can now only serve a single term having already served one term. One of the ideas being floated is a Jonathan-Bagudu ticket. Bagudu would prefer to be a vice presidential running mate on a Jonathan ticket than as running mate to Ekiti State’s Governor Kayode Fayemi who is also interested in running in 2023 if power shifts to the South. Bagudu fears that Fayemi would expect to be a two-term president so that the earliest he or anyone from the North would have a shot after him would be in 2031. 

This excerpt is taken from Nigeria Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on Nigeria. Click here to receive a free sample copy.