Port Harcourt – President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday took his re-election campaign to the Niger Delta, knowing that victory in the key region will help to determine overall victory in next month’s vote.
The head of state, who is looking for a second, four-year term, was in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, which is controlled by the opposition and is seen as a pivotal election battleground.
Rivers was run by Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) until the defection of its governor Rotimi Amaechi in late 2013 to the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
It has since been a flashpoint for violence between supporters of the two parties, with long-standing complaints from Amaechi about a personal campaign against him by the government in Abuja.
Last Saturday, unknown gunmen stormed and bombed the site of a planned APC rally outside Port Harcourt in a sign of rising tensions and fears of a repeat of widespread violence that hit polls in 2011.
There was a heavy presence of armed police and soldiers at the PDP rally venue before Jonathan’s arrival.
As a southerner and Christian from neighbouring Bayelsa state, he would ordinarily be expected to count on widespread support from his kinsmen.
But apparent momentum for the APC on the campaign trail — and predictions that the party could even seize power — has given added importance to control of the major urban centre.
Rivers State information commissioner Ibim Semenitari said the APC was “not worried” about the PDP challenge, even though Jonathan was from the Delta.
“It won’t change anything to their favour,” she told AFP.
“We know we have the people, goodwill and track record of performance on our side and these will be determining factors in the election.
“We have the required numbers of voters that will sustain us in power.”
APC chairman for the state, Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, also said he was confident of victory in the February 14 presidential and parliamentary polls, as well as the governorship and state assembly vote two weeks later.
“Rivers state, with Port Harcourt as capital, is strategic because it is the hub of the country’s oil and gas sector,” he said.
“President Jonathan won massively in the state in 2011 but he has lost that goodwill because of poor performance in office. The people are clamouring for a change which is the APC is ready to bring about.”