LAGOS, Nigeria—While Nigeria's president remains silent on whether he'll seek the oil-rich nation's highest office in upcoming elections, the campaign has all but begun on the Internet.
A new website once linked from a Nigerian government page purportedly advertises President Goodluck Jonathan's 2011 election bid, complete with a biography and a campaign platform. A Facebook page for the leader has more than 168,000 fans and there's a nascent Twitter feed in his name.
Even though an unofficial choreographed campaign has begun in Africa's most populous nation, Jonathan -- a Christian from Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta -- still must win the support of the nation's northern Muslim elite before he officially declares his candidacy.
Elections may be held as early as January, but Jonathan seems in no rush to toss his trademark bowler hat into the ring.
"Jonathan is very patient," said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria who now is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The 52-year-old marine biologist and former governor quietly bided his time as vice president while President Umaru Yar'Adua's poor health forced him to seek medical care in Saudi Arabia late last year. After Yar'Adua's absence triggered a constitutional crisis, the National Assembly made him acting president.
When Yar'Adua died on May 5, Jonathan was sworn in as president the next day. In a move that is sure to woo voters fed up with a decayed electrical system, Jonathan said in recent weeks he would push forward a $3.5 billion plan to revamp the electrical grid and privatize the state-run power company.
Meanwhile, shadowy support groups have plastered posters supporting a Jonathan presidential run in the nation's capital of Abuja and around the commercial megacity of Lagos. A Facebook page purportedly bearing daily messages from the president draws thousands of comments.
The main website for Nigeria, registered to the country's Ministry for Information and Communication, offered a link for users to "Rethink Nigeria." That link transferred them to the "Vote Goodluck 2011" website.
Ima Niboro, a spokesman for Jonathan, repeatedly has declined to comment about the Facebook page. Niboro did not return requests for comment Friday regarding the government links to the campaign website, first reported Friday by an online news outfit, Sahara Reporters. The link to "Rethink Nigeria" was removed late Friday night from the government website without explanation.
Former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, both Muslims, have already said they will run in the primary for the ruling People's Democratic Party.
An unwritten party agreement calls for the presidency to alternate between the predominantly Muslim north and Christian south -- a balancing act aimed at placating the two dominant religions in the country of 150 million people. Party leaders anticipated Yar'Adua, a Muslim, holding office for two four-year terms just like his Christian predecessor, but his death after being in office for less than one term complicates that agreement.
Nigerian government website: http://www.nigeria.gov.ng/