The ruling party and the country’s president face their greatest-ever challenge

GOODLUCK JONATHAN, Nigeria’s president, was visibly stunned when a former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, and seven state governors recently walked out of a convention of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in open rebellion against his leadership. The party has won every election since it took power after the end of military rule in 1998. But it is bitterly divided over whether Mr Jonathan (pictured above) should run for a second full term in 2015. As a result, there is a chance—most analysts are wary of putting it more firmly—that, whether or not Mr Jonathan stays at its head, the PDP’s mighty cash-laden machine may lose power. And that could turn Nigerian politics upside down.

Mr Abubakar and the rebel governors have broken away to declare a “new PDP”. “We have taken it upon ourselves to rescue the party from its dictatorial leadership,” says Kawu Baraje, the new outfit’s chairman, who has accused Mr Jonathan and the rump party’s chairman, Bamanga Tukur, of allowing “political repression, restrictions of freedom of association and arbitrary suspension of members”.

The breakaway faction has a distinctly northern flavour. Six of the seven rebel governors are from the north or the middle belt, exposing faultlines that have widened under Mr Jonathan, a southerner from the oil-rich Niger Delta. Only one rebel governor, Rotimi Amaechi, from Rivers state, is a southerner. Mr Amaechi, who is said to hanker after the vice-presidency in 2015, has been embroiled in an acrimonious row with Mr Jonathan and his wife.

In May Mr Amaechi was voted in as chairman of the powerful Nigeria Governors’ Forum, beating the president’s favoured candidate, Jonah Jang of Plateau state—an embarrassing defeat for Mr Jonathan. The forum is divided, with 19 governors backing the rebel governor and the other 16 sticking with Mr Jang. “I am concerned for my safety,” says Mr Amaechi, who has apparently taken to driving alone, with non-government number plates.

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