LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan launched his bid for re-election Thursday at a time when Africa's biggest oil producer faces a growing Islamic uprising in the northeast and a slump in oil prices and the national currency.
Jonathan, 57, urged thousands of screaming supporters at a rally in Lagos to vote for him and "move Nigeria forward."
Jonathan is considered the front runner in the Feb. 14 elections, though his candidacy has split his party. Several governors from the predominantly Muslim north and elsewhere have defected to a new opposition coalition, charging Jonathan has broken an unwritten party rule to rotate the presidency between a Muslim northerner and a Christian southerner.
The first coalition of the opposition is expected to produce the tightest presidential race since decades of military rule ended in 1994. Jonathan's People's Democratic Party has governed since then.
At the rally, Jonathan touted success in promoting agriculture and industry and recently privatizing the troubled electricity sector, though many still suffer long power cuts.
The president's chief rival is Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator. Jonathan's opponents promote Buhari as better equipped to confront the challenges presented by Nigeria's home-grown Boko Haram extremist group.
Boko Haram has seized large swaths of northeast Nigeria, with soldiers complaining they are outgunned and outnumbered by the insurgents despite a defense budget of more than $5 billion a year.
More than 10,000 people were killed last year in the insurgency, according to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Affairs. Some 1.6 million people have been driven from their homes.
Many question how Nigeria will be able to hold elections in the three northeastern states under the partial sway of Boko Haram.
The economy is more of an issue in the south, where there is oil and industry and more educated Nigerians.
Ordinary Nigerians are feeling the pinch from slumping prices for oil that produces 80 percent of government revenue, and inflation caused by the falling naira currency.
Faul reported from Johannesburg.