ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian court ruled on Friday that President Goodluck Jonathan can run for office again in 2015, rejecting his opponents' complaints that he has already reached the constitutional limit of two terms.
An increasingly bitter battle is raging between Jonathan's supporters and opponents over whether he should run for office in 2015, in what analysts say is a distraction from such urgent tasks as fixing the power sector and passing crucial oil legislation.
The president has declined to say whether or not he wishes to rule Africa's top oil and gas producer again, although most pundits expect him to run.
Jonathan first took power in May 2010, after the death of then president Umar Yar'Adua, ending a six-month political crisis that had dragged on while Yar'Adua was sick.
Opponents within his own party say since he has already been sworn into office twice, another term would break the constitutional two-term limit. Cyriakus Njoku, a member of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), brought the case.
But Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the High Court in Abuja rejected that argument.
"After the death of Umar Yar'Adua, there was no election. President Jonathan was merely asked to assume the office ... in line with doctrine of necessity," he said.
"He is therefore currently serving his first tenure of office and if he so wishes, he is eligible to further seek his party's ticket ... to run for office in 2015."
Njoku did not say whether he would appeal to the supreme court.
Jonathan has proved a divisive figure within the ruling party. Northern politicians say his decision to run last time tore up an unwritten "zoning" agreement that the largely Muslim north and mostly Christian south should alternate power every two terms.
Hundreds were killed in riots in the north when Jonathan won the presidential vote two years ago.
Jonathan has also been criticized for failing to quell an Islamist insurgency. A raft of corruption scandals, especially in the oil sector, have hurt his administration's credibility, although they included periods when he was not in power.
Seeking to capitalize on discontent with the ruling PDP, Nigeria's four main opposition parties merged last month, in the most significant effort to date to form a national opposition group in a country riven by regional rivalries.
Incumbent presidents tend to have a huge advantage in Nigeria because of their access to the state's oil money.
(Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Andrew Roche)