Nigeria's President and candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Goodluck Jonathan speaks with a campaign aide during a rally in Kano, Northern Nigeria, on January 21, 2015 . The February 14 vote is expected to be close-run, with the possibil ~ AMINU ABUBAKAR
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 determine the winner of 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 seen as a pivotal election battleground.
Rivers State 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.
The PDP spokesman in the oil-producing hub, Emmanuel Okah, said the party was "on a mission to reclaim what was fraudulently stolen from it by the APC".
He told AFP: "Apart from retaining the presidency, the PDP will also take over the Rivers government house from the usurpers."
Thousands of people thronged the 40,000-seat stadium where Jonathan was expected to address a rally under tight security.
Also read: Goodluck Jonathan: A profile
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.
APC chairman for the state Davies Ibiamu Ikanya 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.
"President Jonathan won massively in the state in 2011 but he has lost that goodwill because of poor performance in office," he said.
"The people are clamouring for a change which is the APC is ready to bring about."Home support
Political commentator Chris Ngwodo said regaining control of Rivers State, traditionally held by the ruling party, was vital for Jonathan and could help determine the outcome of the election.
"Losing Rivers is going to be a very, very significant loss in terms of votes, in terms of sheer numbers... and will add to the APC's national strength," he said.
"It (the APC) already controls Lagos and Kano. It would be disastrous for the PDP."
There were few doubts about Jonathan's chances, however, in his hometown of Otuoke, where a huge billboard of the president dominates the only road into the sleepy farming and fishing community.
Jonathan is the first president from the Ijaw minority ethnic group and is seen as a figure of hope for his people clamouring for a fair share of oil extracted locally.
"Our son has done well. His performance speaks for him," said Osain Francis Ogbuoni, a 30-year-old youth leader.
"Given the deluge of problems he inherited from his predecessors, it will be unfair to deny him re-election.
"We will rally everybody in the Niger Delta for him. He has brought development and progress to us."
Many in Otuoke point to how Jonathan put the town on the map: a university, hospital and road were built and business opportunities created.
Others credit him for ending militant violence in the Delta and warn that unrest could flare up again if the APC candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler and northern Muslim, wins.
"Our support for him (Jonathan) is not on sentiment but merit. He has achieved a lot for Nigeria within four years," said Oba Green, 33, a health science graduate.
But there was not blanket support and some echoed the APC election campaign, which has focused on alleged PDP failures in office.
"He (Jonathan) has to seriously address the issue of electricity. For instance, we don't have regular power in our school and even in this community," said political science student Daniel Daufa, 23.
"Anytime there is no electricity, we have to fetch water from the stream which is dangerous to our health."