By Nick Tattersall

LAGOS, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck
Jonathan looks increasingly like a leader who plans to be in
office after January polls, but it remains unclear how easily he
can secure the core northern backing he needs for victory.

With less than six months to polling day in Africa's most
populous nation, Jonathan has still not said whether he plans to
stand. There is no date for ruling party primaries, campaigning
has yet to begin and policy debate is non-existent.

But a string of recent announcements by Jonathan's
administration -- from road-building and oil refinery projects
to pledges on boosting electricity supply -- suggest he is a
leader who wants to be seen to have a long-term plan.

"Jonathan is announcing public works projects that are akin
to campaign vows," global intelligence company Stratfor said in
a recent report on Nigeria.

"It is unlikely the initiatives will be completed before the
elections are held ... Jonathan is taking a calculated risk,
hoping the incomplete projects will be seen as demonstrating the
need for a full term to finish what he has begun."

The challenge for Jonathan, an ethnic Ijaw and a Christian
from the restive southern Niger Delta oil heartland, is securing
the backing of the Muslim north.

An unwritten agreement in the ruling party dictates that
Nigeria's highest office should rotate between the north and
south every two terms.

Jonathan inherited the presidency when northern President
Umaru Yar'Adua died earlier this year part way through his first
term, meaning a northerner should be Nigeria's next leader.

A bid by Jonathan could lead to protests from some factions
in the north, but a failure to stand could cause unrest in the
Niger Delta and threaten a year-old amnesty for militants.

Sources close to Jonathan say he is concerned about the
implications of dropping zoning and about his own credibility as
a candidate in polls he has pledged to make free and fair.

"There are different pressures on Jonathan. I'm pretty sure
if he thought he might not win he wouldn't stand," said Antony
Goldman, Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting.

"But on the other hand can he afford not to run? What would
it mean for him as an Ijaw man back in (his home state) Bayelsa,
how easy would it be to sell not running to his constituency?"

RAFT OF INITIATIVES

Jonathan has support from state governors in the south and
the central Middle Belt, where the backbone of the army are
from. Northern Muslim governors have acknowledged his right to
stand but have stopped short of endorsing him.

The constitution says a presidential candidate needs at
least a quarter of the votes in two thirds of the country's 36
states to win, meaning core northern support is key.

"Whether Jonathan announces his candidacy will depend on
whether he and his allies can buy enough support, through
spreading patronage projects and appointments throughout the
country, to overcome northerner hostility," Stratfor said.

Presidency sources said on Thursday Jonathan was planning a
minor cabinet reshuffle. Some analysts said this could be a
chance to use the redistribution of posts to placate possible
opponents of his presidential bid.

The best way for Jonathan to win popular support would be to
convince Nigeria's 140 million people he can improve mains
electricity supplies. Even the wealthiest parts of the main
cities are reliant on diesel generators.

Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga announced a week ago that
agreement was near for a framework to make private power
generation for the national grid commercially viable,
potentially unlocking billions of dollars of investment and
helping end chronic power shortages.

Oil Minister Deziani Allison-Madueke announced that
wide-ranging legislation to reform the energy industry would
pass in the coming weeks and a licensing round for new oil
blocks would be held before the end of the year.

Lucrative oil blocks and reforms to put more of the mainstay
energy industry in local hands are useful cards to hold for any
administration seeking political favour, analysts note.

CAN THE POLLS BE CREDIBLE?

Jonathan has made organising free and transparent polls in
2011 one of the main aims of his administration. If he stands,
he would want to do so knowing the polls could deliver him a
credible mandate, analysts say.

"If all you do ... is to ensure that our elections are
transparent, it shall be sufficient to endear you to the nation
and you shall go down in history as one of our greatest
leaders," retired military general Theophilus Danjuma said while
Yar'Adua was on his deathbed and Jonathan was acting leader.

But with six months to go and no clear field of candidates,
no debate and little time for electoral reform, it seems
unlikely the next polls will be any more credible than the last.

"If you want a free and fair election, the time is too
short," said Bismarck Rewane, head of consultancy Financial
Derivatives. "There is not even a date for the primaries."

The Senate is expected next week to approve spending of up
to $500 million on a badly needed update of voter lists by the
electoral commission, but critics doubt there will be time fully
to implement the reforms.

A constitutional amendment passed last month set the polling
date for January instead of April, but even before the change,
the prospects of a truly credible election looked slim.

"People have known since 1999 more or less when this
election would be. Would they really be more prepared with an
extra few months? I rather doubt it," Goldman said.
(For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
top issues, visit: http://af.reuters.com/ )
(Editing by Tim Pearce)