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Nigeria: Opposition taps Abubakar as presidential candidate

May 29, 2022

A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar is a veteran politician who lost to current-president Muhammadu Buhari during the last election in 2019, which he claimed was rigged.

Atiku Abubakar at the PDP primary. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)
Abubakar's nearest rival for candidature was Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.Image: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP

Nigeria's former vice president Atiku Abubakar has been picked by the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to run for president in the country's general elections next year.

After two terms, current president Muhammadu Buhari will not be contesting elections in February 2023, leading to a wide open race. 

It will not be Abubakar's first shot at the presidency, as the veteran politician lost to Buhari during the last election in 2019, which he claimed was rigged.

The PDP party, which ruled Nigeria from 1999, was ousted from power by Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) party in 2015. 

A pledge for unity and security

Abubakar got 371 votes from party members, defeating his nearest rival, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, governor of oil-producing Rivers state, who received 237 votes.

Most top PDP candidates like Abubakar were from the north though the Rivers State governor Wike is from the south.

"Today we are making another history, history which we believe will bring about fundamental changes," the 75-year-old told supporters in a national arena in Abuja.

"I pledge that I will restore unity. I also committed that I was going to deal decisively with the security situation in this country," said Abubakar. He also promised to revive the country's economy.

Abubakar has stood in six primaries, and next year's vote will be his third presidential bid.

From 1999 to 2007, he was vice president to Olusegun Obasanjo, the first Nigerian leader after the end of decades of military rule.

Who is the ruling party's candidate

The APC party is yet to pick its candidate, who will be Abubakar's main opponent.

The ruling party, which often struggles with internal divisions, is expected to choose its candidate in early June.The presidential primary was postponed from Sunday after the electoral commission extended the deadline for political parties to choose their candidates. 

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Lagos state Governor and party heavyweight Bola Tinubu are seen as the front-runners. Buhari has not endorsed any candidate to succeed him.

APC's top candidates, including Tinubu and Osinbajo, are also from the south of Nigeria. Former president Goodluck Jonathan is a southerner.

Local media has been discussing a possible return by Jonathan as an APC candidate after a group of supporters bought him a nomination form, but he has denied it.

Since its return to civilian rule from a military dictatorship in 1999, Nigeria's national elections have often marred by fraud, technical difficulties, violence and legal challenges. 

In 2019, when Buhari was re-elected, the Independent National Electoral Commission was criticised for delaying the initial vote by a week. Abubakar, who lost to Buhari, challenged the results in court.

Buhari's successor will face several challenges, including insurgency, secessionist violence, and frequent kidnappings. The country's economy is still recovering from the pandemic, and the Ukraine war has driven up fuel and food prices.

tg/jcg (AFP, Reuters)

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