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Buhari's succession battle heats up in Nigeria

April 21, 2022

At least 35 presidential hopefuls have joined the race to succeed Muhammadu Buhari, who is set to step down in February 2023. DW looks at some of the main contenders to lead the West African country.

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has formally declared his intention to contest the 2023 presidential electionImage: Office of Yemi Osinbajo

The race to succeed Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 is underway, as top contenders make public their intentions to lead the country.

Among those in the running is Buhari's own vice president, Oluyemi "Yemi" Osinbajo.

Earlier this month, the southern Christian formally declared his interest to contest next year's presidential election.

Osinbajo said in a statement that he was Nigeria's surest bet to continue improving security and prioritizing Nigeria's economy and infrastructure, as well as reform its justice system and fight poverty.

His supporters in the ruling All Progressives Party consider him a safe pair of hands to protect the party's power.

Osinbajo to face stiff opposition

But some analysts have said he will struggle to secure the APC's ticket for the election.

"He is taking on a very herculean task and risk in the sense that the party he is contesting is the APC, which brought him to the vice president [position], is actually an arrangement of political ambitions of two people, General Buhari and Bola Tinubu," Farouk Bibi-Farouk, a professor at the University of Abuja, told DW.

Farouk explained that Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos from 1999 to 2007, is now in the race with Osinbajo. He added that it may be tough for Osinbajo to compete with Tinubu, for whom he served as Lagos justice commissioner and attorney general.

Bola Tinubu, leader of Nigeria's All Progressive Congress (APC)
Bola Tinubu has ambitions to succeed President Buhari in 2023Image: Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images

Tinubu — a southern Muslim and considered a wealthy power broker — declared his intention to run for president earlier this year. The former governor told reporters that his mission was "to seek the collaboration, encouragement and support of my party for my ambition and mission to become the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."

Osinbajo does not have any ideological base within the APC to help him beat other candidates, according to Farouk.

"It is going to be an interesting contest for the APC," he said.

Rotimi Amaechi, Nigeria's transport minister and former two-time governor of the oil-producing Rivers state, has also declared his intention to join the race to be the APC's presidential candidate.

Nigeria's unwritten rule

Osinbajo will have to contend with Amaechi, who was instrumental in the campaign activities of the Buhari-Osinbajo candidacy for the 2015 and 2019 elections in the role of campaign director.

Describing Amaechi, Farouk said: "With his visibility, structure and age and achievement — since 1999 he has always held political office — he is a very good consideration and cannot be ruled out." 

Buhari's administration has been criticized for doing little to fight corruption and deliver a more secure Nigeria, something analysts have said Osinbajo would also have to contend with.

Africa's most populous nation has an unwritten deal that sitting presidents must not be succeeded by somebody from the same region. Since Buhari is from the north, the next candidate will come from the south, something the ruling APC has agreed on.

For some Nigerians, that unwritten policy could deprive the APC and the country of quality candidates.

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo hopes to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari
Supporters of Osinbajo (left) in the ruling All Progressives Party consider him a safe pair of hands to protect the party's powerImage: Press Office Yemi Osinbajo

Nigerians demand political competence

"We want the best, we are not looking at the tribe, we are not looking at the religion, we want the best, we Nigerians want the best," a resident in Abuja told DW.

The main challengers in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party have already emerged, among them former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He is considered the opposition forerunner, and was the PDP's candidate in the 2019 presidential election.

Also among the possible presidential contenders are the governors of Rivers, Bauchi and Sokoto states, as well as former Senate president Bukola Saraki.

Atiku Abubakar from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
Atiku Abubakar from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party lost to Buhari in 2019Image: Uwais Abubakar Idris

Bleak chances for female contenders

Six women are among the 35 people who have so far declared their intention to run for office. Most Nigerians don't consider any of the females capable of winning the presidency — something that has many gender activists concerned.

Bibi-Farouk told DW that the Nigerian political system is still open to women, and he believes that "women are doing well. If you look at it the country is open to woman as anywhere in the world. There is no law or any legislature restricting women from participating or contesting," he said.

He said it's just a matter of time before a woman is successful in winning Nigeria's presidency.

For some Nigerians, the candidates who have so far declared their intentions to run for president are all competent.

"They are all capable of leading Nigeria and Nigerians will chose the best among them," a Nigerian male resident of Abuja told DW.

The Independent National Electoral Commission is expected to monitor the primaries of political parties.

The parties are due to pick presidential candidates by June 3, with official campaigning to begin in September.

Edited by: Keith Walker

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