Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will run for re-election in February 2019 against former vice president Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim from the country’s north who was nominated on Sunday as the main opposition party’s poll contender.
Buhari, a 75-year-old former military ruler, was the sole candidate for his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party, so his confirmation by some 7,000 delegates gathered in the capital Abuja was a mere formality on Saturday.
The APC swept to power in 2015 with the first opposition victory at the ballot box in the country’s history.
But next year’s presidential race appears to have tightened in recent months with the APC hit by a wave of defections over Buhari’s leadership style.
On Sunday, delegates to a convention of the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt, nominated Abubakar, 71, as his challenger for next year’s poll.
Reacting to the nomination, the presidency congratulated Abubakar but added that it “noted with interest all the reports in the media as to massive vote-buying at the PDP primaries”.
“One wonders what such a candidate would do with public funds,” the statement added.
The politician and business tycoon has made four previous bids for the top job in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.
Abubakar comes from the Muslim-majority north, and his nomination follows an unwritten rule in Nigeria that the presidency should alternate every two terms between a candidate from the north and south.
Despite humble beginnings in northern Nigeria, he rose through the ranks of the customs service for two decades before entering the private sector, investing in oil services and agriculture, among others.
From there he joined the civilian government where he became one of Nigeria’s most recognisable and enduring politicians.
But he has been dogged by controversies over his numerous wives and more than 20 children as well as corruption allegations.
‘Baba Go Slow’
Buhari, the retired general who headed a military regime in the 1980s, has faced growing pressure to step down because of failing health after spending several months in London last year receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment.
Dubbed “Baba Go Slow” because he took six months to appoint cabinet ministers, he has also faced attacks for his handling of the economy, which plunged into recession in 2016.
He has also come under criticism on security issues, including the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, long-running farmer-herder clashes in the centre and militancy and kidnapping in the south.
Also Sunday, fierce Buhari critic Obiageli Ezekwesili announced that she would throw her hat into the ring for the presidency.
The 55-year-old former minister, who was also the World Bank’s vice president for Africa from 2007 to 2012, said in a statement that Nigeria was becoming “a country where the worth of life is trending down to zero.”
Ezekwesili, co-founder of the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International, is best known in Nigeria for creating the BringBackOurGirls movement after Boko Haram jihadists abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in 2014.
Also in the running is Donald Duke, the former governor of the southern Cross River state, whose opposition Social Democratic Party formally elected him its flag-bearer on Sunday.
As governor in 2004, Duke initiated the Calabar carnival that is now popularly known as “Africa’s biggest street party.”
Nigerian law allows for a president to serve a maximum of two four-year terms.
Voters in the former British colony will elect governors and lawmakers as well as the president in elections set for February and March.