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Nigerian opposition party votes for candidate in 2023 elections

A front view of the Nigerian opposition party (Peoples Democratic Party) is seen in the central area of ​​Abuja ahead of its national convention in Abuja, Nigeria, May 28, 2022. AFP

Both the PDP and Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party were due to select candidates for the presidency of Africa’s most populous country this weekend.

But a day before the start of its primaries, the APC announced that it had pushed back its party’s convention by a week from June 6-8.

PDP delegates and political leaders filled a national arena in Abuja, decked in the red, white and green colors of the opposition party, where they voted late Saturday for its challenger in next year’s elections.

Among the main opposition contenders for the ticket are longtime challenger Atiku Abubakar, former Senate Speaker Bukola Saraki and Aminu Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto state who enjoys strong support in the north of Nigeria, predominantly Muslim.

Another hopeful is Rivers State Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, the only main opposition candidate from the south of the country.

“What’s Nigeria’s problem? Leadership,” Wike told the crowd as the aspirants delivered their speeches. “I will win… so that power returns to the PDP.”

Buhari, 79, leaves after two terms as Nigeria still struggles to end a decade-long jihadist conflict in its northeast and a wave of violent banditry in its northwest.

Africa’s largest economy is also still recovering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from the war in Ukraine which has driven up fuel and food prices across the continent.

The PDP ruled Nigeria for a decade and a half before its then president, Goodluck Jonathan, was ousted by the APC alliance in 2015 to bring Buhari to power.

APC bickering

The APC said the postponement of its own decision on the primaries followed a decision by election authorities to extend the deadline for submitting candidate names.

The APC did not give further details, but the ruling party has been embroiled in fierce bickering over who should run, with former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu and current vice president Yemi Osinbajo among the possible ones.

Buhari has not endorsed any candidate to succeed him and some analysts expect him to try to find a consensus candidate to keep APC factions together ahead of presidential and legislative elections in February 2023.

An alliance of small parties united for Buhari’s 2015 election victory, the APC has often struggled to contain internal divisions.

“This clearly means that the APC is on the road to consensus, which requires more behind-the-scenes dealings than the usual primaries,” SBM Intelligence analyst Tunde Ajileye said of the party’s lag in the power.

“It also means that the consensus candidate is one that many do not readily accept.”

Local media have discussed a possible return of former President Goodluck Jonathan as the APC candidate after a group of supporters bought him a nomination form. Jonathan himself denied taking part in the move.

Under an informal agreement among the political elite, the Nigerian presidency is usually alternately “zoned” between northern and southern candidates.

After eight years under northerner Buhari, most agree the presidency should now go to a southern candidate.

The rotation of power at the national government level has been seen as a balancing force in a country almost evenly divided between the predominantly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north.

Most of the main PDP candidates like Abubakar are from the north, although the Governor of Rivers State is from the south.

Most of the top APC candidates, including Tinubu and Osinbajo, are also from southern Nigeria. Former President Jonathan is a southerner.

Since returning to civilian rule from a military dictatorship in 1999, Nigeria has held six national elections, which have often been marred by fraud, technical difficulties, violence and legal challenges.

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

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