President Buhari’s main challenger in Nigeria’s election next year is a familiar rival

Nigeria’s next president?
Nigeria’s next president?
Image: Reuters/Paul Carsten
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Nigeria’s former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has been picked as the presidential candidate for the country’s main opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Atiku is a familiar foe for the ruling All Progressives Congress having been a member until last December when he decamped and returned to PDP. It’s Atiku’s fourth run for the presidency after failed attempts in 2007, 2011 and 2015. He served as vice-president for eight years from 1999 to 2007 during the Obasanjo administration.

Since leaving APC, Atiku has been a strong critic of Muhammadu Buhari’s performance in office with Nigeria’s economy struggling for growth and insecurity concerns in the volatile north persisting. So far, Atiku has hinged his campaign on creating jobs—a message that’s likely to resonate given Nigeria’s high unemployment numbers. 

When the going was good.
When the going was good.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

PDP is aiming to win back office in 2019 after losing the presidency in 2015 after a 16-year run. It will be following some of the same electoral strategy as APC did four years ago.  It has welcomed several APC stalwarts who have decamped to form a coalition of influential politicians across several regions in Nigeria, just as APC did back in 2015. Indeed, the three leading presidential candidates during PDP’s primaries this weekend were all APC members until a few months ago.

Switching parties and alliances with ease has become a key feature of Nigerian politics since 1999. Those who have decamped from APC to PDP include the senate president and the speaker of the house of representatives, several lawmakers as well as former and sitting governors. Welcoming forces from APC is crucial for PDP which has spent the last four years in the political wilderness rebuilding amid in-fighting.

For his part, president Buhari will likely hinge his campaign on a strong anti-corruption stance, once again. But with some members of his kitchen cabinet mired in corruption scandals of their own and an anti-corruption campaign that has seemed largely focused on the opposition, it remains to be seen if his message is still as effective.

But as the two largest parties dominate the headlines, a number of emerging “third forces” will be hoping to steal a march on them. Former minister for education and popular activist Oby Ezekwesili has announced a bid for the presidency while Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of Nigeria’s central bank has grown into a notable candidate, especially on social media, with a policy-focused campaign.

Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech and innovation in your inbox