Abubakar Will Lead Main Nigerian Opposition Into Next Election

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Nigeria’s main opposition Peoples Democratic Party chose former vice-president Atiku Abubakar as its candidate for February’s national election, an early step in a long campaign in the OPEC member country.

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The next president will need to grapple with persistent inflation, slow growth, and high unemployment as Africa’s largest economy struggles to recover from its worse recession in four decades in 2020. Deadly conflicts with separatists and Islamic insurgents grind on as well.

Abubakar emerged as the PDP’s flag-bearer with 371 votes at the party’s primaries in the capital Abuja on Saturday. It will be his sixth attempt in all to gain Nigeria’s top office, and his second time leading the PDP.

“Today, we are making another history. The history, which we believe will bring about fundamental changes in governance and also in our political processes,” Abubakar said in an acceptance speech Saturday night. “I pledge to confront our economic challenges, which were all caused by the APC government.”

Abubakar, 75, will contend in an open field to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, who completes his second and final term on May 29 next year. He’s running on a five-point agenda, including building a “strong, resilient and prosperous economy that creates jobs and lifts people out of poverty,” according to a manifesto released his campaign office.

The former vice president said his plans are to “restore Nigeria’s unity through equity and social justice,” and to “spearhead education reform” driven by innovation, science and technology. Abubakar said during the previous campaign that he would privatize the state energy company.

Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress will hold presidential primaries June 6-8. At least 25 candidates, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, are expected to vie to become the party’s candidate. Eighteen parties are registered to run in February’s national elections.

Slowing Growth

Even with surging world oil prices, economic growth in Africa’s largest oil producer slowed for a third consecutive quarter the three months through March, to 3.1% against 3.98% in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Inflation hit an eight-month high of 16.8% in April, well above the central bank’s 6% to 9% target band, is expected to rise further, central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said last week.

Nigeria is contending with a decade-long war against Islamist insurgents in the northeast, and a worsening conflict between nomadic cattle herders and crop farmers in the central and southern regions.

Separatists attacks in southeastern Nigeria -- the nation’s oil-producing hub -- killing nearly three hundred people in five months, according to Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a website that tracks violent incidents.

Corruption Charges

Abubakar in 2019 gained 41% of the vote against Buhari’s 56%, and mounted an unsuccessful challenge to protest the outcome. Since then Buhari, who vowed to improve security in Nigeria, has failed to stem the Islamist insurgency that’s left thousands of people dead and forced almost 2 million others to flee their homes.

Before entering politics, Abubakar worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for 20 years and rose to become its deputy director. He went on to serve as vice president to former President Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years after Nigeria returned to democracy, from 1999 through 2007.

He faced corruption charges in 2007 when lawmakers accused him of diverting more than $100 million in public funds to private interests. A Senate inquiry recommended that Abubakar should be prosecuted for siphoning off money to companies he was connected to.

(Updates with background on economy from second paragraph.)

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