Nigeria’s Presidential Candidates

After a spate of party primaries last week, Nigeria is moving into its general election. Registration has begun (accompanied by some problems), and presidential candidates are starting their campaigns in earnest. Here’s a look at some key figures:

President Goodluck Jonathan (People’s Democratic Party)

The PDP has won all three of Nigeria’s elections since the country’s 1999 democratic transition, and many observers (including me) expect Jonathan to win this year’s contest. The 53-year-old former governor of Bayelsa State, who holds a Ph.D in Zoology, was elected vice president in 2007. Following the illness and death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who headed the ticket in 2007, Jonathan became president (acting from February-May 2010, official from May 2010-present). Jonathan did not immediately proclaim his electoral intentions upon assuming office, waiting until September to declare his candidacy. By running for re-election, Jonathan has disrupted an unofficial agreement about North-South power-sharing in Nigeria: he faces opposition within the PDP from members who believe he should withdraw in order to let a Northerner run for the second term that death denied to Yar’Adua (a Northerner). Nevertheless, Jonathan handily won the PDP primary.

General Muhammadu Buhari (Congress for Progressive Change)

Buhari, who finished second in the 2003 and 2007 elections as a candidate for the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), left the ANPP in 2010 to form his own party, the CPC. Buhari, 68, led a bloodless coup against President Shehu Shagari in 1983, and ruled Nigeria until 1985, when General Ibrahim Babangida displaced him in another palace coup. Today, Buhari enjoys substantial popularity in Northern Nigeria, but potentially lacks a national base. Having mounted legal challenges after his losses in 2003 and 2007, Buhari and many of his supporters view the electoral process with distrust. I have analyzed Buhari’s campaign rhetoric here; briefly, he has focused on themes of corruption and security. Many observers expect Buhari to be Jonathan’s strongest opposition.

Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (All Nigeria People’s Party)

The ANPP holds several governorships in Northern Nigeria, and Kano (the North’s largest city) is one of its strongholds. With Buhari’s departure, Shekarau, the governor of Kano State, has emerged as the ANPP’s candidate for 2011. Shekarau, 55, won the primary decisively, indicating he has strength within the ANPP. He served two terms as governor (and is term-limited from running again), and still commands real support in Kano. But last summer some people I spoke with said his popularity was slipping. My sense is that Buhari has stronger support across the North. The danger for Buhari and Shekarau is that they will compete for the same (Northern) votes, weakening each other without seriously threatening Jonathan.

Nuhu Ribadu (Action Congress of Nigeria)

Ribadu, 50, served from 2003 to 2007 as Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and established a reputation as an anti-corruption stalwart. After his removal from office, he lived abroad and worked as a fellow at the Center for Global Development. Some expected Ribadu to return to Nigeria and work with Jonathan, but he has decided to run as the ACN’s candidate. The ACN (known as the Action Congress or AC at the time) scored around 8% of the official vote in 2007, and ran former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its candidate. Despite Ribadu’s name recognition, it does not seem that he will be a serious threat to Jonathan, and as a Northerner he could split the Northern vote further. His presence in the race may increase the significance of corruption as an issue.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Former President Ibrahim Babangida

Two other Nigerian political heavyweights are not official presidential candidates at the moment. Abubakar, 64, was President Olusegun Obasanjo’s running mate in 1999 and 2003. He challenged Yar’Adua for the presidency in 2007 and challenged Jonathan for the PDP nomination last week, but was unsuccessful in both efforts. Some speculate that following his primary loss he will mount an independent challenge for the presidency, but so far his intentions are unknown. Similarly, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, 69, has indicated that he may leave the PDP and run for president. Nevertheless, he congratulated Jonathan for his primary victory, speaking of “our great party” and indicating that he will not depart from the party. Still, Babangida has kept observers guessing. A run by either Babangida or Abubakar could change the dynamics of the race, though probably not tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Many of Jonathan’s major challengers are Northerners, and there is a real possibility that these politicians, by competing for the same votes, will only weaken each other. Still, it’s a relatively long time until April, time enough for the upredictability and dynamism of Nigerian politics to show itself once again.

Have I missed anyone? What do you think of each candidate’s chances?

4 thoughts on “Nigeria’s Presidential Candidates

  1. Pingback: Nigeria's Presidential Candidates « Sahel Blog | 9ja Business

  2. Thanks for this! I find I have little time to follow Nigerian politics as closely as I would like. Any ideas about who Jonathan will pick as a running mate? Most likely a Northerner, but not Abubakar (he’s tired of being VP fore sure)…

    • Hi Vicki, thanks for stopping by. I had not thought about Jonathan’s running mate, and that’s a great question. I would expect him to pick Namadi Sambo, his current VP (and a Northerner), but it’s possible he would switch it up and pick someone else.

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