Nigeria opposition picks former VP as presidential candidate to battle Buhari

Atiku AbubakarPhotographer: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP

Nigeria’s main opposition party has nominated former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its candidate to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari in February elections in Africa’s biggest oil producer.

Abubakar, 71, won the People’s Democratic Party’s primaries against 11 other candidates, taking almost half of the votes cast at the nomination convention Sunday in the oil hub of Port Harcourt.

He beat off competition from Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, Senate President Bukola Saraki and others. Atiku polled over 1,500 votes against closest contender Tambuwal who got 693 votes.

The choice of Abubakar, who hails from the northeast, could divide the vote in the northern base of Buhari, who is 75. Nigeria’s northeast and northwest regions, which accounted for 40 percent of registered voters in 2015, together gave Buhari, who was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, 81 percent of their ballots in the last election.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to return the PDP to power,” Abubakar said in his acceptance speech.

“We’ve enumerated the challenges faced by the country over and over. What we need to do is to proffer solutions. That is what will make us different from the clueless government of the APC.”

Abubakar is known for his criticism on Buhari’s way of handling of the economy, which is having an anemic recovery from a recession two years ago, and called for the privatization of the oil industry.

He is a Muslim and father of 26 children, defected from the APC last year, returning to the PDP, under which he served as vice president from 1999 to 2007.

He’s been presidential aspirant in three different parties since then, losing the ruling party nomination to Buhari in 2015.

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