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Former Nigerian Military Leader Enters Presidential Race

A former Nigerian military leader has entered the presidential race, announcing his candidacy for the nomination of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, a Muslim, is considered the strongest northern candidate to challenge President Goodluck Jonathan.

The president also faces a challenge for the nomination from a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who has formally announced his candidacy.

The party will select its presidential nominee in primary elections in October. It says they will be held for three days across the country beginning October 18 and a single candidate will be ratified on October 23. The presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for January.

General Babangida made his announcement Wednesday (9/15/10) before a large crowd in the capital, Abuja. Supporters say its size shows he is still popular and can defeat the president in the primaries.

But the people who attended the rally did not represent real Nigerian voters, says Abubakar Momoh, a political science lecturer at the Lagos State University.

“More than 80 percent of them were well dressed, which meant that they were a hired crowd. They were not people who walked there merely because they were enthusiastic about what was going to be said or because they were simply people who were curious. They were people who were mobilized to the venue, which for me does not really say much.”

Momoh says what he calls the plan by Gen. Babangida and his supporters to make a positive statement about his candidacy and popularity failed to materialize because of the absence of several credible politicians at the rally.

“There is no doubt that people came from all works of life -- east, west, north, south, everywhere -- but I am saying this is a rented crowd, anyone can do it and increasingly, this rent-a-crowd business has become so professionalized because there is a very high level of unemployment. You have a country of over 50 million unemployed youths; it’s very easy to rent a crowd.”

He says President Jonathan’s decision to wait before announcing his intentions was not a smart political strategy.

“My president himself did not handle matters properly. Nigeria does not need a reluctant president and Gen. Babangida did not say he was coming as a reluctant competitor. That is one good thing about his declaration. He says, Look, I have a track record of service and I want to serve again; I am the only person who can move the country forward. That is what we want to hear people say.”