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August 08, 2013

Mega-Party Seeks to Challenge Nigeria’s Rulers

by Heather Murdock

Nigeria's next presidential election is still nearly two years away, but three political parties have already formed what could be a formidable, north-south coalition that seeks to challenge the country's longtime ruling People’s Democratic Party.  

The PDP, has won every election since 1999, when the country transitioned from military rule to democracy. 
 
There has been an absence of an effective opposition during that time.  No individual party has been strong enough to form a solid base to challenge the PDP.  And fighting among factions has prevented a serious coalition.
 
But leaders of a new mega-party, the All Progressive Congress, or APC, say that in 2015, that dynamic is going to change.  APC party member Baba Madugu said it’s a historic change.
 
“For the first time in the history of this country, this is the first time we’re having a merger of opposition parties coming together to form a major opposition," Madugu said.
 
He added that the new party, formally established late last month, had won support from nearly a third of Nigeria’s powerful governors, from both the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south.
 
Samalia Adamu, a northerner, is the Bauchi State PDP secretary.  He said deep divisions within the country and subsequently within the new party will prevent the APC from being able to unite behind a single presidential candidate in 2015.
 
“As far as we are concerned in the PDP, that is not going to be a very serious problem.  Because on the issue of who is going to be the leader, it’s enough… to destroy the entire amalgamation of the parties that form the APC” he said.

Divisions in both parties
 
But that does not mean the ruling party will have an easy go in the next election cycle, as it is also seeing increasing divisions.  At his supermarket in the southern oil city of Warri, longtime PDP member Ovie Joseph said the ruling party will have to work just as hard to unite as the new APC.
 
“This internal fight within the group is seriously destroying the party, tearing the party apart.  Unless they do something -- otherwise the party will fail ” he said.
 
On the streets in northern Nigeria, some locals say the failure of the ruling party, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, would be a “welcome development.”
 
Austin Tsunzu, a teacher, said the current government has failed to improve the country’s economy, a common complaint in Nigeria.
 
“The new party will bring in a better change.  It will bring in development.  It will bring in politics with a human face” he said.
 
Tsunzu added that the APC is sure to succeed with men like former military leader Muhammadu Buhari at the helm.

Regional allegiances
 
But observers say that might depend on where you live in Nigeria.  Buhari who is from the north, is both deeply popular and deeply unpopular in Nigeria, depending on your region. 
 
At a newspaper stand in the south, lawyer Tony Mezeeh said because the longtime opposition party leaders are in charge of the new party, they may not be able to agree on a candidate. 
 
“That unity of a few individuals who are seeking power.  Not the majority.  Few individuals that are seeking power have positioned themselves in the forefront of APC” he said.
 
Unity among leaders, he added, will not necessarily translate to unified support on the ground. 
 
But up north, Sani, a mechanic, said the party at least gives northern leaders a chance to beat the PDP. 
 
Sani said any new leadership would be welcomed, as his region has become poorer and far more dangerous since Jonathan was elected in 2011.
 
Despite the fact that no announcement has been made, it is widely believed that Jonathan will run for office again over objections from those who say a power-sharing agreement dictates he cede to a northern candidate.  
 
Many voters say conflicting personalities within both parties may limit their ability to field candidates that truly could bring about change in Nigeria.  However, at this point, many people say they will be just happy to have a choice.

Hilary Urugu contributed to this report from the Niger Delta. Ardo Hazzad contributed to this report from Bauchi.