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Nigerian Analyst Predicts Tight Presidential Polls

Nigeria's main opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, has selected a former military ruler, General Muhammadu Buhari, as its representative in next year's presidential ballot. The selection came barely 24 hours after the ruling party nominated a reclusive governor as its candidate. Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja that some of Nigeria's leading political analysts are already predicting a very tough contest.

The two leading candidates, so far, for next year's presidential ballot are kinsmen from Nigeria's remote northern state, Katsina.

General Muhammadu Buhari - selected Monday as candidate for the main opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party - is a former military ruler and considered a more established political figure in Nigeria.

His rival, the recluvive Governor Musa Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party, is relatively unknown.

Abdulraheem Ojo, one of Nigeria's leading political analysts and a professor of political science at the University of Abuja, says the 2007 presidential election could be the most competitive in Nigeria.

"I still have a feeling that we are going to have another strong candidate from either ACD [Action Congress of Democrats] or AC [Action Congress] or whatever," he said. "For the first time in the history of this country, we are going to have a very competitive election. Yar'Adua is coming in as an underdog. He still has to convince Nigerians he can be a good president. So, it's going to be a problem. But somebody like Buhari, we all know him. He has been a head of state before and we know his policies and strategies. We know everything about him. There are so many things that will happen between now and April. Those things are likely to determine the outcome of the contest."

The People's Democratic Party (PDP), which has ruled Nigeria since 1999, says it is not perturbed by a resurgent opposition. Abdullahi Jalloh, a national executive committee member of the ruling party from the northern Gombe state, says PDP is still confident of winning next year's vote.

"God willing, my party will present Yar'Adua as an elected president come April 2007," he said. "You've seen how he won, the gap, in the primaries. He had about 3,000 against 300, for Okorocha. So, the gap is just like that between PDP and any of the parties that will contest with Yar'Adua."

Another leading opposition party, the Action Congress, is scheduled to announce its candidate by Thursday. Vice President Atiku Abubakar is widely speculated to have the support of the party for the presidential election.

Nigeria's 50 registered political parties are in the process of selecting candidates for April's vote, which should mark Nigeria's first transfer of power from one elected leader to another.