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Nigerian Parties Chart Strategies for Election Leverage

While Nigeria’s judicial system is occupied sorting out eligibility issues in next month’s presidential vote, the country’s opposition parties are actively plotting strategy on how to overcome eight years of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rule. During talks this week in Lagos, the approval or disqualification of Vice President Atiku Abubakar is weighing heavily on members of the Action Congress Party (AC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), and the African Democratic Congress (ADC). These rivals to President Olusegun Obasanjo have been huddling to consider how to ensure a fair presidential vote takes place on April 21, whether or not the Vice President ultimately is cleared to run. Dr. Usman Mohammed teaches political science and international relations at the University of Abuja. He says that the parties are by no means putting up a united front to oppose the ruling party.

“The AC has had problems with most of the opposition parties. For example, the AC has had clashes with the ANPP. So you cannot really say that the opposition will come together in support of Atiku finally. This is because of its registered attitude to merge with a larger opposition party such as the ANPP. They have never come together to form a very formidable front to challenge the PDP, just as we have witnessed in Kenya, where we have a rainbow coalition against a ruling party. This has affected their efforts to challenge the PDP and even defeat it in the upcoming election,” he said.

With the courts tied up in a judicial dilemma over the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) disqualification of Abubakar to run, Dr. Mohammed says the government is doing very little to boost the confidence of Nigerian voters that the election can be carried out freely and fairly.

“They are isolated completely from what is happening in the campaign. So when it comes to winning the confidence of the public, there is this solidarity and support to other candidates besides PDP. And we are going to witness a very serious protest vote,” he said.

Dr. Mohammed calculates that if Vice President Abubakar is cleared to run, he thinks the protest vote will serve to favor the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and its candidate, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

“People will vote solely in protest against PDP in favor of ANPP. Muhammadu Buhari is a very credible candidate, and the ANPP has strongholds in the north,” he said.

If the courts were to overturn INEC’s disqualification of the Vice President, Dr. Mohammed says he does not believe it opens up serious prospects for the government to call a sudden halt to the election.

“The constitutional requirement for such an emergency is violence and disorder, and I don’t think it will happen. Just because of judicial decisions against the ruling party, I don’t think that will give them the grounds for such an emergency or extrajudicial powers,” he said.