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Nigeria’s Main Opposition Party Vows to Fight Jonathan

FILE - Muhammadu Buhari, former military ruler and presidential aspirant (C), and other party leaders attends the All Progressive Congress party convention in Lagos, Nigeria.

As Nigeria’s ruling party gathered this week to endorse President Goodluck Jonathan for a second term in office, the main opposition group, the All Progressives Congress, is still deciding who its candidate is.

The People’s Democratic Party has held power in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999. Incumbent Jonathan this week declared his intention to run under the party’s banner for a second term.

But with the extremist group Boko Haram overrunning territory in Nigeria’s northeast and power outages still common across Africa’s largest economy, a recently founded coalition of opposition parties is hoping Nigerian voters are ready for change.

“I believe Nigerians are ready for change," said APC chief spokesman Lai Mohammed. "See, Goodluck Jonathan has exploited the political fault lines of Nigeria such as religion and ethnicity, and that’s what he campaigns on. Unfortunately, Nigerians are not buying that.”

Prospective candidates

The APC was created last year as a merger of several opposition groups. Its prospective presidential candidates include former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, former vice president Atiku Abubakar and the sitting governor of the northern Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso.

Mohammed said she expects the party to perform well in the southwest, particularly in the largest city Lagos, as well as in the north -- all areas that traditionally have supported candidates opposed to the ruling PDP.

Three of the leading candidates are Muslims, who comprise about half of Nigeria’s population. Mohammed dismissed allegations that the APC is a Muslim party.

“Our greatest weakness, I think, is the attempt to paint us as a Muslim party, which of course they know is not true, but I think gradually Nigerians are now getting to understand and to believe that it is nothing but a ploy of a government that has failed. But what we need to do is work more to reassure Nigerians that we are pan-Nigerian political party,” she said.

Human rights issues

A retired major general, Buhari was put in power by a military coup and ran Nigeria from 1983 to 1985. His regime was criticized for numerous human rights abuses, including an attempt to kidnap a former transportation minister from Britain and bring him back to Nigeria.

Mohammed defended Buhari’s actions during military rule, saying they were the right thing to do at the time.

“Of course you can’t compare the human rights violation, human rights preservation under a military government to that of a civilian government. And most of critics come and out and say he had breached civil rights and human rights. And for crying out loud, when the military, they come in, the first thing they do, is they suspend the constitution," said Mohammed. "So you can't expect any benevolence as such from a military regime. But in terms of giving the country a direction, giving a country pride, giving the country hope, I think he did very well.”

The APC plans to hold a convention to select its candidate on December 10.