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Nigeria Opposition Party Choosing Presidential Contender

A party delegate casts his vote during the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election to choose the party's governorship candidate for Lagos state, at Onikan stadium in Lagos, Dec. 4, 2014.

Nigeria’s main opposition party is holding primaries on Wednesday to choose its presidential candidate.

The All Progressives Congress is meeting at a stadium in Lagos to choose its presidential contender. Whoever they pick will be tasked with unseating incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party, who assumed power in 2010, after the death of President Umaru Yar Adua.

Five candidates are in the running, but there are only two real frontrunners, says political analyst Chris Ngwodo. Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and former vice president Atiku Abubakar have the best chance of securing the nomination of the party, which was formed last year as a coalition of the country’s best-known opposition groups.

Buhari and Abubakar both have long histories in Nigeria. They also have political baggage, which the PDP will use against them, Ngwodo says.

Buhari commands support among people in Nigeria’s north, but he’s also lost several elections and is remembered by older generations as an authoritarian ruler who was booted out in a coup. Some Christians in the south think he’s a Muslim radical, but Ngwodo says there’s little evidence to back that up.

“I mean, optimistically, this is actually going to be perhaps the closest election we’ve had since 1999. So if it’s Buhari, that’s what he will bring to the contest. However, this is a man who has also lost three elections previously to three different candidates to the ruling party. His biggest problem is a perceptual one, a reputational one,” Ngwodo states.

Abubakar is seen as experienced and savvy when it comes to winning primaries, but Ngwodo says his checkered past, including his defection from the PDP, may be used against him.

“This is a gentleman, after all, who was in the ruling party and who was vice president of the ruling party," says Ngwodo. "It’s going to be difficult to mount a sustainable critique of the ruling party, which he was a member of and served as vice-president in just a few years ago. So I think they have a ready, a very ready strategic response to that candidacy if he does emerge.”

The APC is a relatively new party and took longer than the PDP to coalesce behind a candidate. President Jonathan has been the PDP’s de facto candidate for months. But Ngwodo says the delay hasn’t hurt the party’s chances.

“With the sort of name-brand recognition that the two main front-runners have, that’s Buhari and Atiku, that shouldn’t count for too much in their disfavor," he says, "They believe that they will be able to compensate for that lag, that time lag by producing someone, probably most likely Buhari, who has name-brand recognition nationally.

Whoever is chosen will face a stiff challenge overcoming President Jonathan.
“But I think it’s going to be difficult simply because of the incumbency factor," Ngwodo says. "It’s not going to be easy for the ruling party either. I’m looking at an election that will be very keenly contested.”

A decision from APC is expected early Thursday morning.

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