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Atiku Abubakar’s February surprise

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Tuesday, 12 February 2019 13:49

After storming the northern commercial capital Kano at the weekend, opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar has victory in the presidential elections on 16 February in his sights. Atiku’s rally at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano on Sunday drew hundreds of thousands to the city, its biggest political gathering for years. In 2015, more than 2.1 million people in Kano state voted – the highest turnout in the country.

In contrast, President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling All People’s Congress had an underwhelming rally in Lagos on Saturday. Two days later, crowds heckled Buhari’s regional campaign chief Bola Tinubu and later stoned APC chairman Adams Oshiomhole when he tried to address a rally in south-west Ogun State. The south-west is the critical swing region in the presidential elections.

After a lacklustre start, Atiku’s campaign shot out of the traps at the beginning of the year by:

  • stepping up rallies,
  • organising townhall meetings,
  • pushing out millions of targeted social-media messages.

With over half Nigeria’s 84 million registered voters under 35, Atiku’s campaign is focusing on the youth vote. It has recruited 26-year-old David Adeleke, a.k.a. Davido, Nigeria’s international superstar singer, to lead the charge.

  • Davido’s uncle, Senator Ademola Nurudeen Adeleke, was defeated in Osun State’s disputed gubernatorial elections last year. Davido pulled more crowds than the politicians when he sang at rallies for his uncle and the opposition PDP.
  • Politics is in Davido’s blood. Another of his uncles, Isiaka Adeleke was Osun State’s first civilian governor in 1992 and his grandfather Raji Ayoola Adedeji was a senator between 1979-83.

Atiku’s presidential campaign is gathering momentum in several other key areas:

  • Jobs: Its headline slogan, “Get Nigeria working again”, resonates hugely in the country with some 16 million unemployed – over 18% of people of working age, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics.
  • Insecurity: The resurgence of deadly attacks with in the north-east by fighters from Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province group has killed hundreds of civilians and driven over 100,000 local people over the border to Chad and Cameroon. A report by Amnesty International accuses the Nigerian army of abandoning the community of Rann in Borno State a few hours before a Boko Haram attack on 28 January. At least 68 people were killed by the militia fighters. On 30 January, the government and the UN launched a joint appeal to raise $848m for food, water and tents for the refugees.
  • Anti-corruption: Personal integrity was Buhari’s big selling point in 2015, but his administration has failed to secure a single conviction against high-level figures from the previous administration, accused of stealing over $10bn of oil revenues. Instead, Buhari’s political allies are accused of profiting from illicit foreign-exchange deals and inflated state-procurement contracts.
  • Rule of law: President Buhari’s suspension last month of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on claims that he made a false assets declaration has badly misfired, prompting unprecedented criticism across the judiciary, civil society, several foreign governments and the UN.
  • Ground game: Against expectation, Atiku has persuaded most of the PDP to unite behind his candidacy, partly by promising he would be a one-term president. In contrast, the ruling APC is fracturing. Local rivalries and legal disputes over its nomination process mean that it will have no gubernatorial candidates in Rivers and Zamfara State. That will weaken Buhari’s campaign in those key states.
  • Bad candidates: The APC’s governor in Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, faces multiple allegations of corruption after a video showing him collecting bundles of banknotes from a local contractor went viral on social media. However, President Buhari has endorsed Ganduje.

Keep your eye on the vote: Atiku’s campaign says it has recruited, trained and equipped over 300,000 polling agents to cover the estimated 170,000 polling units across the country. They are to record the announced and certified results unit by unit, transmitting them to regional situation rooms for collation. This system of parallel voter tabulation, pioneered by the opposition New Patriotic Party in Ghana in 2016, should enable the PDP to identify any attempts at election fraud, its officials told The Africa Report. They have recruited several technical advisers from the Ghana campaign.

By Patrick Smith
Photo credits: AP/AP/SIPA

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