Posted by News Express | 28 November 2018 | 2,902 times
The main challenger in Nigeria’s election next year aims to outflank Muhammadu Buhari by campaigning in a sometimes neglected part of the country where the president is deeply unpopular: the southeast.
With a tight race in prospect, a strong showing there could give Atiku Abubakar the votes he needs to deny Buhari, a former military ruler, a second four-year term as the elected leader of one of Africa’s most powerful nations.
Abubakar is targeting regional voters - who are mostly members of the Igbo ethnic group - through his choice of a local running mate and policies designed to meet calls for autonomy.
The numbers are tempting. There were 7.5 million registered voters in the five states of the southeast out of 67.4 million nationwide at the last election, in 2015.
The number of new voters registered in the southeast has grown faster than in other regions, according to electoral commission figures seen by Reuters.
The opposition will still need to overcome voter apathy in the southeast, where people have long felt there is little point in voting since presidents tend to be northerners from the Hausa ethnic group or Yoruba people from the southwest.
While presidential elections in Nigeria are usually cast as a fight between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south, victory may depend on a candidate attracting votes from outside his ethnic and religious base.
At this stage, most analysts expect a closely fought contest on Feb. 16, with some predicting a narrow victory for Abubakar.
Buhari is popular across the north, so it suits Abubakar to target a region where the president lacks support. Buhari’s unpopularity in the southeast stems from his decision to send troops on to the streets last year to crack down on secessionists.
If there are votes for Abubakar in the southeast, he may also win support among the many Igbos living elsewhere in Nigeria.
Abubakar named Peter Obi, a former southeastern governor, as his running mate in October and proposed devolving more power to regions in a policy dubbed “restructuring” that promises to give states greater control over their finances.
Advertising hoardings for the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) featuring Abubakar’s smiling face alongside that of Obi outnumber those for Buhari in the southeastern cities of Onitsha and Enugu.
Chukwunonye Okereke, director general of Southeast Youths for Atiku, a PDP organisation, said: “The people in the southeast have not been treated fairly by this government. He (Buhari) has been a ruler of marginalisation.” (Reuters)
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