Men ride a motorbike past a sign for the All Progressive Congress (APC) national headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria on July 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE
Men ride a motorbike past a sign for the All Progressive Congress (APC) national headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria on July 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE

Abuja/Lagos — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power three years ago on the back of a broad coalition determined to oust the ruling party. Now the West African nation’s opposition parties are planning to use the same manoeuvre to defeat him in February’s general elections.

The People’s Democratic Party, which held power for 16 years until its 2015 defeat, signed an agreement with 38 other opposition groups to form the Coalition of United Political Parties on Monday in the capital, Abuja, and back a single candidate against Buhari. Many of his former supporters have deserted him, including former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is campaigning against his re-election in Africa’s biggest oil producer.

"If they can choose one candidate, they do have a coalition that is strong enough to defeat Buhari," said Cheta Nwanze, an analyst at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence risk adivsory.

Buhari, a 75-year-old former military ruler, won the presidency on his fourth attempt after several opposition parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress. The alliance included a faction of the then-ruling PDP that styled itself as the "New PDP" and went on to produce the Senate president Bukola Saraki and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.

Now it has turned against Buhari and joined the new opposition coalition, although neither Saraki nor Dogara have publicly confirmed leaving the ruling party.

"It’s like history repeating itself," said Clement Nwankwo, executive director at the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre. "The party in power should feel threatened."

Buhari, who spent a total of five months in the UK in 2017 for treatment of an undisclosed ailment, will have to defend a record that includes continuing attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, deadly clashes between nomadic herders and crop farmers, and an anticorruption crusade critics call partisan.

Yet Buhari maintains strong support in the north and backing from Bola Tinubu, who helped him carry the southwestern region, home of the commercial capital, Lagos, three years ago. Besides the presidential election, Nigerians are due to vote for federal legislators as well as governors and legislatures for 32 of the country’s 36 states.

While Buhari "remains in a strong position going into the campaign season", Jared Jeffrey, an analyst at NKC African Economics in SA, said in an e-mailed note, his record and age in a country with a youthful electorate could count against him.

"Should the CUPP choose a candidate with broad appeal [a northerner not disliked in the south] and the likes of Obasanjo get active in its campaign, the election could be very competitive indeed," he said.

Bloomberg

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