On Friday, former Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar announced his candidacy for the February 2015 presidential elections. Abubakar, who hopes to represent the primary opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is the first high-profile political figure to declare his presidential bid. (The formal declaration is set to come on September 24.) Other candidates expected to join the running in coming days include powerful former military leader Muhammadu Buhari and Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.
It remains to be seen whether Abubakar will pose a veritable challenge for President Goodluck Jonathan. The former vice president has run unsuccessfully before, in 2007 and 2011. Furthermore, Abubakar, a former member of Jonathan’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has yet to be officially nominated by the APC. (Buhuri and Tambuwal are both gunning for the APC ticket as well.)
Nonetheless, Abubakar’s announcement serves as a reminder that the opposition is gearing up for a fierce race for the presidency – and that Jonathan’s grip on power is not as ironclad as it once was. True, the president enjoys broad support among his constituency. But his PDP party, in power since 1999, has been weakened by a string of defections to the opposition – namely Abubakar himself – fueled by dissatisfaction over Jonathan’s rumored (but as yet unconfirmed) ambitions to run again in 2015. Many of the defectors accuse the Nigerian leader of not playing fair; an unspoken party rule mandates that the presidency alternate between a representative of Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north and the Christian south. Jonathan’s image was further wounded in December when former Nigerian president, and erstwhile ally, Olusegun Obasanjo called on voters to elect a less corrupt candidate in an open letter entitled “Before it is too late.”
Jonathan’s standing has only crumbled further in subsequent months, thanks to a prolonged security crisis. A ten-year-old Boko Haram insurgency has picked up steam in the past year, taking advantage of an impotent government security force to seize territory in the north; it is now encroaching on the critical state capital of Maiduguri. Add to this the looming threat of the Ebola virus and it’s little wonder that Jonathan’s rivals are circling the waters.
Not that it will be an easy fight. Leading risk advisory firm the Eurasia Group forecasts that Jonathan will sweep the 2015 election, though it added that the APC could deliver a strong performance if it manages to mobilize behind a influential northern candidate. With only a 25% chance of winning however, according to Eurasia Group analysts, the Nigerian opposition will need to choose its leading man carefully – and soon.