Buhari tries to woo south in Nigeria presidency bid


Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari took his presidential campaign to Nigeria’s southwest, a key test of his support outside his northern stronghold ahead of April elections.

Buhari is considered the main rival to President Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which has held power in Africa’s most populous country since the end of military rule more than a decade ago.

While Buhari enjoys a strong grass roots following in Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north, from where he hails, analysts say the former strongman will struggle to win widespread support in the largely Christian southern half of the country, Reuters reports.

Still, hundreds of his supporters waited for hours in the searing afternoon heat for the rally at Mapo Square in Ibadan, a university town in the south-west.
“CPC: change is possible,” the crowds chanted in support of Buhari and his party, the Congress for Progressive Change.
“He is the only candidate that can raise a million-strong crowd without paying the crowd,” 30-year old printing shop owner Segun Ariyo said, referring to the perception among many Nigerians that Buhari is less corrupt than many politicians in Africa’s largest oil and gas producer.

Buhari ruled Nigeria between December 1983 and August 1985, leading an iron-fisted administration best remembered for its “War Against Indiscipline”, a campaign against graft in which politicians were jailed and drug traffickers executed.

His reputation as an disciplinarian won respect from many ordinary Nigerians but also the resentment of the political elite. He unsuccessfully ran for president against PDP candidates in the two previous polls in 2003 and 2007.

Buhari faces fierce competition for votes in the southwest where support is mostly split between Jonathan, who is from the oil-rich south-eastern delta, and Nuhu Ribadu, a former anti-graft chief running with the Action Congress of Nigeria.

ACN is dominant in the southwest which includes the commercial capital Lagos.
“Buhari’s chances in the south are not that good, because of both the Jonathan and Ribadu factors,” said Abubakar Momoh, a political science professor at Lagos State University.

“He is not well-known there and what they do know is from the mindset of 1983. They remember a military officer who was very authoritarian.”

Buhari has chosen Tunde Bakare, a Pentecostal pastor from the south-west, as his running mate for April’s vote, which could help to broaden his support away from his Muslim base.

Nigeria’s Pentecostal movement wields considerable power in the south, where the largest churches can attract tens of thousands of worshippers to a single service.

Before arriving at Monday evening’s rally, Buhari and his team visited Enoch Adeboye, the head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, one of the so-called “megachurches”, as well as the governor of the south-western state of Ogun.

Bakare’s background as a pro-democracy campaigner could also offset some voters’ reservations about Buhari’s past.
“Picking Bakare was a part of a deliberate campaign strategy,” Momoh said. “More people are willing to assume that the candidacy of Buhari has more weight in the southwest this time – but that is not certain.”

Jonathan, who as the incumbent sits atop a vast patronage system greased by oil revenues, is still widely considered the frontrunner in a vote due on April 9.

But to win the vote first time around, Jonathan must clinch the most votes overall and also gain at least 25 percent of the franchise in two thirds of the country’s 36 states.

A strong showing in the north by Buhari and in the southwest by Ribadu could prevent him from doing this, forcing a run-off in which he may face a united opposition.