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The emergence of presidential candidates in the next Nigerian elections will be completed in the next few days. From the look of things, the President Goodluck Jonathan is most likely to emerge as the flag bearer of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Little has changed in the politics of incumbency that has characterised that party if we examine the gubernatorial and other primaries which the party has conducted so far in many states. The presidential primaries will hardly be any different.

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) is most likely to nominate AIG Nuhu Ribadu (rtd). Party members across the country are clearly more favourably disposed to him than to his contender, Bafarawa. Also, Ribadu enjoys one of the largest national spread among presidential hopefuls of various parties.

Maj. General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) has already been confirmed as the presidential candidate of another opposition party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

Though Nigeria has about 57 parties, the majority of them will not nominate any candidate for the presidential polls. Most of them lack the resources and the national spread required to make any impact. Rather, they are most likely to align themselves to one of the above three.

What is likely to dominate the discourse over Nigerian politics for a month after the primaries is the formation of alliances. In the past, many paper parties have endorsed the incumbent candidate of the PDP. That move is often irrelevant because such parties themselves are moles of PDP that are registered to scuttle any effort to form a joint opposition against it.

The alliance that will unsettle the PDP will be of two kinds. One will be from the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the opponents of President Jonathan within his party. The other will be the alliance between the viable opposition parties like APGA, ACN, CPC and Labour Party.

Members of the NEF have many times made it clear that they will remain committed to a northern candidate even if the President is nominated by the PDP. The promise of the President that they he will serve for only a term has not convinced them enough to abandon their zoning principle. In that case, the Northern elders and the candidates that oppose Jonathan will have no choice than to put their weight behind either Buhari or Ribadu. Our speculation would therefore now shift to examining the possibility of the merger and to who is likely to emerge as the preferred candidate of the opposition.

The opposition has for long nursed the idea of merging into one party or at least aligning itself behind one candidate. This has proved difficult so far. In 2007, about five parties, including Labour party and PRP adopted Buhari as their presidential candidate. AC fielded Atiku while DPP’s flag was carried by its founder, Attahiru Bafarawa. Despite the failure of the merger talks after the 2007 elections that would have produced the so-called mega-party, AC and DPP merged to form ACN. Buhari’s party, the CPC, then was not registered. After its registration a year ago, all efforts to get it merged with ACN failed after many attempts.

Not tired of attempting, ACN then set two conditions for Buhari if he wants to win its support. He should, it said, join it and, in addition, contest with other aspirants for the party’s ticket. Buhari ignored the demands and went ahead to clinch the ticket of his party, the CPC, last week. ACN will also hold its primaries shortly. It will come up with a candidate who will represent it at the polls should future attempts at the alliance with CPC fail finally.

So we have two outcomes here. The alliance talks may succeed or they may not. If they succeed, we will have a single candidate – Buhari or Ribadu – challenging Jonathan at the polls. If they continue to fail, each of them will have the daunting task of fighting the other and at the same time fighting the incumbent President at the polls.

Jonathan would then have had no problem defeating both, were it not for the lack of support from his internal opposition. If the alliance between ACN and CPC fails and the opposition within PDP puts its weight behind Buhari, Jonathan would have better prospects of scaling through because of the southern and northern minority’s factor.

If, on the other hand, his opponents in the PDP decide to support Ribadu, Jonathan will have a tough time winning the elections especially if they are free and fair. Many northerners who support Buhari would then be more likely to vote for Ribadu in order not to divide the regional vote. This, with the support of southern votes especially in the southwest, Jonathan will have a number of sleepless nights.

The credentials of both Buhari and Ribadu are the same in terms of their fight against corruption. In addition, both are Muslims, northerners and from the same tribal extraction. I do not also believe that the 20 years difference in age between the two would count much in the estimation of Jonathan’s opponents. Many of the elders are older than Buhari. Therefore, the decision of where the opposition to Jonathan within the PDP would rest its support is most likely to be influenced by two factors, both of them not favourable to Buhari.

One, almost all members of that group are opposed to Buhari’s presidential ambition since its inception in 2002. They still see him as a military dictator of the 1980s who is best used to military ways of handling issues.

Two, as they did in their choice for a common northern candidate the northern elders are likely to emphasize spread of support that each of the candidates enjoy across the country. While Buhari has in the past got majority votes in many core northern states and very little in the south, Ribadu has considerable support in the south where his party has four states already and is favourably aligned to APGA and Labour. Ribadu, in addition does not seem to have problems with anyone - northern elders, northern aspirants, and southerners.

One area that Buhari clearly has advantage over Ribadu is the better support he gathered over the past decade among northern masses, being once a head of state and having come when there was no other meritorious candidate was around to face Obasanjo. Ribadu too is well known since he served in his capacity of the nation’s anti-corruption Caesar. Yet, he will need to conquer the northern pedestrian turf as quick as possible.

Fortunately for Ribadu, he is coming at a time when the CPC of Buhari has disappointed many northerners by not proving to be different from other parties. The manner it conducted its primaries in states where it is expected to make a good outing during the next elections has seriously dented its images. The greed with which its national leadership has scrambled to support mostly corrupt candidates in those states left many questioning its ideological credentials. Many supporters are still leaving the party in those states and decamping to the ACN which is seen as more organized and able to give a better progressive leadership.

So, though the primaries will soon be over, Nigerians have still few guesses to make about their presidential candidates. We need a month to have a better idea of whom among the three – Jonathan, Buhari or Ribadu – would make it to the polls in April. It could be all the three or just two of them.

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