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Nigeria Presidential Hopefuls Open Campaign In Tight Race

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With Nigeria’s economy struggling and insecurity rife, four top presidential candidates start campaigning this week for next February’s election in an open race to replace President Muhammadu Buhari.

Less than five months before the ballot, no clear frontrunner has emerged with major candidates all confronting challenges on their path to the top political seat in Africa’s most populous country.

After two terms, Buhari steps down with Nigeria battling high inflation, oil production at record lows and security forces battling jihadists, separatist gunmen and criminal gangs across the country.

Top candidates lining up are Bola Tinubu, a former Lagos governor and stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress or APC and opposition Peoples Democratic Party or PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president on his sixth bid.

The APC says Tinubu’s time as Lagos governor shows his political experience. But the ruling party must contend with discontent over management of the economy and tensions over its Muslim-only candidates.

“Strong anti-establishment sentiment will lend opposition candidates Atiku and Obi strong momentum at the start,” Eurasia Group said in a research note.

“But divisions among the opposition, incumbency advantages for the ruling party and strong campaign messaging by Tinubu will likely give the ruling party a boost.”

PDP’s team says Atiku has the public office experience and the business acumen to tackle Nigeria’s economy.

But the PDP is struggling with a major split. Atiku’s victory has upset a core part of southern supporters, including Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike, an influential PDP stakeholder who has broken ranks.

PDP and APC “are dealing with quasi existential issues of their own, and important political and vote mobilization blocks which are disaffected,” SBM Intelligence analyst Atiku Abubakar,said.

Obi’s campaign hopes their candidate can keep up his early momentum as an alternative. But his Labour Party does not have the political structure to match the APC and PDP nationwide.

“The 2023 general election will be a really difficult but seminal point in Nigeria’s evolving experiment with democracy,” SBM’s Effiong said.

“It has the hallmarks of ending well or ending really badly.”

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