Atiku Abubakar is a Muslim from the northern Hausa ethnic group in Nigeria. He is a former Nigerian vice president who unsuccessfully ran for president as the opposition Action Congress candidate in 2007, elections which were won by another northerner, late President Umaru Yar’Adua. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has an unwritten agreement which states that power should rotate between the Muslim north and Christian south every two presidential terms, meaning the next president should be a northerner if the principle is maintained.
Goodluck Jonathan who happens to be a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, has not yet said whether or not he plans to stand, but a bid would be controversial and he would need the support of northerners within the PDP to be guaranteed victory in the polls. Atiku Abubakarâ€™s declaration does not help his chances and increases the risk of division within the ruling party.
Abubakar, as he announced his bid, said “This is not the time for a novice. This is not the time for ill-prepared leaders. This is not the time for risky experiments,” an apparent reference to concerns about ending the PDP rotating agreement. “It is time for an experienced, committed and visionary leader to rescue our country from imminent collapse. I am that leader,” he said. Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler, has also said he will seek the PDP’s nomination for the elections, raising the prospect of a fierce contest at the primaries.
The PDP has still not decided on whether it would fully endorse a Jonathan bid in primaries expected in September. Jonathan’s government has made promises in the past few weeks on issues from improving electricity supply to building new roads, inherited the presidency when Yar’Adua died earlier this year part way through his first term. Last week, the party said that Jonathan had the right to contest because he had come to power with northern President Yar’Adua in 2007 on a joint ticket and that he could legitimately seek to complete that term. But they in turn stopped short of giving him its full endorsement and said it upheld the principle of zoning.
In presenting his bid for the presidency, Abubakar laid out five key priorities: creating jobs, improving power supply and infrastructure, fighting corruption and boosting security, education and health, and development in the restive Niger Delta oil region. “Together we shall clean up and restore the environment of the Niger Delta, speed up the development of the area, Oil and gas prospecting does not have to be a death sentence for those who are fortunate to sit on vast amounts of energy resources” he went on to say. The current president, Goodluck Jonathan, seems to enjoy support from state governors. They form a powerful caucus in the PDP’s south and central Middle Belt, where the backbone of the army are from. But northern Muslim governors have acknowledged his right to stand while stopping short of endorsing him. Atiku Abubakar fell out with former president Obasanjo who failed to support him during his bid for the presidency in 2007.