Country Risk

Defection of serial presidential aspirant from ruling party highlights probability of Nigerian president successfully seeking second term

13 December 2017
Atiku Abubakar (right) with Muhammadu Buhari at the December 2014 APC conference, at which Buhari became the coalition's presidential candidate and then went on to win the election. Source: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Atiku Abubakar played a prominent part in the former ruling PDP's first national convention since losing power, as he started a likely campaign for the party’s nomination.
  • The defection, together with Buhari’s much-improved health, increases the probability the president will run for office again, ensuring policy continuity.
  • A second Buhari term would preserve Nigeria’s fragile ethno-regional balance, and considerations of power rotation would also see him strongly favoured against any northern PDP candidate.


Nigeria's former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has held its first national convention since losing power, closing the event on 8 December by electing new officers headed by party chairman Uche Secondus.

The event signalled the PDP’s reformation as a united political opposition after prolonged conflict following its defeat by President Muhammadu Buhari and the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) alliance in the general election in March 2015. Ahmed Makarfi finally emerged as the official chairman of the National Caretaker Committee – which now hands over to the newly elected officers – following a long legal battle with former Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff, who had claimed he was the rightful chairman. The convention was also notable for the return to the PDP fold of former vice-president Atiku Abubakar (always referred to as Atiku), who had quit the party in February 2014 to join the APC, but then left the ruling coalition on 24 November. Atiku claimed the APC had failed to fulfil its election promises and had instead focused on blaming previous governments for the nation’s problems.

There has been no official reaction from the APC to Atiku’s departure, but former Borno state and Lagos state military governor Mohammed Buba Marwa said it would not affect the fortunes of the party at any level. Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai, a close ally of Buhari, called Atiku’s latest defection a “big mistake” and said he would be no threat to the president if he ran as the PDP’s candidate in the 2019 election.

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