Country Risk

Nigerian opposition selecting former vice-president as presidential candidate indicates high probability of early 2019 change of government

11 October 2018

Atiku Abubakar raises his hands after winning the People's Democratic Party's presidential ticket at the party convention in Port Harcourt on 6 October. Source: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Nigeria’s former vice-president took a comprehensive victory in the PDP primary, while the current president was returned unopposed by the APC.
  • Atiku Abubakar has set out a broad policy programme which is likely to have wide appeal among the electorate, although there are major obstacles to plans for comprehensive privatisation of the oil industry.
  • Advocacy of greater devolution is likely to tip the electoral balance further in Abubakar’s favour by winning endorsements from influential ethno-cultural associations.


The Nigerian main opposition People’s Democratic Party’s selection on 6 October of Atiku Abubakar as its candidate for the February 2019 presidential election means it has likely picked a presidential election candidate with the best chance of defeating incumbent Muhammadu Buhari.

This is because Atiku Abubakar has the stature to maintain party unity and offer wide appeal to the electorate. Abubakar, widely known as Atiku, the country’s vice-president in 1999–2007, gained a comprehensive victory in the People's Democratic Party (PDP) primary, securing 1,532 of the 3,274 votes from delegates at the Port Harcourt convention, finishing well clear of closest challengers Sokoto state governor Aminu Tambuwal (693) and Senate president Bukola Saraki (317). On the same day in federal capital Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari was acclaimed by the 7,000 delegates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as the party’s unopposed candidate.

Atiku’s victory finally gives him a good chance of ascending to the presidency after a series of previous failed attempts, and four changes of party allegiance since 2006. Having joined the APC from the PDP in February 2014, Atiku finished third behind Buhari in the party primary that December. He then left the APC in November 2017 when it became clear that Buhari had recovered sufficiently from serious illness to probably stand for a second term.

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