Nigeria's ruling party picks ex-Lagos governor as 2023 candidate

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Nigeria's ruling All Progressives Congress on Wednesday picked former Lagos governor and veteran political operator Bola Tinubu as its candidate for the 2023 election to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.

Tinubu, known as the "Godfather of Lagos" for his political clout, easily won with 1,271 votes of the ballots cast by 2,300 party delegates at primaries held on Tuesday and Wednesday at an Abuja convention.

He beat other hopefuls including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former transport minister Rotimi Amaechi and Senate president Ahmad Lawan.

An APC stalwart, Tinubu emerged victorious following weeks of wrangling among party factions over their candidate to govern Africa's most populous nation and largest economy.

"Shame on those who already build a coffin of the APC, our party is alive. No destroyer can bring Nigeria backward," Tinubu told the convention after APC officials named him the candidate.

A Muslim from Nigeria's Yoruba-speaking southwest, Tinubu will face off in the February 25 ballot against Atiku Abubakar, a fellow veteran of Nigerian politics and the candidate for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Tinubu, 70, had said becoming president was his life-long ambition. But he sparked outrage days before the primaries by insisting it was his "turn" to run the country.

"It is a difficult thing to run for president. I am humble and grateful to my fellow aspirants."

Seven candidates withdrew at the last minute to give their support to Tinubu in the primaries.

The APC ballot took place just two days after gunmen raided a church in Ondo State, killing 22 people, a rare attack in the country's usually more peaceful southwest that has highlighted insecurity.

Security will be a top issue in the 2023 election, with the military dealing with a 12-year-old jihadist conflict in the northeast and heavily armed criminal gangs who carry out raids in the northwest.

Nigeria's economy is also recovering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from the Ukraine war that has pushed up food and fuel prices across the continent.

The World Bank projects the number of poor Nigerians will hit 95.1 million this year -- nearly half of the country's population.

- North and south -

Buhari, who was once a military governor during Nigeria's dictatorship, will be stepping down after the two terms he is allowed in the constitution.

Since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigeria has had six elections, many of which were marred by electoral fraud, legal challenges and violence.

Part of the APC's internal debate over candidates related to "zoning" -- an unofficial agreement among political elites that Nigeria's presidency should alternate between those from the predominantly Christian south and those from the largely Muslim north.

After two terms with northern Muslim Buhari, observers expected the presidency to go to a candidate from the south.

But the PDP -- which held its primary on May 28 and 29 -- chose Abubakar, a wealthy former vice president and political veteran who is a northern Muslim.

The opposition's choice to ignore "zoning" has made the APC reconsider how their candidate will appeal to the north, where voter numbers and participation are traditionally higher.

"Money still plays a significant role in Nigerian politics. Only the big can win against the big," said Olutayo Adesina, history professor at the University of Ibadan.

"If it's Atiku versus Tinubu, there will be a massive turnout, because it wouldn't be about ideology or party, it will be about ethnicity."

The PDP dominated Nigeria's politics for a decade and a half following the country's 1999 return to democracy.

But the APC managed to end the PDP's dominance in 2015 with Buhari promising to use his security credentials as a former military man and also tackle rife corruption.

But Buhari has been under increasing pressure over violence, with kidnap gangs carrying out mass abductions at schools and even blowing up a train track earlier this year in a brazen raid to snatch passengers for ransom.

pma/imm

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