ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian opposition party on Tuesday confirmed ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate for April elections, set to be the most fiercely contested since the return to democracy 12 years ago.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) ratified Buhari’s nomination at a convention in the capital Abuja, almost a month after the former strongman announced his intention to seek the party’s ticket.
Buhari’s reputation as a disciplinarian and a popular perception that he is cleaner than many in the political elite could make him the main opposition candidate to run against the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nominee.
President Goodluck Jonathan is broadly considered the front runner in the PDP primaries on January 13, but his candidacy is contentious because of an unwritten PDP pact that power rotates between the mostly-Muslim north and largely-Christian south every two terms.
Jonathan is a southerner who inherited the presidency after his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died last year during his first term. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a northerner, is challenging him at the PDP primaries.
Violence in recent weeks, including a New Year’s eve bomb attack in Abuja and a series of blasts and clashes in the central city of Jos, has raised fears that politicians will try to exploit regional rivalries as the elections approach.
Buhari ruled Africa’s most populous nation for 20 months between 1983-85. He came to power in an almost bloodless New Year’s eve coup, ending Nigeria’s second attempt at democracy.
His iron-fisted administration is best remembered for its austerity measures, the jailing of politicians on corruption charges and the execution of drug traffickers.
Buhari could benefit if Jonathan’s candidacy continues to divide the PDP, whose candidate has won every presidential election in Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999.
But critics say the CPC is more of a regional party and doubt its chances in a national election. Delegates sang the party anthem at Tuesday’s televised convention in the northern Hausa language, which is not widely understood in the south.