Ex-Nigerian leader backs opposition candidate in polls

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Opposition's bid to oust Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in next year’s presidential election received a major boost Thursday as former leader Olusegun Obasanjo formally endorsed its presidential candidate for the top job.

Seventy-two-year-old Atiku Abubakar, who was vice president between 1999 and 2007 during Obasanjo’s reign, emerged the candidate of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in a shadow poll last weekend.

Obasanjo said he would be backing Abubakar because of his understanding of the economy and his vast grassroots network across the country, casting aside his longstanding opposition to Abubakar’s presidential bid in the past.

“Whenever or wherever you might have offended me, as a Christian who asks for God’s forgiveness of my sins and inadequacies on a daily basis, I forgive and I sincerely advise you to learn from the past and do what is right and it will be well with you,” Obasanjo said after a closed-door meeting with Abubakar in the southwestern town of Abeokuta.

Obasanjo once said he could never support Abubakar’s bid for the top job because of what he “knows of him”, noting doing otherwise might bring him (Obasanjo) God's wrath.

Elected on a joint presidential ticket on the platform of the PDP in 1999, the two men were close political associates until around 2005, when they had a falling out, with Obasanjo going as far as instigating impeachment processes against his deputy, whom he accused of corruption and treachery.

Considered an influential figure in African geopolitics, Obasanjo’s latest about-face on Abubakar represents a landmark for the opposition party ahead of next year's ballot. But it is too early to measure how far his endorsement will go toward wrong-footing Buhari, who despite his shortcomings still enjoys a huge following in the largest voting blocs in the country’s northwest and southwest.

Obasanjo, who has since opposed Buhari’s second term bid, comes from the southwest, but the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) still holds the aces there.

The former leader says Buhari lacks the basic economic acumen and temperament to govern a complex country like Nigeria, accusing the incumbent of nepotism and failing to rein in “killer herdsmen”, or herders of the Fulani ethnic group armed with AK47s that have clashed with local farmers over land.

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