Party Politics in Nigeria’s Presidential Election

25 March, 2015

Nigeria is holding elections Saturday following two years of political unrest. Voters will elect both a president and parliament.

The ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP, is facing its first real test since coming to power in 1999. The lead opposition party, the All Progressive's Congress, has become a powerful player in Nigerian politics since it formed in 2013.

How did it happen?

The All Progressive's Congress, or APC, developed from an alliance of at least three regional Nigerian parties in 2013. The resulting group was large, but critics still said the new party would not survive.

Party Politics in Nigeria’s Presidential Election
Muhammadu Buhari (C), presidential candidate from the All Progressives Congress party, speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Gombe February 3, 2015. (REUTERS/ Afolabi Sotunde)

But then leading PDP members began to withdraw from that party, and joined the APC.

"...The headline story this week is the massive defection of some lawmakers in the House of Representatives..."

Five governors joined the APC. Thirty-seven representatives followed them. Then 11 senators left the PDP for the APC. And the moves continued.

In 2014, the PDP seemed to recover. The party had a new leader and it made efforts to solve some of its problems. Some former members returned.

"...The most recent cross: 5,000 APC members in Kaduna state re-joined the PDP..."

The movement between the parties continues even now, with just days to go before presidential and parliamentary elections. The APC and the PDP keep gaining and losing members.

Some observers say results of the vote Saturday could lead to more political moves both ways. Nigerians will be electing state governors and state assemblies on April 11.

"You find people jumping ship quite unashamedly to the party of the president-elect."

That is Dawn Dimowo, a political expert at the Abuja-based communications and advisory service Africa Practice. She says the APC's success in Nigerian party politics has a lot to do with timing. In her words, "they were able to capitalize on the fact that there was disenchantment within the PDP. There were people who were ready to quit the party and move to the APC. So it got a big boost from that."

One of the main areas of dispute: whether President Goodluck Jonathan broke the PDP agreement for power-sharing between Nigeria's north and south. Under the agreement, each president from the north would be followed by someone from the south, and a northerner would replace a southerner.

Some in the PDP believed the north was owed another term when Mr. Jonathan, a southerner, was a presidential candidate and won in 2011.

But Nigerian political scientist Kabir Mato thinks the APC is riding a sea of change. He says Nigerians are slowly rejecting the traditional politics of ethnicity, religion and local concerns.

President Jonathan has dismissed the defections in his party. ‘Such is politics,' he told reporters in February. He said there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics -- just permanent interests.

The APC has a majority in the House. APC members govern 14 of Nigeria's 36 states.

Observers say a six-week delay of the elections has helped the ruling party. The postponement was ordered because of security issues in northern Nigeria. But the vote is still expected to be close.

APC presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari led the military government that ruled Nigeria in 1984 and 1985. He has sought the presidency several times, most recently in 2011 when he lost to Goodluck Jonathan.

Mr. Buhari won the mostly Muslim north in that vote. But he was weak in the south. The APC has campaigned hard there this time.

Mr. Buhari visited southern Nigeria again this week. Dawn Dimowo says he will receive a lot more votes there this time than he did in 2011. She says it will be exciting to watch what happens.

APC officials describe the presidential election as a judgment on 16 years of PDP rule. But some experts wonder how different the APC really is. There is a fair bit of the PDP establishment in this new party and probably more will join if Mr. Buhari wins.

I'm Jim Tedder.

VOA's Anne Look prepared this story during a visit to Abuja, Nigeria. Caty Weaver wrote it for Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

regional adj. of or about a part of a country, of the world, that is different from other parts in some way

defectionn. the act of leaving a country, political party or organization, and going to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy

assembly - n. a group of people who make and change laws for a government or organization

capitalize on v. to use something (such as an event or situation) in a way that helps you; to get an advantage from (something)

disenchantmentn. the state of being no longer happy or satisfied with something