Nigeria’s ruling party on Sunday chose a reclusive Muslim state governor, Umaru Yar’Adua, to be its candidate to succeed Olusegun Obasanjo as president of Africa’s most populous nation in elections next year.
Yar’Adua, the 55-year-old governor of Katsina state, beat 11 other contestants for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket to run in the April vote which should mark the first fully democratic transition in Nigerian history.
“I want to congratulate my brother who will be my worthy successor,” Obasanjo said after the vote by 4,000 delegates which began on Saturday and ended at dawn on Sunday.
Yar’Adua polled 3,024 votes with businessman Rochas Okorocha’s a distant second with 372.
The atmosphere in the Eagle Square parade ground in the capital Abuja was glum and most delegates left without waiting to hear the results or Yar’Adua’s speech.
There was almost no applause when the result was announced.
“He has a long way to go considering the gloomy faces of the delegates and the empty seats after voting,” said Hamisu Shira, chairman of the House Committee on Electoral Matters and PDPdelegate.
Yar’Adua’s candidacy rests almost exclusively on the support of Obasanjo. He is little known even among the political elite having rarely left his remote northern state in seven years as governor.
Obasanjo persuaded influential state governors to back the former chemistry teacher, who suffers from a chronic kidney condition, with a mixture of inducements and threats of investigation by anti-corruption officials, analysts said.
They expect him to face stiff competition from a resurgent opposition at the polls in April.
Obasanjo’s election in 1999 marked a return to democracy after three decades of almost continuous army rule, and next year’s poll should mark the first handover from one elected president to another since independence from Britain in 1960.
Critics say Obasanjo wants to install a puppet to protect himselffrom possible prosecution when he loses presidential immunity.
In his acceptance speech, Yar’Adua thanked Obasanjo and praisedhim as the “father of democracy and good governance in Nigeria”.
“Economic reforms will be vigorously pursued and I am alsodetermined to continue the fight against corruption andmisgovernance,” Yar’Adua said.
Just before voting began on Saturday, the PDP changed itsconstitution to allow Obasanjo to become the “conscience of theparty” as its chairman after he steps down in May, a position whichwill control party funds and membership.
“What we have today is not the beginning of a journey but thecontinuation of a journey,” Obasanjo said.
Yar’Adua comes from a prominent political family withlong-standing ties to Obasanjo. His elder brother Shehu was thesecond in command during Obasanjo’s first government as militaryruler in the 1970s.
With deep pockets, tight control over security forces and anunrivalled nationwide network, the PDP is the party to beat.
But the opposition is benefiting from disaffection in the PDP,which has been fueled by a split between Obasanjo and Vice PresidentAtiku Abubakar. Many PDP members have also defected to the oppositionin the wake of primaries at the state and local levels where theparty imposed many unpopular candidates.
Two main opposition parties, All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Action Congress (AC), have signed an alliance and analysts expectformer military ruler Muhammadu Buhari to become their candidate.(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh)