Nigeria’s former vice president Atiku Abubakar (b.1946) — who has already unsuccessfully sought the presidency on five occasions — has begun cross-country consultations in an effort to obtain support for another attempt in 2023. His first visit was to see Rivers State’s Governor Nyesom Wike who is currently the most influential person in the party. The two fell out after when Atiku beat Sokoto State’s Governor Aminu Tambuwal (b.1966) in the 2019 party primaries who Wike is backing again for the 2023 elections 

Close sources in the Atiku camp say that he will be making more of these visits as he prepares to formally make an announcement before the end of the year about his intention to try and succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 as the PDP’s candidate. 

PDP’s 2023 election frontrunner Atiku Abubakar (L) and Rivers State’s Governor Nyesom Wike (R)

Despite being an apparent serial loser, Atiku remains the frontrunner to pick up the PDP ticket. He still has the biggest financial muscle and widest political network of any leading candidate and should be able to give any All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate a run for their money, and especially because Buhari will not be on the ticket. Age, however, is not on his side because he will be 76 in in 2023 and this is a strong deterrent at a time when there are increasing calls for a younger president to succeed Buhari who will be 80 when he eventually leaves office. 

This is why the 55-year-old Tambuwal is seen as a better PDP candidate to succeed Buhari in two years’ time. His challenge, however, is his lack of the solid national political network or financial muscle that Atiku has. Although he is chairman of the PDP Governors Forum it only has ten predominantly southern governors so it limits his ability to build campaign structures in the rest of the country. 

The other challenge is that, like Buhari, he is from the Northwest. Even if the Presidency were to be retained in the North, many would prefer it goes to the Northeast where Atiku is from because it has not yet had a president while the Northwest has already had two presidents. 

One possible compromise candidate is the 64-year-old Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (b.1956) who was Kano State’s governor in 1999-2003 and again in 2011-2015. He remains the strongman of Kano politics and has long been touted as a possible presidential candidate because he has a wide following in most parts of the North. While age is on his side, however, his acceptance in the South is low and his political network outside the North is weak but not insurmountable. His financial capacity to challenge in a national election is also weak but he appears to be able to raise funds when needed. Like both Buhari and Tambuwal, however, another downside is that he also comes from the Northwest. 

The PDP will not choose its candidate until the end of the year but — despite the insistence that the two-term Buhari should be succeeded by a president from the South — the party ’s flagbearer will come from the North and Atiku remains the frontrunner. The party remains weak and may find it difficult to challenge for power in 2023 unless a more charismatic party chairman emerges at its national convention. 

There is a huge risk that the party may degenerate into further crisis ahead of the elections, but there is also the possibility that the ruling APC could implode before the end of this year and that some of its key members could defect to the PDP. The odds are, however, slimmer than the odds that PDP members will defect in the opposite direction. The PDP needs a big morale booster in terms of significant defections if it is to stand the chance of winning the 2023 elections. 

This excerpt is taken from Nigeria Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on Nigeria. Click here to receive a free sample copy.