Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar stood before a cheering crowd in his home state of Adamawa on Saturday, announcing he will seek the Peoples Democratic Party ticket for president next February.
Decrying the large-scale killings that have touched many parts of the country in recent months before thousands packed into Yola town square at the heart of Nigeria’s north-east, Mr Abubakar said President Muhammadu Buhari’s government would be remembered more for its bloodshed than any development it brought to citizens.
“Today, we are witnessing the most insecure atmosphere,” Mr Abubakar said of the killings largely blamed on herdsmen, bandits and militias, before promising to tackle them headlong if elected. “More people died under APC than people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Mr Abubakar told a crowd chanting “Atiku! Atiku!” shortly after 2:00 p.m. that he would curtail inflation and unemployment rate in the country, saying Mr Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress have displayed a common lack of capacity when it comes to the issues that matter to citizens the most.
“Today, we have the highest unemployment rate in history of this country, more than one million of our youth are unemployed,” Mr Abubakar said, adding that the PDP would secure the country, ensure unity and security of life and property.
He also hit Mr Buhari at one of his most vulnerable areas: “Today, we are more divided than at any other time in Nigeria’s history.”
The president has been accused of packing key federal offices with people from his region, with critics slamming him as flouting the federal character and affirmative action principles enshrined in federal laws as necessary fabrics for holding an ethnically and religiously diverse entity like NIgeria together.
Mr Buhari has often pushed back against the claims, saying instead that his appointments have been balanced where they are not skewed towards the south.
Mr Abubakar is only one of several top political players eyeing the PDP ticket, having other top contenders like Sule Lamido and Ahmed Makarfi. Recently, political analysts expect the race to get even more fluid when the likes of Musa Kwankwaso, Aminu Tambuwal and other elements of the so-called new PDP make their expected formal return to the largest opposition entity.
Yet, Mr Abubakar’s stature as a former vice-president and serial presidential contender with vast political and financial muscle made him a top favourite for the ticket.
He has visited most of the southern states for consultations, and his office said he plans to take the tour to all the 36 states before the party’s primaries in a few months’ time.
He also sees himself in a good light, aiming directly at Mr Buhari rather than his party ticket challengers.
But critics are dismissing his campaign as a sideshow that would soon hit the rocks because of Mr Abubakar’s unanswered allegations about corruption.
Still dogging his ambition has been the mystery surrounding his failure to travel to the United States since he was named in a corruption trial in that country the previous decade.
He has dismissed all allegations of corruption and challenged his opponents to bring forth any evidence of his culpability in graft practices.
Although Mr Abubakar said the Nigerian Constitution did not require that a citizen must possess American travel credentials to be eligible for presidential election, he also said that he had approached the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria for visa, but was turned down.
One of his close associates said recently that he may still apply for visa before the 2019 election.
But neither the former vice president nor his aides have agreed to entertain questions about whether they would cooperate with U.S. authorities to release his immigration status to the public.
The U.S. border authorities said in early 2017 that Mr Abubakar’s immigration status could be made public, but only if he gives his legal backing to such disclosure.
With him at today’s rally were Uche Secondus, the party’s chairman, Gbenga Daniel, his campaign director, and Ben Murray-Bruce, a serving senator who also emceed the televised event.