World Bulletin/News Desk
Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari will be the main opposition candidate in next year's Nigerian presidential ballot after triumphing in a primary election on Thursday.
Buhari will face President Goodluck Jonathan in a February 2015 vote to be held against a backdrop of economic troubles and security fears tied to relentless violence by militants in Africa's most populous and biggest oil-producing country.
"It is with a deep sense of humility that I ... accept the nomination of my party ... to be its flag bearer in 2015 presidential elections," Buhari told a cheering crowd in the national stadium in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial hub.
"We will rescue our country from those who have led us into insecurity, poverty, sectarian divide and hopelessness."
Buhari won 3,430 votes out of a total around 6,000 cast, with the governor of the northern state of Kano, Rabiu Kwankwaso, coming second in the five-strong race with 974 votes. Former vice president Atiku Abubakar secured just 954 ballots.
Jonathan secured the government ticket on Thursday, with no challenger stepping forward from the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to oppose him.
Buhari enjoys wide grassroots support, especially in the largely Muslim north, which has felt disenfranchised as power has shifted to the more prosperous majority Christian south.
Himself a Muslim, Buhari took power in a coup in 1983. He is remembered as an iron-fisted ruler who executed armed robbers and drug traffickers, before losing power himself in a 1985 putsch. He is also seen as one of the few Nigerian leaders who never used the top job to enrich himself or his supporters.
Jonathan's administration has been dogged by corruption scandals in the oil sector, some of which it has promised to investigate and others it has denied, although it is hardly the first Nigerian government to be tainted with graft.
"We think General Buhari has already won the presidential election ... He is a clean man who can tackle corruption," newspaper editor Kalani Muhammad told Reuters at the convention.
CLOSEST ELECTION SINCE END OF MILITARY RULE?
Jonathan has been lauded for making the boldest reforms in the power sector to date, including privatising the rotten state provider, but the benefits have yet to be felt on the grid.
How Africa's largest economy and leading energy producer conducts this election will be closely watched by investors and world powers, with political analysts predicting the closest fought race since the end of military rule in 1999.
Past polls have been marred by ballot-box stuffing, political thuggery and in some cases completely fictitious results, although the 2011 one was judged the cleanest yet.
Nigeria is confronting a falling currency and budget cuts linked to low oil prices, as well as a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands. Two blasts killed at least 32 people in the central city of Jos on Thursday, with Boko Haram likely to be prime suspects.
Some 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April remain in captivity and daily insurgent assaults have exposed deep flaws in Nigeria's security forces.
Compounding regional tensions, northern elites feel Jonathan broke an unwritten "zoning" rule that the presidency should rotate between north and south every two terms when he ran in 2011. He took over after Umaru Yar'Adua's death in 2009.
Jonathan picked Vice President Nnamdi Sambo, a northerner, to run with him again.
Jonathan is the first president from the oil-producing Niger Delta in the south, a region harbouring an enraged sense of entitlement to the oil wealth they live on but from which they have seen scant benefit. If he loses, militants who disrupted oil output last decade until a 2009 amnesty could resurface.Last Mod: 12 Aralık 2014, 00:40