Who wears the cap as Nigeria’s presidential race heats up

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 With less than five days to the presidential election, President Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival Atiku Abukar are set to battle it out for the top spot in Africa’s most populous country on February 16.

While a handful of the other candidates are touted as civil society alternatives, their chances of winning are slim without the big parties’ wealth and patronage.

Buhari rode a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, coupled with promises to revive the stuttering economy and defeat the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.

Despite a lack of corruption convictions, Nigeria’s first recession in 25 years and a resurgence of Islamist attacks, those policies are little changed for the 2019 race.

He earned the nickname ‘Baba Go Slow’ during his first term when critics said he governed at a glacial pace, particularly when low oil prices caused a currency crisis. The moniker first entered popular usage to describe Buhari when he took six months to appoint a cabinet.

 To his admirers, Buhari is frugal, moral and prizes loyalty above other qualities in his allies – a foil to the alleged excesses of the PDP. To his critics, he is an ailing relic with little head for policy and no concern for the rule of law.

His main contender is 72-year former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from the Peoples’ Democratic Party.

He sought the APC presidential ticket for the 2015 elections but lost to Buhari and threw his support behind him, funding his campaign and even lending him a private jet.

Atiku switched sides again in 2017, and last year emerged as the PDP’s candidate. He has promised to “make Nigeria work again”, lifting it out of the economic doldrums with business-friendly policies that he says will create jobs.

He has for years been dogged by corruption accusations, which he denies. Critics say Atiku would use his policies to enrich himself and those around him without addressing the poverty that afflicts most Nigerians.

His supporters hoped to have put an end to some of those allegations when Atiku traveled to the United States last month, after years of rumors that he could not because of investigations revealing his ties to corruption there.

But Atiku had been barred from entering the United States, and Washington only granted him a temporary reprieve from the ban, Reuters reported last week.

To his supporters, Atiku is an accomplished businessman with the economic credentials needed to boost growth, create jobs and attract foreign investors back to Nigeria as it struggles to recover from the first recession in a generation. His opponents say he is a kleptocrat who lacks a moral compass and consistent ideology.

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