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Nigerian Presidential Election: Primaries and their aftermath

Photo: Commonwealth Secretariat/CC BY-SA 2.0

In the second part of our series on the upcoming elections in Nigeria, we will look at the presidential primaries and their aftermaths. With incumbent Muhammadu Buhari (APC, centre) term-limited, it is likely that one of the three major candidates noted below will become Nigeria’s sixteenth national leader.


Party primary elections were held in the months of May and June, considerably earlier than previous elections’ primaries due to a shift in the timetable of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). For the main two parties—the All Progressives Congress (APC, centre) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP, centre-right), their primaries were conducted amid internal party controversy but were still held relatively peacefully.

For the APC, its primary was initially scheduled for 30 May but was pushed to 7 and 8 June as a result of poor preparation and purported plans to find a “consensus” nominee without a formal vote. One of the main intraparty controversies was the search for a “consensus” nominee as various names emerged as potential nominees but all with baggage—former President Goodluck Jonathan (still a PDP member that is disliked by many APC politicians and voters); Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele (Central Bank Governor is legally-required to be a nonpartisan office and Emefiele refused to resign); and Senate President Ahmad Lawan (a northerner who’s nomination would violate the zoning principle). All plans to impose a nominee without a vote failed, and the primary was held instead; the election nominated former Governor of Lagos State Bola Tinubu over former minister Rotimi Amaechi, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and eleven other candidates.

APC presidential primary results

For the PDP, its primary was scheduled for and held on 28 May. Unlike the APC, there was not a large-scale push for a “consensus” arrangement but there was significant controversy over vote-buying, culminating in the withdrawal of Peter Obi—a major candidate and former Governor of Anambra State who had garnered a considerable amount of online youth support. The party went on to nominate former Vice President Atiku Abubakar—who had been its nominee in 2019—over Governor Nyesom Wike, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, and nine other candidates. This move broke the unwritten zoning convention whereby the presidency rotates between the North and the South as incumbent President Buhari is, like Abubakar, a northerner. Meanwhile, Obi decamped to the small centre-left Labour Party (LP) before winning its presidential nomination on 30 May.

PDP presidential primary results

Pre-campaign period

After party primaries, focus shifted to two main issues: reuniting parties after contentious primaries and the process of selecting running mates. 

Soon after winning, Abubakar was immediately thrown into the thick of a party crisis when a video showed the PDP National Chairman praising a former candidate who had dropped out in favor of Abubakar. Wike, the PDP primary runner-up, categorized the video as proof that the party structure was unduly biased towards Abubakar. Analysts rumored that Abubakar might name Wike as his running mate in order to appease him and unify the party; however, Abubakar chose Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on 16 June instead of Wike. While the choice of a Christian, ethnically Igbo governor from the South-South region was an apparent attempt to regain constituencies angered by the nomination of a northerner, it did not solve the party crisis as Okowa was an Abubakar ally and Wike felt snubbed. In response, Wike gathered other PDP governors as allies to vocally oppose Abubakar within the party. Although the PDP received a boost from their July victory in the Osun gubernatorial election (the final election before next year’s presidential race), the party crisis extended for months. Despite multiple reconciliation attempts, Wike and his allies refused to budge from their demand that the party chairman be removed from office; and in September, the grouping formally withdrew from the PDP presidential campaign.

As Obi became the sole major figure of the LP as soon as he joined the party (despite his relative lack of labour credentials), he did not face issues with internal crises and instead focused on campaigning in addition to searching for a suitable running mate. Although there were brief proposals for a joint ticket of Obi and NNPP nominee Rabiu Kwankwaso—the most prominent minor candidate, the plans were abandoned by early July. On 8 July, Obi selected Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, a former Senator from the northern Kaduna State. From July to September, Obi began a series of campaign stops from diaspora communities in New York City and Frankfurt to the palaces of traditional leaders in Kano and Ife.

Although both Abubakar and Obi followed the unwritten convention of balancing one’s ticket with a running mate of a different regional origin and religion, Tinubu broke the convention on 10 July by picking Kashim Shettima—a Senator and former Governor from the northern Borno State who, like Tinubu, is a Muslim. This norm-breaking move, coupled with the pre-existing coldness towards the Tinubu campaign from his defeated primary opponents, pushed the party into crisis. Prominent APC members, especially northern Christians, condemned the same religion ticket as toxic and insensitive to the makeup of the nation. Although Tinubu attempted to appease the dissenters by appointing northern Christians to high positions in his campaign, these efforts failed to assuage several aggrieved politicians who later endorsed either Obi or Abubakar. Worsening the situation for the APC was its July loss in the Osun gubernatorial election when incumbent Gboyega Oyetola (a relative of Tinubu) was unseated in Tinubu’s native South-West. Additionally, electoral forms submitted by Tinubu did not state which primary or secondary school he attended, reigniting a decades-long controversy over the veracity of his personal history.


These events are just one part of the campaign saga thus far as happenings since September will be covered in our next piece on the presidential campaign. Our coverage will also expand as the elections near, with articles planned to examine legislative and state elections along with a live election day page.

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