Nigeria’s former ruling party is in talks with other opposition groups to build a new coalition to try to prevent its main rival, the All Progressives Congress led by President Muhammadu Buhari, from winning a second term in the West African nation’s next vote in 2019.
“We’re talking to more than 16 political parties to see how we can come and work together,” Ahmed Makarfi, chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, said in an interview in the capital, Abuja, “Once we come together, we should be able to take back the government.”
The PDP was in power for 16 years before losing the 2015 elections to Buhari, who campaigned on promises to fight corruption and quash the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram. Makarfi, a former governor of the northern state of Kaduna, didn’t identify the parties involved in the talks. Nigeria has 45 political parties registered and recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Buhari’s defeat of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan marked the first peaceful transfer of power in Nigeria’s history from a ruling party to the opposition. Soon after the loss, the PDP became embroiled in a leadership dispute, with Ali Modou Sheriff, a former governor of northeastern Borno state, laying claim to the chairmanship at the same time as Makarfi.
The Supreme Court in Abuja ruled in favor of Makarfi last week after a year-long legal battle. While not blaming Buhari directly, Makarfi accused “elements” within the ruling party of fueling the dispute to keep the opposition in disarray.
Under Buhari, Nigeria experienced its worst economic contraction in a quarter of a century, with government revenue plunging as the price and output of its oil, its main export, fell. The 74-year-old leader has also been criticized for making extended visits to his doctors in London for treatment of an undisclosed ailment, leaving power since May 7 in the hands of his deputy, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
“We shouldn’t politicize the illness of the President, but again we can’t run away from the fact that it has made the government unsettled,” Makarfi said. “We have an acting president with full constitutional powers to function, but they keep giving excuses. There’s no way they can have cohesion in such a manner and give effective leadership.”
Makarfi contrasted the prevailing high interest-rate regime, exchange-rate volatility, high inflation and budgeting delays of Buhari’s administration with his own party’s record in office, when these indicators were more predictable. While Nigeria’s economic downturn may partly stem from “the collective failures of past governments” to diversify the economy away from oil, the current government “shouldn’t overlook their own failure and heap it on the past,” he said.
Now that its legal woes are resolved, the PDP is keen to focus on the next elections, according to Makarfi. The party favors using the report of a 2014 national conference that calls for devolving more powers to the regions as a basis for dealing with ethnic tensions that recently flared up in the country of 180 million people, he said.
“We have tested men and women that will come out to contest for elective offices, and with enhanced internal democracy, the best candidates will emerge,” Makarfi said. “Having been in government for 16 years, we know what our mistakes were and we’ll correct them.”