Nigerian opposition votes to merge in challenge to president

Rally for Action Congress of Nigeria presidential candidate Mallam Nuhu Ribadu in Dutse, on February 28, 2011.  By Pius Utomi Ekpei (AFP/File)

Rally for Action Congress of Nigeria presidential candidate Mallam Nuhu Ribadu in Dutse, on February 28, 2011. By Pius Utomi Ekpei (AFP/File)

LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria’s largest opposition party on Thursday voted to merge with two others, a move aimed at creating a united front capable of unseating the ruling party in 2015 polls.

An overwhelming majority of the 4,500 delegates at the Action Congress of Nigeria’s convention in a stadium in Lagos backed the merger with the Congress for Progressive Change and the main faction of the All Nigeria Peoples Party.

“This must be the last and final convention of the ACN,” said the party’s leader Bola Tinubu, a deeply influential politician in Nigeria’s southwest.

The plan calls for the three parties to re-emerge under a new name, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The CPC and the ANPP are set to vote on the merger at their conventions on May 11.

If successful, the merger would unite key political alignments, particularly in Nigeria’s southwest and parts of its north.

However, previous such attempts have fallen apart amid infighting in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.

It was unclear if another party influential in Nigeria’s southeast, APGA, would join the merger as initially planned. That party has splintered into factions.

“We are going to change the PDP to an opposition party in 2015,” Tinubu said, referring to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

The PDP has won every presidential election since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.

Former military head of state Muhammadu Buhari, who seized power in a 1984 coup and was ousted the following year, currently heads the CPC and attended the convention in a show of support.

“The alternative to this merger is unthinkable,” said Buhari, defeated by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 polls.

Some Nigerians view the ex-general as an uncompromising opponent of the rampant corruption that has dogged Nigeria for decades, though he has also been accused of major rights abuses during his time in power.

ANPP leader Ogbonnaya Onu was also on hand to show his backing for the alliance.

Picking a presidential ticket could prove the toughest test for the cohesion of the new alliance.

In Nigeria, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and mostly Christian south, analysts believe a successful ticket requires a member of each faith in order to have cross-nation appeal.

The southwest is considered ACN’s power base, where it holds the governorships of six of Nigeria’s 36 states. The CPC and ANPP are stronger in the north.

Jockeying for the 2015 vote is already well underway and Nigeria’s papers are filled with speculation about the various people eyeing Jonathan’s job.

While he is widely expected to run again, the president, a southern Christian, faces rivals within his own party, including those who believe he should stand aside in favour of a Muslim PDP leader from the north.