Less than two weeks from national polls, Nigeria’s ruling party is facing unprecedented shifts in the politics of religion that could spell trouble for the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan.
While he may still be the favourite on February 14, experts said some factors could remove his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power for the first time since the end of military rule in 1999.
Opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, has gained surprising traction in the mostly Christian south, despite sustained PDP efforts to paint him as a religious extremist.
Jonathan has been heavily criticised for his apparent failure to reduce graft in Africa’s most populous country and top economy, where billions of dollars in public money have been stolen, especially in the oil sector.
Boko Haram’s brutal uprising has also worsened each year under Jonathan’s watch, with more than 13,000 people killed since 2009.
For Dapo Thomas, political scientist at Lagos State University, the emphasis on a candidate’s religion and tribe has “driven merit to the backseat”.
Jonathan beat Buhari by roughly 10 million votes in 2011, winning roughly eight million in the north and the religiously divided central states.
If Jonathan’s support in the north collapses and Buhari makes inroads in the south, analysts said the president could lose.
Buhari is helped by the fact that he is leading a united opposition, unlike in 2011 when rival candidates peeled off more than three million votes.