Undisputedly, the most experienced of the presidential candidates at this year’s polls is Atiku Abubakar. He has been contesting every presidential election since 2007, and this will be his fifth attempt at the highest office of the land.

Mr Atiku’s campaign this political season has run mainly on two footings – first is that he is presented as one who will guarantee economic growth (because of his prominence as a successful businessman). Nigerians are expected to prosper under his regime. The second is that he is touted as a “unifier.” With these political messages, Atiku expects to be set on the path of winning the election. Nigeria is in dire need of economic development. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in its “Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index”, released in November 2022, stated that at least 133 million Nigerians live in multidimensional poverty. In terms of national unity, the country appears headed the way of Sudan, as there have been clamours for a breakup by major ethnic groups. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Yoruba Nation agitators are honourable mentions in this regard. For the entity called Nigeria to continue to exist, the individual occupying Aso Rock must be able to unify the country on terms satisfactory to everyone within the geographical space. This would also mean reducing the power concentrated at the centre (Abuja) and devolving more power and resources to states. It is thus commendable that Atiku’s manifesto is big on Nigeria achieving negotiated restructuring. The political structure of the Peoples Democratic Party is also an added advantage for Atiku at the polls.

However, despite Atiku’s experience and his party’s structure, there are stumbling blocks to his winning the presidency come February 2023. Top of that list is his alleged history of corruption. Mr Atiku is wealthy, and the source of his tremendous wealth has been repeatedly questioned especially because he served as a civil servant before delving into politics. It is widely believed that he made so much money as a result of sleazy activities while he was at the Nigeria Customs Service. This reputation factored in the choice of so many prospective voters in 2019 and arguably contributed to Mr Atiku’s loss to President Buhari in those elections.

Recently, a former aide to Mr Atiku, Michael Achimugu alleged that he (Atiku) committed corruption by proxy by setting up Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) – companies created under a parent company for specific or temporary purposes. Mr Achimugu’s revelations which included audio recordings, have complicated the picture for Mr Atiku. Asides from this, there are allegations that while serving as Vice President, many of the national assets that were to be sold under the privatisation programme of the Obasanjo Administration ended up in possession of Mr Atiku and his cronies. This is really a big dent in Mr Atiku’s ability to gain the votes of a lot of Nigerians.

Another factor that weighs against Mr Atiku’s chances of winning February’s election is his inability to get the endorsement of his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo. It has not escaped the notice of many commentators that a former boss is pointedly unwilling to support his former subordinate, a man with whom he governed the country for eight years. Many are asking why that is so.

Then there is the ethnic issue. The probability of an ethnic Fulani replacing another ethnic Fulani does not sit well with so many Nigerians, especially in the South. In Nigeria’s political environment, the expectation is that power at the centre should rotate to another ethnic group this time around. This sentiment favours the other two top contenders – Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC and Peter Obi of the Labour Party. To make things worse, Mr Atiku has done things that have led to accusations of bigotry in the buildup to this year’s polls. First was when he deleted a tweet from his account that condemned the murder of Deborah Samuel, a female student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, who was alleged to have blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammad. Then in October 2022 at a policy dialogue at the Arewa Town Hall in Kaduna, he was recorded to have told the Emirs and people present that the North needed a Northerner to be President and not a Yoruba man or an Igbo man. These two events did not go down well in southern Nigeria and have presented his detractors with ammunition that they have not hesitated to use.

The discord between a group of five dissident PDP governors and Atiku Abubakar cannot be left out of this discourse as it could deal the biggest blow to Mr Atiku’s quest to be president, if not settled before the elections. The G5, made up of Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), has been at loggerheads with Mr Atiku for not standing for diversity at the top hierarchy of the PDP. It was a consensus that if a Northerner emerged as the presidential candidate of the party, Iyorchia Ayu, the party chairman who is a Northerner would step down for a Southern chairman. But that has not played out. They have argued that the current setting of the party’s hierarchy is against the party’s constitution as the South is left out of the power playbook. Hence, the G5 has not supported Atiku’s ambition, with any of the governors yet to show up at any of his campaign events since the campaign season kicked off. It appears that the G5 governors will adopt a candidate outside of their party. Mr Wike has said that the G5 governors will soon shut the door of reconciliation. It is advisable that Atiku settles with them as their support is crucial to his emergence as President, especially in the South-South and South-East regions.

Despite these problems confronting Atiku Abubakar, we think that he is the likeliest of the top contenders to get the constitutionally required 25% of votes in two thirds of the Nigerian states while not winning the outright majority. This may work in his favour in the very event of a run-off, but we do not think he can take victory in the first round of the vote.