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Feb 16, 2019: Young candidates challenging old guard in Nigerian election

NIGERIA - Africa’s most populous country goes to the polls, and the frontrunners in the field of some 35 presidential candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are over 70. Their age and Buhari’s apparent ill-health represent cudgels for young rivals.

Retired army general Buhari, 76, headed a military government in the 1980s, while Abubakar, 72, was vice-president under Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007.

Nigeria has a booming population, with a median age of just 18. High unemployment has been a persistent issue in Nigeria, particularly among the young. The age issue spurred the country’s youth movement. The Not Too Young to Run campaign, to allow younger people to seek office, succeeded in challenging the constitutional constraint against under-40 candidates.

The presidential candidates include 35-year-old Chike Ukaegbu, a New York-based tech entrepreneur: the Advanced Allied Party (AAP) candidate previously would not have been able to contest the election.

Buhari, a northern Muslim, made history as the first opposition leader in Nigeria to defeat an incumbent, but he has been beset by poor health since his election and has spent time in London receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness.

Voters will also elect the 109 senators and 360 congress legislators for the National Assembly, now controlled by the APC, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Buhari’s APC and the opposition PDP do not have clear ideological differences, according to Reuters. The news service points out that competition for control of national oil revenues by elites, patronage and complex rivalries between Nigeria’s hundreds of ethnic groups have played a much bigger role in elections than ideology.

Buhari promised in his 2015 victory to rid Nigeria of endemic corruption, fix the economy and defeat threats to security. He can point to some success in all these areas, but might struggle to argue against rivals’ claims that his age and illness make him physically unfit for another term.

Reuters notes that the country’s former military leaders retain a strong influence over politics nearly two decades after the advent of civilian rule.

#22785 Updated: 01/21/2019 UPDATED JAN 21 TO ADD ABUBAKAR

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