Abuja, Nigeria – Former Nigerian anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu launched his bid for presidential elections today with an appeal to the youth, saying events in Tunisia and Egypt showed a new generation was hungry for change.
Ribadu won international praise for arrests of graft suspects and seizures of assets as the first head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, but he is a relative political newcomer and is seen as a rank outsider in the polls.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate has won every presidential race in Africa’s most populous nation since the end of military rule in 1999 and President Goodluck Jonathan is widely expected to maintain that record.
But the PDP will face tougher challenges at parliamentary elections and state governorship polls also being held in April, where Ribadu’s opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party is hoping to gain ground.
The ACN controls four of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the commercial capital and its most populous city, Lagos.
Ribadu said that of around 66 million registered voters at least 46 million were below the age of 35, an “active, restless and curious” young electorate that would no longer accept the failed governance of the past.
“We have seen what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt.
In an exciting display of people’s power, these young men and women are demanding, negotiating and securing democracy through the slogan of change,” Ribadu said to applause.
“If we fail to urgently realise the vision of a modern Nigeria, the echoes of currently muted but potentially destabilising change will soon consume our land,” he said.
Few observers imagine Nigeria could see anything like the social upheaval witnessed in north Africa, where popular revolts have overthrown the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt this year.
A corrupted political system based on patronage, rather than an autocratic individual, lies behind many Nigerians’ sense of disenfranchisement, meaning there is no clear focus for revolt.
Like Ribadu, Jonathan has tried to appeal to the younger generation, first announcing on Facebook that he planned to run in the elections and promising to create new jobs.
But the failure by successive administrations in Africa’s biggest oil exporter to address basic issues such as access to good quality education and job creation means a rapidly growing population is struggling to pull itself up out of poverty.
Youth frustration underlies many of Nigeria’s security concerns, from high crime rates in urban areas to militant attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta and the ability of radical Islamist groups to recruit in the mostly-Muslim north.