Former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke has declared his aspiration to contest in next year’s presidential election, but held off declaring which party he would represent.
Duke was in charge of Cross Rivers for eight years until 2007 and is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But he has been linked to a movement backed by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who has fiercely criticised Nigeria’s incumbent Muhammadu Buhari.
Obasanjo said in January that Buhari, whose fitness to govern has been questioned after he spent months in London last year being treated for an undisclosed illness, needed a “deserved rest”.
Buhari, who like Obasanjo previously headed a military government, had shown a poor grasp of the economy, foreign policy and Nigeria’s complex internal politics, he added.
Another former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida has equally implied Buhari should step aside instead of seeking a second, four-year term, saying “analogue” leaders should make way for “digital” rulers.
At 56, Duke is so far the youngest declared candidate, just behind the outgoing Ekiti state governor Ayodele Fayose, also of the PDP.
Another PDP presidential hopeful, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, is 71, while Buhari, who looks likely to win the All Progressives Congress ticket unopposed, is 75.
Nigeria recently lowered age limits for political candidates to reflect changing demographics in Africa’s most populous nation and usher in younger leaders.
Duke said: “It’s ridiculous to have a leadership with people of 75 or above in a country where the age average is 21 or 22 years old.
“They can’t be in touch with the people and their reality.”
Since the return to civilian rule in 1999, Nigeria has rotated the presidency between the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south in a process known as “zoning”.
The 2019 elections are expected to see two northern candidates, including Buhari, and the PDP has already said its candidate would be from the north.
Where that leaves Duke’s candidacy is unclear — if he plumps for the PDP — but he said “zoning” was not a constitutional imperative.
“It has been imposed by people who want to use it to their own advantage,” he said.
“I’m not running as a southerner. I’m running as a Nigerian, I want to represent the nation as a whole.”
Asked about his programme, he said he wanted to revitalise the economy, which has struggled to emerge from the worst recession the country has seen in 25 years.
“Buhari caused the recession. He didn’t know what he was doing and people (investors) left, there was a lack of confidence.”