Nigeria’s main opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar on Thursday picked a governor from the oil producing Delta state as running mate for next year’s presidential election.
The choice points to a strategy by Abubakar, a northern Muslim, to generate support in the largely Christian south.
In Nigeria, with a population of 200 million and some 250 ethnic groups, geographical affiliations are crucial in calculations for political and electoral supremacy.
Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, 62, has been governor of Delta since 2015 and is a veteran of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) party.
“I know that he will not only add excitement to our already energised campaign, but will also help bring focus, discipline and stability to our government come 2023,” Abubakar said while presenting Okowa at the PDP offices in the capital Abuja.
Abubakar, a former vice president between 1999-2007 and former Lagos state governor Bola Tinubu, the ruling party candidate, are the leading contenders for the election to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari who steps down next year.
Abubakar said Okowa, a former senator, came with executive and legislative experience.
Okowa served in various posts in the Delta State government under former governor James Ibori, who was in office from 1999 to 2007.
Ibori was later extradited to Britain, where he pleaded guilty in 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering in relation to corruption during his years as governor and received a 13-year jail sentence.
Okowa has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Nigeria’s next president will face several security issues, including an Islamist insurgency, banditry and kidnappings, long-running unrest in the Niger Delta, herder-farmer confrontations and separatist agitation in the southeast.