A leading Nigerian opposition politician on Thursday said he intended to run for president in 2019, becoming the first candidate to stake his claim for the country’s top job.
Peter Ayodele Fayose, the governor of the southwestern state of Ekiti, formally launched his bid to be the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate at an Abuja hotel.
The 56-year-old has been one of the most outspoken critics of President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party.
“This is to inform you formally that I will seek to contend the 2019 presidential election,” he said in a speech.
“I am confident that with your support as my party leaders and supporters I will defeat the incumbent president… in a free and fair election.”
But Fayose could face an uphill battle for the nomination as the party has said its presidential candidate for the February 16, 2019 vote will be from the Muslim-majority north.
Many PDP lawmakers quit the party before the 2015 election because then-president Goodluck Jonathan reneged on an apparent promise to step down for a northern candidate.
No obvious candidate from the north has yet emerged but there has been speculation northeasterner and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar could leave the APC and rejoin the PDP.
He has made several previous bids for the presidency.
– Chibok ‘fake’ –
One of Fayose’s supporters, former aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode, said which geographical “zone” the candidate came from was immaterial.
“If nobody has come out from the north… are we meant to wait?” Fani-Kayode, who was spokesman for Jonathan’s failed re-election bid in 2015, told delegates.
“I believe he (Fayose) has done the right and appropriate thing to begin the process and he will make an excellent president.”
Soon after Fayose spoke, Ekiti state government spokesman Lere Olayinka said the anti-corruption agency had arrested the state’s finance commissioner and accountant general.
“Fear of Gov Fayose’s presidential declaration?” he wrote on social media.
There was no immediate response when AFP contacted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Buhari was elected on a pledge to root out endemic corruption but the PDP has accused him of a witch-hunt as most of those arrested have been their party members.
Fayose has called for the 74-year-old Buhari to resign and criticised his decision to be treated abroad for an undisclosed illness that has kept him out of the country for most of the year.
He claimed during the 2015 election campaign that Buhari had terminal prostate cancer, was too old to be president and would die in office.
In May last year, Fayose declared “war” against nomadic herdsmen — most of them northerners and Muslim — following clashes with largely Christian farmers in Ekiti.
He has also said Boko Haram’s kidnapping for more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014 was fake and a political ploy by the north to topple southerner Jonathan.