'Get working again': Nigeria's Abubakar launches poll campaign

A record 79 candidates are in the race for the Nigerian presidential election scheduled in February.

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    Ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar (pictured) is one of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari's main opponents [Tife Owolabi/Reuters]
    Ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar (pictured) is one of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari's main opponents [Tife Owolabi/Reuters]

    Abuja, Nigeria Nigeria's main opposition leader Atiku Abubakar has vowed to get the country "working again" by reviving its economy as he launched his 2019 presidential elections campaign.

    In a Facebook Live address on Monday, the former vice president promised to create millions of jobs to tackle rising inequality and insecurity in Africa's top oil-producing country.

    "The sad fact today, as you know, is that too many of our people are not working and are living in poverty and insecurity," Abubakar said.

    "Almost all indices on socioeconomic and political development have plummeted, throwing over 70 percent of Nigerians into unprecedented poverty," the 71-year-old added.

    "The most important question in this election is: are you better off than you were four years ago, are you richer or poorer? That is why our primary focus is to get Nigeria working again."

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    Abubakar's comments came a day after the official start of campaigning for the elections, which are scheduled to be held on February 16, 2019.

    Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to step up the fight against corruption as he bids for a second term.

    "Corruption is an existential threat to Nigeria. Despite the gains we made in closing the gaps, we know that there is still much ground to cover to stop the systemic corruption," Buhari said on Sunday in the capital, Abuja.

    "We are committed to deepening the work we started this first term," added Buhari, who in 2015 became the first opposition candidate to defeat a sitting president.

    Record candidates

    Nigeria's election commission has cleared a record 79 candidates in the race for the nation's top job, including Buhari, who belongs to the All Progressives Congress party.

    Campaigning for the Nigerian presidential elections officially begun on Sunday [Tife Owolabi/Reuters]

    Abubakar, seen as his closest rival, is from the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

    Another prominent challenger is Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister and World Bank vice president, who is hoping to end the "duopoly" of the two leaders.

    Ezekwesili, the cofounder of a group that raises awareness about the nearly 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram armed group, was nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

    Sluggish economy

    Unveiling his plan to ramp up growth in his policy document, Abubakar targeted a gross domestic product of $900bn by 2025 - more than double the current amount - and vowed to lift "at least 50 million people out of extreme poverty".

    "It only takes a man with a vision and a mission to properly articulate a document that touches on every critical areas to fix Nigeria," Jackson Ude, member of the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), told Al Jazeera.

    But Kayode Ogundamisi, a Buhari supporter, dismissed Abubakar's policy document as "flowery".

    "The Atiku document did not disappoint those of us who have always told Nigerians that the former vice president does not have anything different to offer," Ogundamisi told Al Jazeera. 

    For its part, the PDP has denounced Buhari's presidency as a failure, highlighting his inability to fix the nation's economy and tackle insecurity.

    Last year, Nigeria emerged from its first recession in 25 years, but growth remains sluggish and inflation has remained high. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, has more than doubled since 2015.

    Uche Ezechukwu, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the economy will play a crucial role in the upcoming polls.

    "The most germane issue is the capacity of any candidate to ameliorate the economic situation," he said.

    Security issues

    Buhari, 75, a former military general, came to power in 2015 pledging to end Boko Haram attacks - but has struggled to fulfil the promise.

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    The armed group might have been pushed out of the Nigerian territories it held but continues to ambush security forces, launch attacks and stage kidnappings.

    Despite the government insisting that Boko Haram is near defeat, northern Nigeria is still beleaguered by heavy fighting.

    More than 20,000 people have been killed since the group's campaign to establish a breakaway Islamic state in northeast Nigeria began in 2009, while over two million others have been to flee their homes.

    Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the transparency of the impending vote following allegations of irregularities, rigging and vote-buying in recent local elections.

    Buhari has repeatedly said the vote will be "free and fair" but civil society groups and opposition parties have accused the country's electoral body of bias.

    "Most Nigerians distrust the capacity of the government to deliver a free and fair election," Ezechukwu, the analyst, said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News