Buhari's stronghold becomes key battleground in tight Nigeria election
(Repeats story, text unchanged)
* Northwest Nigeria has highest number of voters
* Buhari secured 90 percent of vote in regional hub Kano in
By Aaron Ross
KANO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Sunday Nicholas voted for
Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria's 2015 presidential election, but
the 32-year-old factory worker in the northern city of Kano was
casting his ballot on Saturday for the president's challenger,
"Most of the (workers) cannot feed their families," Nicholas
said as he queued in a dusty schoolyard to vote. People are
suffering, he said. "There is no improvement."
If Buhari is turfed out of office when the results are
tallied this week a major cause is likely to be defections by
voters in the northwest, once Buhari's most important electoral
stronghold, where anger over a feeble economy and disaffection
from local bigwigs has loosened his grip.
A quarter of Nigeria's nearly 73 million eligible voters are
in the northwest, the country's most densely-populated region.
Buhari received nearly 90 percent of Kano state's vote in 2015,
running up a 1.7 million vote edge that accounted for more than
half of his final margin of victory over then-president Goodluck
But he faces stiffer headwinds this time around. Many voters
are dissatisfied with an economy still sputtering after a 2016
recession. And his main opponent Atiku is also a northern Muslim
rather than a southern Christian like Jonathan.
Atiku stands to benefit from the support of influential
local powerbrokers who have rallied behind the opposition
candidate after falling out with Buhari and his allies.
The most important among them, Rabiu Kwankwaso, is a
senator, two-time governor of Kano State and so-called
"godfather", a term for local Nigerian kingmakers who draw their
influence from elaborate patronage networks.
The 62-year-old Kwankwaso has a loyal core of supporters
known as "Kwankwasiyya" who are readily identifiable by their
woven red caps. He quit Buhari's ruling All Progressives
Congress (APC) last year amid a wave of defections to the
opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP).
In a sign of Kano's newfound battleground status,
Kwankwasiyya members on their way to a rally outside Kano city
clashed with APC members on Thursday, leading to several
injuries and torched vehicles. Each side blamed the other.
PDP officials say Atiku could net as much as 40 or even 50
percent of the vote in Kano State. APC supporters dismiss that,
although they concede that Atiku will make some inroads.
"It will not be like what happened in 2015," said Baballe
Hayatu, 40, an actor in the local film industry, who was waiting
to vote for Buhari.
"There was this security challenge so everyone was desperate
in 2015," he said, referring to surging violence by militant
group Boko Haram at the time that fed widespread rejection of
But even if his four years in office have taken some of the
lustre off Buhari, he remains popular in Kano, perceived by many
as an incorruptible foe of the rampant graft that has plagued
Nigerian politics for decades.
"He's an honest man. He's a correct leader," said Zainab
Habib Haruna, 32, a teacher.
(Writing by Aaron Ross
Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Peter Graff)
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