Former military dictator Buhari to challenge Goodluck Jonathan in close contest in Nigeria

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ABUJA, Nigeria — Former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari will challenge President Goodluck Jonathan at February presidential elections in Nigeria, according to results Thursday from party primaries.

The Feb. 14 vote is expected to be the most closely contested since decades of military rule ended in 1999 in Africa's most populous nation and its biggest oil producer.

Jonathan was the sole candidate at the governing party primaries though his election early Thursday flouted an unwritten party rule that the presidency should rotate between a Christian southerner, like himself, and a northern Muslim.

Dozens of ruling party legislators have defected over the issue, costing Jonathan's party its majority in the lower house of Parliament.

Nevertheless, Jonathan told party faithful Thursday that "today we are stronger, bigger, and more in tune with the yearnings of our people."

Buhari, a Muslim northerner who overthrew a democratically elected president in 1983 and then himself was deposed in a coup in 1985, handily won primaries of a four-party opposition coalition, according to results Thursday.

The opposition accuses Jonathan, 57, of failing to contain an Islamic uprising that has killed thousands and driven 1.2 million people from their homes.

It will be the fourth time at the presidential polls for Buhari, a 71-year-old former army general who is touted as more likely to succeed in the fight against the extremists. Buhari also is praised for fighting corruption while he was in power.

Alluding to that in a speech to party delegates, Buhari said "I am not a rich person. I can't give you a fistful of dollars or naira to purchase your support."

He accused Jonathan of incompetence, saying "Instead of resolving problems, this government multiplies and manufactures them."

Jonathan is accused of fueling corruption in an administration that has confronted one multimillion-dollar scandal after another.

In his acceptance speech, Jonathan said Nigeria's GDP has grown from $35.9 billion when his party came to power in 1999 to $510 billion today.

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