February 11, 2019 (190211)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
“The presidential contest ... will likely be a straight contest
between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives
Congress (APC) and challenger Atiku Abubakar of the People’s
Democratic Party (PDP). Dozens of other candidates will be
competing. These include: Oby Ezekwesili, the former minister and
founder of the Bring Back Our Girls movement; Professor Kingsley
Moghalu, the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of
Nigeria; and Omoyele Sowore, the owner of the media outlet Sahara
Reporters. But when it comes down to it, it will be a two-horse
race.” - Idayat Hassan
Observers hesitate to predict outcomes for Nigeria´s 2019
presidential and national assembly elections, scheduled for
Saturday, Feb. 16. But there is a consensus that, with little
ideological difference between the two major parties, it will
depend on a host of factors varying by states in this complex
In addition, notes a recent news release based on 2018 Gallup
polls (http://tinyurl.com/ybv9cge4), only a minority of Nigerians
trust the honesty of their political system:
“Although it's still not terribly high, Nigerians are almost three
times as confident in the honesty of their elections ahead of
their next presidential one on Feb. 16 than they were in 2014
before their last election. Roughly a third of Nigerians (34%) now
say they have confidence in the honesty of the country's
elections, compared with 13% in 2014.”
The issues for ordinary Nigerians will remain the same after as
before the election: corruption, the economy, and security. But
the fact that there has been vigorous debate and civil society
input during the election campaign seems to indicate further
consolidation of functioning albeit challenged democratic
institutions. Surveys by Afrobarometer (http://www.afrobarometer.org/countries/nigeria-0) show that
despite their doubts, most Nigerians “strongly support
elections and party competition but offer mixed assessments of the
quality of their elections and largely mistrust the electoral
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two analytical overview
articles on the election, from November and December respectively,
by Idayat Hassan of the Centre for Development and Democracy in
Abuja and by Carl LeVan, of American University in Washington, DC.
Both articles discuss the issues in the election, but Idayat
Hassan´s analysis also dips into the electoral math at regional level,
as essential for analysis of Nigerian politics as it is in the
American federal system. Also included is an additional set of
links to other relevant recent sources.
Idayat Hassan is director of the Centre for Democracy and
Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research
organization with focus on deepening democracy and development in
What concerns will sway voters? Which regions will
decide Nigeria’s next president?
Oby Ezekwesili entered the presidential race in October 2018,
but dropped out in late January when her party switched its support
to the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari.
Election season is in full swing in Nigeria.
In the presidential contest, we now know it will likely be a
straight contest between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling
All Progressives Congress (APC) and challenger Atiku Abubakar of
the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Dozens of other candidates will be competing. These include: Oby
Ezekwesili, the former minister and founder of the Bring Back Our
Girls movement; Professor Kingsley Moghalu, the former deputy
governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; and Omoyele Sowore, the
owner of the media outlet Sahara Reporters. But when it comes down
to it, it will be a two-horse race.
This will not be the first time Buhari, 75, and Atiku, 71, have
faced one another. Both men contested the 2007 presidential
elections, coming a distant second and third behind the PDP’s
Umaru Yar’Adua. In 2014, the two met again in the APC primaries,
with Buhari emerging victorious.
These past races offer little guidance, however, for how the 2019
presidential election between these two gladiators of Nigerian
politics might play out.
There are two ways of assessing their chances of electoral
success: by looking at the main issues and where they stand on
them; and by looking at the electoral maths required to win and
seeing how they are each faring.
First, the issues. Nigerian voters have many concerns, but for
many, the key concerns are the same three that dominated the 2015
In 2015, Buhari drew heavily on his reputation as incorruptible as
he vowed to root out corruption. In 2019, he will undoubtedly
reiterate this promise and has some things to boast about. His
government claims to have recovered N1 trillion ($2.75 billion) in
stolen assets. It has made giant strides in implementing the
Treasury Single Account (TSA) to reduce leakages. And it has
overseen the conviction of two former governors.
Many, however, see President Buhari’s war on corruption as
disappointing. In particular, critics accuse the government of
only targeting political opponents, while allowing its cronies to
In this campaign, though, the ruling APC has a clear advantage on
this issue. The PDP is remembered for plundering the state during
its previous sixteen years in power. Meanwhile, its flag-bearer,
the former vice-president from 1999 to 2007, is one of the
country’s richest politicians and has faced several allegations of
fraud. In some circles, Atiku’s very name is synonymous with highlevel
Many of the fiercest accusations against the PDP candidate have
come from former president Olusegun Obasanjo. After the two fell
out dramatically in 2006, Obasanjo repeatedly insisted that his
former deputy was corrupt and unfit for office. That was at least
until a few weeks ago, when Obasanjo changed tack. It remains to
be seen if this reconciliation will alleviate the heavy cloud of
corruption hanging over Atiku’s head.
Buhari’s main challenge in office has been the struggling economy,
which plunged into recession in 2016. It has since recovered, but
growth remains slow. Before Buhari took office in 2015, one US
dollar bought between N199 and N220. It recently stabilised at
around N360, having soared to an all-time high of N450.
Given this context, Atiku is promising to revitalise the economy
and emphasising his experience. Atiku has business interests
across Nigeria and claims to have provided 50,000 direct jobs and
250,000 indirect jobs. He will likely talk up the fact that he
oversaw the privatisation efforts under Obasanjo, though the APC
may respond by claiming Atiku fraudulently enriched himself
through this same process.
His selection of Peter Obi, former Anambra state governor and an
astute business man, as his running mate further boosts his
economic credentials. Meanwhile, his related promises to
restructure the federal system and devote a minimum of 21% of the
budget to education may also win him some supporters.
For Buhari, the economy may be a weakness. But he will also have
the advantage of incumbency. His administration is currently
implementing social intervention programmes said to be touching
the lives of thousands. In recent months, it has also launched a
collateral-free loan scheme for micro-businesses, which could win
sympathies among many nationwide.
In office, President Buhari has made significant progress
combating Boko Haram. The insurgents previously controlled a
sizeable portion of the North East, but are now a weakened force.
Buhari is lauded for his actions in this area, but Atiku may also
seek credit for mobilising hunters to wade off the militants in
his native Adamawa.
While the threat from Boko Haram may have diminished to an extent,
however, insecurity pervades much of the rest of the country.
Nigeria faces the escalating herders-farmers conflict, Biafra
separationist agitations, armed banditry and kidnapping to name a
few. Buhari has been seen to be slow to respond to many of these
threats and has been accused of only caring about issues that
affect his own ethnic group.
Atiku can mount a serious challenge in the 2019 elections. He is
up against a candidate who spent seven months in treating an
undisclosed ailment and whose national approval rating is at just
40% according to Buharimeter. The PDP challenger can also rely on
the full party machinery now he has won the primaries and draw on
the influence of party stalwarts. Meanwhile, the formation of the
opposition Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) means
there will be fewer candidates to split the anti-APC vote.
That being said, the incumbent has the advantage. In 2015, Buhari
won by a significant margin of 2.5 million votes. Although his
record in office has been mixed, 2019 looks like his election to
Below is a breakdown of the race in Nigeria’s six geopolitical
zones. For context:
There are currently 84,271,832 registered voters nationwide.
In 2011, Buhari got 12.2 million votes (32%) to Goodluck
Jonathan’s 22.5 million (59%).
In 2015, Buhari got 15.4 million votes (54%) to Jonathan’s 12.9
President Buhari is adored by peasants in northern Nigeria. He is
popularly referred to by them as Mai Gaskiya, which translates
roughly to “trustworthy” in Hausa. According to a source, the more
Buhari is criticised, the more people in the north love him.
The North West, by far Nigeria’s most populous zone, is
particularly strong Buhari territory. In both 2011 and 2015, he
won all seven states. His approval rating here is 58%.
Kano state alone has 5,462,898 registered voters (as at August
2018), making it the country’s second biggest voting bloc after
Lagos. Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje wields extensive influence
in this state and has promised Buhari a gargantuan 5 million votes
in the presidential poll. The governor already delivered 2.9
million votes for Buhari in the APC’s questionable primaries.
There are a couple of factors going against the APC, however.
Firstly, the conduct of the APC primaries has created some
discontent within the party. And secondly, former Kano governor
Rabiu Kwankwaso, who helped Buhari win big in 2015, has defected
to the PDP and declared his full support for Atiku.
Buhari is similarly well-liked in the North East, where he is
credited with suppressing Boko Haram and bringing normalcy to
Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. This zone has also benefited
significantly from patronage politics under Buhari, who has
recruited many of his top lieutenants from the North East. His
approval rating here is 57%.
Atiku is from the North East, specifically Adamawa state. He also
has some important allies in the zone. In Gombe, Governor Ibrahim
Hassan Dankwambo will help him win votes. And in Taraba, former
minister Aisha Alhassan will also exert her influence in Atiku’s
favour having recently walked out of the APC.
Helped by popular frustrations at Taraba’s ongoing insecurity,
Alhassan’s extensive influence means she is likely to help
maintain the PDP’s record of winning this state. However, Atiku
faces an uphill battle everywhere else in a zone that voted
overwhelming for Buhari in 2015.
The North Central zone is traditionally Nigeria’s swing region. In
2011, Buhari only won in Niger state. In 2015, he won four states
– Kwara, Kogi, Benue and Niger – and lost in relatively close
races in Plateau, Nasarawa and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)
In 2019, Buhari may find it harder going than the last time. Many
people are unhappy with the government’s response to herder-farmer
clashes, which have ravaged Plateau and Benue states in
Meanwhile, political realignments in several states could make
things tough for Buhari. Two defections to the PDP stand out in
particular: Bukola Saraki, the Senate President and former Kwara
governor; and Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue. Their switches of
allegiance could make this zone more competitive.
The South West will be closely fought. In 2015, the PDP only won
one of the six states here, but still managed to get 40.12% of the
Some believe the APC will do better in 2019 than in the last
elections. This is in part thanks to Buhari’s decision to
posthumously honour MKO Abiola, the winner of the annulled 1993
presidential elections, and move Democracy Day to the 12 June, the
date of that vote. Abiola, who grew up in Ogun state, is still
celebrated in the South West and around Nigeria. Buhari is also
aided by the fact the APC can draw on the influence of all six
governors in the South West, the prominent former Lagos governor
Bola Tinubu, and his Ogun-born vice-president Yemi Osinbajo.
Some factors could undermine the party’s fortunes, however. The
APC primaries have created some disgruntled figures. Many voters
see the administration’s performance in the past few years as
lacklustre. And the powerful church could yet play a significant
and thus far unclear role.
The huge Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos may back
Osinbajo, which would consolidate support for Buhari. But others
like televangelist Tunde Bakare, who first publicly announced the
candidature of Oby Ezekwisili, could encourage voters to support
her, potentially drawing votes away from the leading candidates.
The APC and Buhari brands play poorly in the South East and they
are even less popular following their handling of the Biafra
secessionist movement. Many in the South East believe the region
is marginalised, and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has
been agitating for independence in the past few years. The
government has responded heavy-handedly with clampdowns and
All this means that the PDP is likely to do very well here once
again. The fact that Atiku picked Peter Obi, a former Anambra
governor, as his running mate will further attract support.
The downside for the PDP is that the South East is the zone with
the fewest registered voters, accounting for just 12.04% of the
nationwide total. Turnout also tends be low. In 2015, it was just
39% in this region, and it could remain low especially with IPOB
calling on supporters to boycott all elections until the
government agrees to hold a referendum on independence.
The South South will also largely back the PDP as it did
overwhelmingly in 2011 and 2015. The region – and in particular
the populous Rivers state – will likely be a vote bank for Atiku.
In these efforts, the party will be aided by Nyesom Wike, the
Rivers state governor, a powerful PDP mobiliser.
Buhari will not mount a serious challenge to Atiku in the South
South. But he might expect his meagre 7.96% vote share from 2015
to increase following the defections of two former governors –
Akwa Ibom’s Godswill Akpabio and Delta’s Emmanuel Uduaghan – to
Other recent sources worth noting
On the elections:
Idayat Hassan, “From Boko to Biafra: How insecurity will affect
Nigeria’s elections,” African Arguments, Dec. 18, 2018
And a feature story on candidate Omoyele Sowore, investigative
journalist and activist: “Is spicy Omoyele Sowore the “deviant”
Nigeria needs?,” African Arguments, Feb. 1, 2019
“Government failures fuel escalating conflict between farmers and
herders as death toll nears 4,000,” Amnesty International, Dec.
17, 2018 http://tinyurl.com/ycbe59c2
“Working for Peace in North-East Nigeria: A Challenge for Nigerian
Trade Unions,” Solidarity Center, September 2018 http://tinyurl.com/yanfvmee
Report, in collaboration with the Nigeria Labour Congress, on the
impact of Boko Haram on North-East Nigeria, and how education and
health workers are the key to sustainable recovery.
At left: Presidential candidate Omoyole Sowore completes Lagos City Marathon two weeks before elections.
Nigeria: Identities, Insecurity, and Integrity in Dead Heat
[Carl LeVan, American University, is the author of Contemporary
Nigerian Politics: Competition in a Time of Transition and
Lagos — A few weeks after Muhammadu Buhari's stunning electoral
victory in 2015, he declared: "From the first day of my
administration, Boko Haram will know the strength of our
collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and
bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas."
Since he penned that promise in The New York Times, Nigeria has
suffered at least 5,757 deaths attributable to Boko Haram, 2,984
blamed on state actors, and another 4,013 that point to some
combination of the two, according to Council on Foreign Relations
data. In addition, hundreds of Shiite religious minorities died at
the hands of the military, violence between farmers and
pastoralists has exploded, and a secessionist movement in the
southeast is simmering.
At the moment, the February 2019 presidential election in Nigeria
appears to be a dead heat. A September poll by National NOI
reported that 43% of Nigerians approved of Buhari's performance,
42% disapproved, and a rather sizeable 15% of the population was
up for grabs. Research for my new book, and some survey data,
suggest that Buhari's record on insecurity is not necessarily
critical to winning the 2019 election.
In response to an open-ended survey question in 2017,
Afrobarometer found unemployment and "management of the economy,"
ranked first and second (53 percent and 35 percent, respectively)
among citizens' priorities. Insecurity was not mentioned.
I found that insecurity, and specifically concern about Boko
Haram-related violence, ranked high among citizens' minds in the
two years or so before the 2015 election. But Buhari's All
Progressive Congress (APC) won on a platform that emphasized
economic growth, anticorruption, and electoral integrity. Through
a content analysis of 929 coded references, I found that the APC
and the then-incumbent People's Democratic Party (PDP)
systematically emphasized different issues. One unexpected finding
concerned the "non-issues" that the PDP talked about: the party
barons were more likely to campaign by attending funerals,
weddings, and parties. The PDP also failed to capitalize on some
of its strengths, including gender and some modest improvements
for women during President Goodluck Jonathan's tenure. The APC
mentioned such "social issues" twice as much, despite Buhari's
outdated views on women.
These findings are important because they demonstrate that there
were substantive differences between what Nigeria's parties talked
about in 2015. While these differences might not amount to the
ideological contrasts nostalgically recalled from postindependence
era, it does suggest that issues and party platforms
are starting to matter. My statistical analysis of survey data
shows that President Jonathan's team sought to mobilize the
party's base by cultivating political polarization on the issue of
insecurity. In the end, poorer, more economically pessimistic
voters rallied to Buhari. I found that citizens' evaluation of
past economic performance, self-reported level of wealth, and
expectations for which party would improve the economy, all
strongly correlated with voting intentions in 2015.
Once again, the ruling party is vulnerable on the economic issues.
Nigeria's economy contracted by 1.6 percent in 2016. Inflation
remains high – around 11 percent. Though oil prices have
recovered, and the World Bank's forecast for 2018 is about 2.1
percent GDP growth, this does not appear to give Buhari a strong
issue to run on.
In such situations, the classic African story is for politicians
to turn to social cleavages to mobilize voters. In 2015, I found
that religion predicted Nigerians' voting preferences even more
reliably than ethnicity. Specifically, an individual's selfidentification
as a Muslim corresponded with a nearly 56 percent
decline in support for Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent, Christian
president from the south.
These results hold up even after controlling for factors that
could interfere with the predicted relationship, such as income,
education, gender, age, and the popularity of a state's governor.
This mitigates some of the "good" news from my findings about the
PDP and the APC campaigning on different issues, and the
politicization of religion is a warning for future electoral
However, for 2019, both candidates are northern Muslims. Buhari is
squaring off against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, from
Adamawa (one of the northeastern states heavily impacted by Boko
Haram). The two candidates will therefore need to distinguish
themselves on the issues in order to win.
Anti-corruption remains Buhari's strongest card to play. Two
former governors, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame have both been
sentenced. While corruption investigations are common and
allegations are an impulsive political habit, convictions of highlevel
officials are very rare.
Despite the lagging economy, Buhari might construct an effective
message there. As I show in my book, voting on the economy is not
simply about evaluations about past performance or a voters'
subjective condition. It is also about whether voters believe the
candidate offers a convincing message of hope.
However, such a message has been contaminated by Buhari's
credibility gap in other areas. As President Jonathan learned with
the #BringBackOurGirls movement, mishandling one policy area
results in reputational spillover to other areas. President Buhari
recently had to offer a "proof of life" in response to bizarre
allegations flooding social media that he was no longer alive and
the government was using a body double. This appears intended to
cynically evoke memories of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's long
absence from public view due to poor health in 2010.
Buhari also left the country for seven weeks to receive medical
treatment. More importantly, Buhari's administration has often
misled the public about progress against Boko Haram. Most
recently, the military very publicly disputed casualty figures in
recent battles, since larger losses by the Army would imply that
the insurgency remains deadly – and Buhari has not lived up to his
2015 campaign promises. The Islamic State West Africa's Province
(ISWAP) currently claims to control areas such as Buni Gari, and
apparently the military did not successfully re-take the towns of
Arge and Kangarwa.
At its worst, the administration has put civilians at the center
of this propaganda war. Refugees International earlier this year
noted that humanitarian agencies could not reach 930,000 people in
need of assistance due to military restrictions on movement, and
many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were being pressured to
return. A veneer of normalcy, with former victims returning home,
would create compelling optimistic optics.
However, the northeast remains anything but normal. The United
Nations estimated in September that 7.7 million people require
humanitarian assistance in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Thus,
even if insecurity and the humanitarian crisis are not the
priority they were for voters in 2015, they could hurt his chances
by influencing the public's assessment of his promises.
My analysis of the last election also offers an important finding
that should inform both the conduct and the content of the current
presidential campaigns: in 2015 voters demanded electoral
integrity and rewarded the party that offered it. Voters need to
believe the probity of the democratic process itself, and in the
long run, all Nigerians win with free and fair elections.
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