A close race was predicted between Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival Atiku Abubakar. In the end the incumbent won the Nigerian presidential election with almost four million votes.
After the results were declared, Atiku cried foul, pointing out numerous flaws and manipulations of the electoral process. He also threatened legal action although it remains to be seen if the Peoples Democratic Party candidate will file suit within 21 days of the vote as required.
Meanwhile, international leaders have already congratulated Buhari and his All Progressives’ Congress. This is to be expected. External actors have often tended to prefer stability over denunciation when it comes to incredulous election results.
Hence this still begs the question: did Buhari actually win? Several problems marked the electoral process itself. But, in my view, while the election results were prone to manipulation, the result indicates that Buhari’s party did in fact win.
The question is: how did he do it given his poor track record in his first term? Several factors stand out from the election results: Buhari’s continued popularity in the north, combined with voter apathy in the south. And the fact that Atiku was an uninspiring contestant.
Buhari came to power in 2015 after defeating incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan with around 2.5 million votes. His victory at the time can be attributed to his tough stance on corruption, his poverty alleviation promises, and the Jonathan administration’s failure to curb the Boko Haram crisis.
In addition, Jonathan’s decision to run again as a Southern candidate had caused rifts in the Peoples Democratic Party with many, especially northern, political stalwarts defecting to the All Progressives’ Congress during his presidency. Buhari’s candidacy had already been strengthened by his coalition with the south-western Action Congress of Nigeria.
Buhari’s first term in office can be rated rather poorly.
His administration was struck with the double whammy of a severe recession and a drop in revenues from oil due to falling oil prices. The government’s responses were slow and mostly inadequate. This was partly due to Buhari’s long absence from home undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness.
The Buhari government also didn’t perform very well on the security. While the Boko Haram crisis was pushed back during his first year in office, it resurfaced as the group split into several deadly factions. Farmer-herder conflict in the Middle Belt has also spun out of control. And the roots of new violent crises may have been laid with the brutal repression of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra movement as well as the arrest of Muslim clerk El-Zakzaky and violence against his followers.
Finally, while Buhari has indeed taken actions against corruption, the battle against graft has often appeared to be a battle against political enemies. And little has been achieved at the policy level due to severe legislative-executive gridlock during his first term.
So why the win?
In the end the electoral map of 2019 closely resembles that of 2015 with most northern and south-western states going to the All Progressives’ Congress. In Lagos, the All Progressives’ Congress won a slight majority in the face of economic decline, but campaigned primarily to get voters to go to the polls. This only partly succeeded.
In the north, the All Progressives’ Congress’s vote share generally dropped on a state-by-state level, but turnout was high enough vis-à-vis the south to win the elections overall.
The Peoples Democratic Party did not substantially increase its leverage in the Middle Belt states, which are most affected by the herdsmen-farmer conflict. Particularly noteworthy is Atiku’s poor performance in the North in general. His home state of Adamawa was only won with a slim majority.
Buhari’s continued popularity in the North can partly be explained by the fact that the region is more insulated from international market dynamics. This means that the effects of the recession were less severe. While poverty remains more entrenched in the region, this was to some extent alleviated by the government’s subsidy programmes. These also extended patronage to localities which had before largely been excluded from such networks.
Besides this, and from a more emotional perspective, many of Buhari’s supporters still continue to view him as their political messiah.
Atiku had his weaknesses
After its loss to the All Progressives’ Congress in 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party itself remained for a long time mired in internal conflict. In the middle of a leadership crisis, the party lost political elites and followers, also due to the sudden cut-off from patronage resources.
The party came together again near the end of 2017, but had to rebuild its grassroots structures in many areas. This could have led to the lack of mobilisation in the south. While the All Progressives’ Congress lost important political figures, the party also convinced some powerful Peoples Democratic Party politicians in the South to defect in the run-up to the elections.
Another factor was that, while rotational politics necessitated a northern candidate, Atiku’s candidacy may not have resonated particularly strongly in the south.
Besides his regional origin, Atiku as a candidate also had his weaknesses, including a credibility problem due to the riches he collected during his time in office as vice-president and his old age. For many voters in both the north and the south, Atiku represented a return to the past rather than a break from traditional Nigerian politics.
Buhari’s first term record has little to show for it, but it is in the end still possible that he did win the elections, simply because the Peoples Democratic Party could not provide any viable alternative.
Nigeria has postponed its 2019 presidential elections. The presidential and parliamentary votes have been rescheduled for February 23rd and the gubernatorial, state assembly and federal area council elections have been rescheduled for March 9th.
The Independent National Electoral Commission made the announcement hours before voting was scheduled to start on February 16.
The country’s electoral commission had three years in which to prepare for the poll. The postponement can therefore be viewed as a display of utter incompetence and inefficiency. It is the first time since 1999 – when Nigeria shunned military rule for democracy – that a Nigerian electoral commission has failed so spectacularly.
This is not the first time an election has been postponed in Nigeria. But reasons cited on previous occasions – such as the threat posed by Boko Haram – had more substance and felt more legitimate.
This time the electoral commission cited logistics as the reason for the postponement. This was despite the fact that just 24 hours before the poll it said all systems were in place for the election to go ahead.
The postponement therefore raises a number of serious questions. For example, where the logistical problems foreseeable and preventable? What will be done to ensure the safekeeping of ballot materials that have been deployed to various polling agencies? How will this affect the competitive edge of smaller political parties with limited resources who have already planned on elections happening on the scheduled dates? And how does this affect the future participation of millions of Nigerians who already travelled to their home states to vote and may not be able to do so on the new scheduled dates?
As a result, the decision has left many Nigerians wondering about the effectiveness of the electoral commission. Since the announcement of the election, various political parties and political analysts have debated its ability to run an efficient poll. This in turn has fuelled a sense that the commission doesn’t have the ability to conduct free and fair elections.
Members of the main political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party – are already trading allegations over what could be interpreted as a plan to rig the elections.
In their press statement the All Progressives Congress alleged that supporters of the main opposition party were confident a day before the election that the poll was going to be postponed. The suggestion is that the People’s Democratic Party strategy had always been to orchestrate the postponement of the elections as it did during the 2015 elections when it was the ruling party.
For their part, members of the People’s Democratic Party allege that the postponement is an indication that the ruling party is afraid of losing. They claim that the party is plotting to rig the poll.
These allegations and counter-allegations lend credence to the notion that it is near impossible to hold free and fair elections in Nigeria. They affirm those who long claimed that the election process often usurps the will of the people.
A new record
Most Nigerians believe that rigging is a very familiar strategy in Nigerian political circles. This postponement, however, coming just hours before the poll, sets a new record.
There have been previous postponements. A week before the 2015 presidential elections, the poll was postponed for six weeks. This happened after the former head of the electoral commission announced that the military needed more time to manage the Boko Haram menace in Borno State if residents were to vote in peace.
In 2011, the elections were postponed when voting for Members of Parliament had already started in some states. This was ostensibly due to the late deployment of ballot materials.
This postponement, in particular, led to accusations that the decision was taken to weaken the main opposition party. Although there was never any formal evidence for this, the delay fuelled the general sense of mistrust among Nigerians that the election process can’t be trusted.
There are mixed perceptions about the credibility of the electoral commission to hold free and fair elections. Some political parties have expressed confidence in its ability to implement a successful election while others have called on the resignation of the chairperson.
The electoral commission will have to work wonders to regain the electorate’s trust. It will need to let Nigerians know exactly what happened to scuttle the vote given that it has had three years to prepare.
It will also need to be clear about which states were affected by poor planning, and how it intends to come up to speed in before the new election dates.
The commission must also assure Nigerians that the ballot materials that were already transferred to polling stations will be safeguarded.
There are also implications for voters who had to take time off work to travel to their home states to cast their ballots. The sudden postponement means that they may not have the time or the money to participate in the new polls.
In addition, the postponement has disrupted the lives of workers and businesses who have lost income and will continue to do so until the election cycle is completed.
If indeed the Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the presidential election due to logistical reasons, the competence of its officials comes into play.
A great deal of emphasis has been placed on their perceived independence. And in the past there have been calls by several civil rights groups that the powers to appoint the chairperson of the electoral commission should not exclusively rest with the President.
But, in fact, the problem may lie elsewhere – too little attention has been given to the technical competence of the officials the commission employs.
They are often professors or retired judges, people who clearly do not have the technical ability to run a body like the commission where logistics play a huge role in the success of elections.
Going forward, Nigeria’s National Assembly needs to take its vetting exercise more seriously as it selects officials to run elections in the country.
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday reinstated that he will conduct a free, fair and peaceful presidential election on Saturday and charged Nigerians to turn out massively to cast their votes.
The president, in a nationwide broadcast, assured Nigerians that the government would do its very best to ensure that the 2019 elections take place in a secure and peaceful atmosphere.
“It was indeed such free, fair and peaceful elections that made it possible for our Government to emerge, despite the fact that we were contesting against a long-standing incumbent party.
“And as your president and a fellow Nigerian, I ask that you come out and queue to fulfill this important obligation you have to yourselves and your fellow citizens – and to our common future.
“Let me at this point, reaffirm the commitment of the Federal Government to the conduct of free and fair elections in a safe and peaceful atmosphere. Just yesterday, I signed the Peace Accord alongside 72 other presidential candidates,” he said.
Buhari assured all Nigerians, the diplomatic community and all foreign election observers of their safety and full protection, saying that any comments or threats of intimidation from any source did not represent the position of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“As Government has a critical role in maintaining the democratic traditions, so do citizens. I therefore urge you all, as good Nigerians, to take a personal interest in promoting and maintaining peace in your respective neighbourhoods during the elections. This is certainly not a time to allow personal, religious, sectional or party interests to drive us to desperation,” he said.
The president appealed to the youth not allow themselves to be used to cause violence and destruction., saying that “the people who want to incite you are those preparing the ground for discrediting the elections. Having lost the argument, they fear losing the elections.”
He said when Nigerians elected him in 2015, it was essentially in consequence of his promise of CHANGE, stressing that “we committed ourselves to improving security across the country, putting the economy on a sound footing and tackling rampant corruption, which had in many ways become a serious drawback to national development.
“Our Government spent the last 3 years and 9 months striving faithfully to keep this promise, in spite of very serious revenue shortages caused mainly by a sharp drop in international oil prices and an unexpected rise in the vandalisation of oil installations, which, mercifully have now been curtailed.”
According to Buhari, “our choices have had consequences about employment and cost of living. In making your choice this time, please ask yourself whether, and in what ways, others will do anything different to address the issues of Agriculture, Infrastructure, Security, Good Governance and Fighting Corruption.
“If they are only hoping to do what we are already doing successfully, we are clearly your preferred choice. Think carefully and choose wisely. This time, it is a choice about consolidating on growth for Jobs and Prosperity. February 16th is all about a choice. But it is more than a choice between APC and the opposition. It is a choice about you, it is a choice between going back or keeping the momentum of CHANGE.
“The road to greater prosperity for Nigeria may be long, but what you can be assured of is a Leadership that is not prepared to sacrifice the future well-being of Nigerians for our own personal or material needs. You can be assured of my commitment to remain focused on working to improve the lives of all Nigerians.”
Nigeria is preparing for its general election. But will it be credible? Nigerian voters are well aware that the elections will not be won solely by votes or popular consensus. There are several other variables that influence election results.
These include the incumbent’s control of state security apparatuses, grassroots structures, and control of institutions such as market traders associations, and the National Union for Road Transport Workers.
The road transport workers’ union, which acts as a canopy for bus drivers, conductors, and motor park touts in Southwestern Nigeria, has a history of providing foot soldiers for employment as election thugs with skills in ballot box snatching and voter intimidation tactics.
In addition, the possibility that the election could be rigged cannot be ignored.
Questions around the credibility of elections in post-independence Nigeria can be traced as far back as the “First Republic” which lasted from 1960 - 1966. After allegations of massive rigging in the 1965 elections the country’s western region was engulfed in the infamous “Operation Wet-ie” riots.
The riots pitted rival political groups against each other leading to Nigeria’s first military coup in 1966. From then on the country experienced a series of coups. Between 1966 and 1999, when the country made a decisive break with military politics, Nigeria experienced eight military coups. In that same time period three general elections were conducted.
The years outside of military rule were comparatively brief and arguably overshadowed by the spectre of the military. When elections did happen they were plagued by strong allegations of electoral fraud. Since 1999, when the country broke with military rule, five elections have been conducted all of which have been tainted by controversy.
It’s clear to see that Nigeria has survived a tumultuous political history. Going into this next election, questions still remain about the credibility of the country’s electoral system, and the viability of it’s governance structures. Looking back things have often gone wrong, but are there instances where things have worked out well for the electorate?
I would argue that there have at least two instances when voters got what they asked for. One is the June 1993 presidential election, which is considered to have been relatively free and fair in its conduct, its eventual annulment notwithstanding. Another is the presidential election of May 2015 when the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, gracefully accepted defeat by conceding to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Yet I still feel that Nigeria’s electoral system needs a complete overhaul if it’s to perform its functions with as little external interference as possible.
Shadow of military rule
The country has been ruled by military administrators more than it has by democratically elected leaders. For 29 years of Nigeria’s independent history military dictators have had a grip on its leadership. This is compared to just 20 years of democracy. The result has been that electoral rigging and malpractice are rife within Nigeria’s electoral process.
Since 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, both of whom were previously military dictators spent a combined 12 years in power. President Buhari is now seeking a second term. As a result, there are still those who argue that the country’s transition from military rule to democracy is not quite complete.
The executive arm, for example, still maintains certain authoritarian characteristics that are reminiscent of the military era. One of these is the use of the armed forces to manipulate election processes. For instance, during the recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states voter intimidation by the security forces was rife. This was done to scare away opposition voters and give the ruling All Progressives Congress an edge.
The electoral commission
Another factor to consider is the supposed independence and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission which is in charge of running the elections. Critics point to the fact that the commission chairperson and others in the commission are nominated by the president. This calls into question the credibility of the entire electoral commission.
Further, Buhari has just appointed Amina Zakari as the new collation officer. Zakari will oversee the committee responsible for the national collation centre from where results of the presidential election will be announced. But Zakari has been alleged to have a family relationship with the president. This has raised suspicion within opposition circles that the government intends to rig the polls.
To make matters worse, the behaviour of the electoral commission in previous elections hasn’t always been above reproach. This has lent credence to the criticisms bout the body’s impartiality. In the run up to the 2007 general for example, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission had no power to disqualify candidates in the eleventh hour as it had purported to do in the case of opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar.
The opaque nature in which recent gubernatorial elections have been held has also added to the fears of a rigged presidential poll. The September 2018 gubernatorial election in Osun, for example, was panned by election observers as being riddled with voting irregularities like voter harassment, and interference by “inappropriate persons”. These irregularities were reinforced by the high number of security officers deployed to the state during the election period.
The involvement of the security apparatus in tilting this tightly contested election in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress is considered to be an indicator of how things could pan out in the general election.
Role of outsiders
Observers like the European Union and the US also exert a measure of influence on Nigerian elections. By ramping up the rhetoric on the importance of free and fair elections they play into the hands of the opposition who have historically appealed to foreign powers to umpire the electoral process.
Incumbent governments, on the other hand, have typically been on the other side of the argument. Nigerian governments have often cited what they call the “neo-imperialism” of countries like the UK and the US and decried their interference in Nigeria’s sovereignty. This resistance to foreign interference was most recently evidenced in comments made by Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, who threatened foreign observers with death if they engaged with local politicians.
Former president Goodluck Jonathan also trotted out the “foreign interference” trope when he claimed in his recently published memoir that the US played a hand in ensuring that he lost the 2015 election.
And a few weeks ago the ruling All Progressives Congress joined the bandwagon when they issued a statement telling the EU to not undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty.
Not all grim
Despite all of the above, it’s not all grim. There are some positive precedents that can be built on.
For example, despite predictions that there would election violence during the 2015 poll, Jonathan did the honourable thing by conceding defeat to Buhari.
His concession reinforced the notion that elections need not be a “do or die” affair. This peaceful transition after just one presidential term in office also set a positive trend for elections across Africa.
But with the slim margin between the incumbent, Buhari, and his main contender Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party – this narrative might need to be reinforced when Nigeria goes to the polls again on February 16.
Muhammadu Buhari’s election four years ago as Nigerian president was greeted with great enthusiasm, and expectation. US President Barack Obama invited him to the White House less than two months after his inauguration, an honour rarely accorded to newly elected African leaders.
Many Nigerians saw Buhari as a messiah rescuing them from years of economic disempowerment, institutionalised corruption and insecurity.
These high hopes were unsurprising. The Nigerian economy, though growing at a robust rate, wasn’t benefiting most Nigerians. Unemployment, especially among young people, was widespread and growing. The World Bank estimated Nigeria’s poverty rate to be as high as 70%, an embarrassing number given that the country is ranked as the eighth largest oil exporter in the world.
The result of the toxic combination of high joblessness and poverty rates, is a life expectancy of 55 years, one of the lowest in developing countries.
As Buhari prepares to go to the polls, pundits have been analysing his scorecard and asking whether he deserves another four years in office.
What is clear is that, this time around, his re-election campaign has not been greeted with the same level of enthusiasm. Some analysts, including the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, have gone as far as to predict that he will lose the election.
Why the change of fortunes? The answer seems to lie in the fact that most of the things Nigerians complained about in 2015 are still unresolved. In particular, unemployment, poverty and economic disempowerment remain firmly in place.
Since Buhari came to power, Nigeria’s unemployment rate has more than doubled from 10.4% in January 2016 to 23.1% in July 2018. In June last year CNN reported that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. About 87 million Nigerians, or half the population, live on less than $1.90 per day.
The big question is: can Buhari win reelection amid his disappointing economic performance? I believe that he will, in fact, win the election. But this will be for reasons to do with the weakness of other candidates, rather than his own strengths.
When he came to power in 2015, Buhari promised to tackle three interrelated problems: corruption, insecurity and the economy. Of the three, Nigerians regarded economic problems as paramount. But the administration appears to have focused on corruption and security issues and paid less attention to the economy.
For example, Buhari failed to prevent an impending recession that followed the collapse of oil prices in 2015. This was because he didn’t prioritise the economy and took too long to articulate an economic transformation strategy.
Another example of lack of focus on the economy was his meeting with US President Donald Trump in April 2018. Buhari asked for fighter jets, not economic support.
Critics also point to the fact that Buhari ceded the management of the economy to his vice president Yemi Osinbajo. Though a brilliant lawyer, Osinbajo had no background or experience in economics. To make matters worse, Osinbajo surrounded himself with incompetent and inexperienced advisers.
Buhari claimed he was unable to jump-start the economy because of falling oil prices and dwindling government revenue. Before he came to power the oil price was as high as $108 per barrel. It plummeted precipitously to $63 the month he was sworn in as president. The oil price continued to slide during the early stages of his administration, reaching an all-time low of $35 per barrel in February 2016.
The collapse affected Buhari’s ability to put together a coherent budget. For instance, his 2016 budget had a deficit of over 2.2 trillion Naira. His attempt to borrow $30 billion to finance the deficit was vehemently opposed by the country’s lawmakers. Nor was public opinion favourable about an external loan. This forced the administration to pare down the number of projects it intended to undertake.
Because of the administration’s inability to implement an expansionary fiscal policy, the economy has been grappling with anaemic growth since Buhari’s election. The country went into recession in 2016 followed by a rebound to about 2% in 2018. But the IMF projects that growth will remain weak at an annual average of about 1.9% from 2019 to 2023.
Buhari’s scorecard in fighting corruption has been mixed. On the one hand, he has prosecuted high-profile politicians, civil servants and retired military officers for corruption and secured convictions in a handful of cases. His administration has also recovered billions of Naira in stolen assets from corrupt Nigerians.
Scores of corrupt politicians and government officials, including the Chief Justice of the country’s Supreme Court, are currently undergoing trials for various forms of financial impropriety.
But Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts have been marred by the perception that they have been selective and targeted mostly at members of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic party.
And his failure to prosecute a prominent state governor who is one of his close political allies, after the governor was shown on video collecting several thousand dollars in bribes, has accentuated the perception that he is only interested in prosecuting his political enemies.
Another political ally, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, also got a pass from Buhari after being credibly accused of corrupt practices.
Despite these shortcomings, Buhari’s campaign against corruption is regarded by many Nigerians as the most intense the country has ever seen.
Buhari is likely to win not because he has fulfilled the expectations of Nigerians, but because his main opponent, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is a weak candidate who carries a lot of baggage.
Abubakar is a very prominent and wealthy businessman. But his business credentials and the source of his wealth are controversial. Many believe he made his money through cronyism and questionable activities rather than through genuine entrepreneurship.
Nigerians will be faced with a Hobbesian choice between two problematic candidates. In that choice, Buhari seems to have an edge over Abubakar.