WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Because Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election is considered a close contest between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and main challenger Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). However, considering the president’s strength in his own strongholds and the resources (human, financial, institutional) available to his party, it is very likely that he will easily win re-election. In fact, the president is set to increase his 2015 margin of victory by about 5% and will likely capture about 60% of the overall votes.
The 23 February 2019 presidential elections very likely will be won by incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, and the difference in votes between him and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP will likely be large. Several factors are likely to influence voter choice, including perception of how Buhari performed in his first term.
Since late 2018 when he signaled his intention to seek re-election, Buhari was always the man to beat, despite the numerous challenges, including a prolonged health crisis, that dogged his leadership from the beginning. In 2015, he campaigned on a three-item manifesto to grow the economy, improve security, and fight corruption.
Buhari has had to manage an economy that went into recession shortly after he assumed power, which was caused by global oil price slump and the failure of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, to properly manage oil windfalls during most of his administration. That failure combined with spectacular corruption and resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region that disrupted oil production during the first few months of Buhari’s government, made the slide into recession inevitable.
However, Buhari’s efforts to diversify the economy by paying immense attention to agriculture and infrastructures, including revamping the country’s long-comatose rail transport system, helped the country overcome the recession and will drive projected average GDP growth of about 5% in his second term.
In terms of security, Buhari took over a country badly shaken by destabilizing violence. In the northeast region, violent extremist organizations, including Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa (IS-WA) exercised control in hard to reach areas in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states. At the height of their menace in 2014, VEOs operated further inland in Abuja and in Kano, killing hundreds and threatening to expand their caliphate further south.
Bihari has been able to beat back the VEOs, but they still continue to dominate areas around the Lake Chad Basin region. In fact, since October 2018, the VEOs have resurged, staging dozens of attacks that have sacked over a dozen Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) of Nigeria’s military and killed hundreds of soldiers, dampening the morale of troops. In addition, his government has faced criticism of spiraling communal clashes in the Middle Belt and in some states in the northwest region, including Zamfara, Sokoto, kaduna, and katsina. The violence has killed hundreds of people on all sides and destabilized farming and herding communities in the region.
To counter this, Buhari approved billions of Naira in extra-budgetary spending for the troops, increased their daily ration and hazard payments, purchased an assortment of sophisticated military hardwares, approved high-level rotations of Nigerian troops, and mobilized cooperation from neighboring countries including Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The military has also launched numerous operations, including Python Dance, to address communal clashes and separatist violence in the southeast. Some of these efforts have retarded the violence, but more will still have to be done to entrench long-lasting peace.
In line with Buhari’s commitment to fight corruption, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) have arrested, detained, and prosecuted many politically exposed persons for corruption, including two former governors who belong to the President’s party. In addition, the EFCC claims it has recovered hundreds of billions of Naira in looted money from politically exposed persons, and Buhari plans to step up the fight in his second and final presidential term.
2019 Election Outcome
Buhari and Abubakar are the main contenders for the Nigerian presidency and likely will share most of the votes. However, several factors are likely to sway the votes to Buhari, including the alliance that he has forged with politicians in the southwest and the south south region.
The key predictor of the 2019 presidential contest is ethnicity
The southwest, which is the second largest voting constituency in the country is home to progressive politics, with the inimitable Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a veteran of southwest’s progressive politics calling the shots. APC governors administer all five southwest states and they all enjoy varying levels of cordial working relationship with Tinubu, which likely will boost Buhari’s chances. However, as is historically typical with the southwest, individual states with privilege their own strongmen than condense their rights under Tinubu. For this reason, some states will be motivated to show independence from the Lagos strongman, giving the PDP the opportunity to poll better in the region that it did in 2015. Still, Yorubas generally will vote the APC, which has an omoluabi, VP Yemi Osinbajo, as vice presidential candidate, than for the PDP with an Igbo, Peter Obi as VP candidate.
The southeast will vote overwhelmingly for the PDP, most likely because of Peter Obi, an Igbo from Anambra State. The southeast has also historically overwhelmingly supported the PDP and will continue to do so for the forceable future. However, because Obi is not very popular in the region, the PDP is unlikely to benefit from the type of support that southeast governors gave to the party in the 2015 presidential elections. This means that while the PDP will most certainly win all the southeast states, the vote margin will be much smaller than the 2015 margin. This does not bode well for the PDP who desperately needs turnout to surpass the 2015 level to have any realistic shot at victory.
The above is true of the south south region, which the PDP is very likely to win, but with much smaller margin than 2015.
The north central region will be the real battle ground region, however, due to a confluence of factors, including internal revolution against a section of the political class (i.e. O toge in Kwara State), herder-farmer violence, ethnonationalist sentiments, etc. the APC and PDP are likely to split the region’s votes, but the APC will win the majority of states in the region, including Kogi, Kwara, Niger, and Nasarawa. While Kogi, Niger, and Nasarawa have APC governors, which will enable the party win, Kwara State is undergoing major political upheaval that very likely will upturn the strangle hold that Senate President Bukola Saraki has over the state. The PDP will most likely win Benue and Plateau states because of the sociopolitical ferment resulting from the herder-farmer violence. But to be competitive, the PDP needs to win the region with a huge margin, otherwise it will fall drastically shot of its goal to unseat President Buhari.
Class will be a factor in the election in northeast and northwest
The contest in the northeast and northwest will essentially be a one-way traffic. President Buhari most certainly will win the two regions with very large margins, including scoring over a million votes in Kano and Katsina. The key factor that will determine Buhari’s victory in the core north is class. Buhari and Atiku Abubakar are Fulani. However, Atiku is adept at elite politics and has had difficulties gaining acceptability among the talakawa, who see him as corruptly rich, aloof, and uninvested in the challenges of the the downtrodden. Buhari, on the other hand, is beloved by the talakawa, who see him as incorruptible and a champion of the downtrodden. Since 2003, the Talakawa have favored Buhari with their votes, helping him to gain a cult-like following in the region. In the 2019 elections, the Talakawa will again support Buhari overwhelmingly, helping him to best Atiku in the region. However, Ayiku may win his home state of Adamawa (but this will be a tight contest) and Taraba State (with a large Christian population). He will lose all other states to Buhari with very big margins.
Based on Buhari’s likely strong performances in the northeast, northwest, southwest, and north central regions, he will retain the presidency by winning a larger margin than his 2015 victory over Goodluck Jonathan.