By OBINNA EZUGWU
The long awaited 2019 presidential election is here. On Saturday, Nigerians will decide, who between the two leading candidates: President Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), will lead them for the next four years.
Campaigns are winding down. Buhari, Atiku, as well as tens of other presidential candidates have made their cases. Buhari is promising to take Nigerians to the “Next Level,” having assured that he has kept the promises he made in 2015; promises to provide security, fight corruption and create jobs, even though figures suggest the contrary.
Atiku, on the other hand, is promising to “Make Nigeria Work Again”; to grow the economy and create jobs. But there is enough evidence to suggest that these promises may only sway a few voters. In part because Nigerians have become accustomed to empty promises by politicians, but perhaps largely due to the fact that factors of religion, ethnicity and the likes mostly inform people’s choices as opposed to manifestos.
Things are gradually coming to a head. And it is now evident that the all important presidential polls will be won and lost on a number of factors, some of which are the making of the candidates themselves, others they have little or no control over. We shall presently explore some of the factors.
President Buhari’s first term scorecard
The Buhari campaign has done a good job of trying to ensure that the election is not a referendum on Buhari’s first term performance, but on who between him and Atiku is more corrupt. But there is really no escaping the consequences of the president’s not so impressive first term showing. One major reason Atiku’s candidacy is considered a threat to Buhari is his performance in office thus far, which by objective assessment, is unimpressive.
Within the three and half years of Buhari presidency, Nigeria has become the global headquarters of extreme poverty with over 87 million of its approximately 180 million population living below the poverty line or on less than $1.9 a day.
The president had campaigned on three key issues of corruption, security and job creation. But the anti corruption effort many say, has lost steam and is only targeted at opposition figures. The cases of Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms who was accused of misappropriating N195 billion pension funds; Abba Kyari, the president’s Chief of Staff alleged to have collected N500million bribe from MTN; Babachir Lawal, former SGF accused of using N250million to cut grass at an IDP camp; Ayo Oke, former NIA boss, the custodian of the Osborne, Ikoyi billions; Kano governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, caught on camera allegedly receiving $5 million bribe from a contractor; Attorney General, Abubakar Malami who allegedly got his lawyers paid ‘dubious’ $15 million fee for Abacha loot for a job already done among others, who walk free despite being accused of graft are cases in point.
The president’s promise of job creation has, it would seem, been observed more in breach. Over the last three years, seven million have lost jobs as figures from NBS show, while the frontier of insecurity has widened with persistent herdsmen crisis, banditry in Zamfara, Sokoto and elsewhere.
It is for these and more that many now contemplate voting a “corrupt” former vice president instead of a man of “unquestionable integrity” in Buhari. The president’s failure is a huge gain for his main challenger. But the overall outcome will yet depend on a number of other factors.
Peter Obi factor
There appears to be a connection between Mr. Peter Obi, PDP vice presidential candidate with the youths across the country. To a large extent, he represents the ideal Nigerian leader among a large section of the youth population. His presentations at the Platform, a yearly programme organised by the Covenant Christian Centre, Lagos had won him youth support across ethnic divide. This will be a plus to the Atiku ticket.
On the flip side, Obi lacks the ability to mobilize support. He is not an ideal politician and he appears not to understand the role of money and organisation in politics. He is extremely frugal and has practically no political structure to count on.
His choice as VP, apart from his proven capacity as displayed in Anambra during his governorship, was also probably informed on the need to consolidate the South East support. But unfortunately, Obi does not have what it takes to mobilize this support. For the most part, his support in the South East is spontaneous.
An effective mobiliser could have effectively countered the IPOB boycott campaign for instance, but it’s not the case. This may cost the PDP, ultimately.
Yemi Osinbajo factor
The vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is the embodiment of South West support for Buhari. In electoral terms, he is Buhari’s back bone without whom the president could have stood little or no chance.
There is the prospect of Osinbajo succeeding Buhari. Indeed, it’s a widely held belief in the zone. Those close to powers that be in Aso Rock dismiss such with the wave of the hand. Nonetheless, whether realistic or not, this is one key reason Buhari will get votes in the South West.
Yet, Osinbajo is a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the most powerful Pentecostal movement, not just in the South West, but the whole country. He has helped to sustain Pentecostal support for Buhari presidency and this will also translate to votes on February 16.
Importantly too, Atiku, by choosing Obi from the South East, has created a scenario where for many, it is now a question of Osinbajo versus Obi. It’s a sentiment that will help win more South West votes for Buhari.
Religion is perhaps one of the most critical factors, if not the most critical, in elections in Nigeria. It’s a country shared roughly 50-50 by two major religions: Christianity and Islam, with a majority Christian South and a predominantly Muslim North. The increasing religious awareness in the country means that any presidential candidate interested in winning must pick a running mate from the opposite faith.
The two Northern Muslim leading candidates: Atiku and Buhari, have Southern Christians: Mr. Peter Obi and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as running mates respectively. This would ordinarily seem to have evened out, but not quite. The religious configuration is likely to work massively in President Buhari’s favour. Indeed, it is on account of religion that he is still quite popular in the North despite his unimpressive first term.
Buhari is seen by many in the North, and even among a few South West Muslims, as the true protector of the Islamic faith, probably even a Shirk. Atiku, on the other hand, is a liberal Muslim who many do not trust to represent and protect Islam.
Very few will admit so, but it is largely on account of religion that Buhari is expected to win 60 percent of votes in majority of the key Northern states. For many, his performance doesn’t matter.
The menace of herdsmen attacks on agrarian communities mostly in the country’s Middle Belt, but also in the South, is part of the growing security challenges in the country, others being resurgent Boko Haram, banditry in Zamfara and Sokoto, as well kidnapping and other violent crimes across the country.
However, of all the security challenges, none will have more impact than herdsmen. For the people of the Middle Belt, particularly Benue state which has borne the brunt of most attacks, herdsmen is the one major reason Buhari is widely expected to lose in a zone he won in 2015. The inability or unwillingness of the president to bring an end to the bloodshed has hurt feelings.
The president achieved a shock victory over Goodluck Jonathan in Benue and Kogi which were traditional PDP strongholds. But his inability to tackle the security challenge posed by herdsmen will guarantee his defeat in Benue where Atiku is projected to secure up to 70 percent of votes.
In Plateau which has also witnessed several attacks, the president is expected to lose by wider margin than he did in 2015, same as in Taraba in the North East. Available polls show Buhari will also lose Kogi, but by slim margin.
The 2023 presidency ranks high among key potential deciding factors for Saturday’s election. It has been the major campaign issue in both the South West and the South East zones. Party leaders in each of the zones have encouraged their respective voters to vote Buhari in the hope that when he completes second term in 2023, power will come to them.
In the South East, people like Chris Ngige, Labour Minister; Osita Okechukwu, VON Director General, and indeed the Secretary to the Government of Federation, Boss Mustapha, have continually sold the Buhari second term project as a short route to Igbo presidency. But it’s been a hard sell.
In the South West on the other hand, it is one major reason Buhari is expected to edge Atiku. The zone’s political leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu has maintained support for the president in the expectation that himself or perhaps, Osinbajo will take over from Buhari. It is a project the Vice President himself, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, among others, have marketed extensively to the South West voters.
The viability of such expectation is a subject for another discussion, but it is a major strength of Buhari in the zone.
APGA and Obiano
It is no secret that the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano is a strong supporter of President Buhari for allowing him retain his post. Obiano is the only governor of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He is the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, its defacto leader. His support for the president means, by extension, APGA support.
Obiano has had a running battle with Mr. Obi, his estranged predecessor and PDP vice presidential candidate. The prospect of an Obi vice president bodes ill for his political future. This is the major incentive for his support for Buhari.
Without Obi, the PDP could still have won Anambra State. With Obi, the state will have even additional motivation to vote PDP, but Obiano will ensure that it won’t be the sweeping victory it could have been ordinarily.
From spending months in a UK hospital treating a yet to be disclosed ailment to several gaffes and slips on the campaign trail, the evidence is all too clear that President Buhari is unwell. For many, the president’s inability to recognize his party’s candidates or in the case of Delta where he had introduced Chief Great Ogboru as the presidential candidate, and Senatorial candidate before eventually settling for “Governotorial” candidate are clear signs of dementia.
This evidence of poor health will be a factor and will sway voters for and against the president. In the North, there is already a campaign to the effect that the South West’s support for him is based on the fact that they know he may not be able to continue and are therefore looking to take over his government. This is helping, sources say, to win a number of people over to Atiku.
In the South West on the other hand, there is a campaign to the effect that the zone should vote for Buhari to win such that after his victory, his health challenges will be aggressively played up in the media to compel him to hand over to Osinbajo.
The above appears most unrealistic, but at the same time, it’s gathering support. This will help attract more votes for Buhari in the zone. However, there is yet the campaign across the divide to the effect that a vote for Buhari is a vote for the “Aso Rock Cabal” who some argue are only using Buhari to rule the country.
The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group based mostly in the East, with its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has sizeable following especially in the South East. Kanu and IPOB have been campaigning for election boycott. Several members of the group say they will boycott the presidential polls. Although the number of people who identify with the group cannot be ascertained, it is believed to be significant.
The South East is Atiku’s stronghold. Any votes lost to the boycott will be considered a loss to the former vice president and a gain for President Buhari. Depending on the number, the boycott may help Buhari’s second term bid.
Power of incumbency
Evidence from Nigeria’s democratic journey shows that incumbency is a major deciding factor in elections. During the years of Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, this power was in full display. The 2003 and 2007 general elections witnessed active participation of state actors in favour of the ruling government.
Under Buhari and the APC government, there are already clear signs of a return to the Obasanjo era. The governorship elections in Osun, Ekiti and Edo states left much to be desired in terms of credibility. State actors were allegedly deployed to aide the ruling party.
The recent redeployment of police commissioners has been identified by the opposition as an evidence of the ruling party’s plot to influence the outcome of the polls. Give or take, the power of incumbency will work massively in Buhari’s favour. In view of all these it is obvious who the odds favour; and it is Buhari.