The APC National Convention, where about 7,000 delegates from across the country gather to affirm President Muhammadu Buhari as the APC Presidential Candidate for the 2019 election, on Saturday in Abuja on 7 October 2018 / Photo: Bahir Ahmad/Twitter

Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential Election: 5 Things You Should Know

Nigeria will vote on 16 February in the country’s fifth presidential election since the restoration of democracy in 1999. Olalekan Waheed Adigun, the author of the fast-selling book Witnessing The Change, analyses the factors that will decide the crucial election, mainly a battle between  incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling APC and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition PDP.

The campaigns for Nigeria’s 2019 presidential elections officially commenced on Sunday 18 November 2018 with the main political parties swinging into action to woo the votes in what promises to be an exciting – and dramatic- election season.

Oxford professor, Paul Collier, in his book War, Guns and Votes describes election rigging, the sit-tight attitude of leaders, ethnic politics, electoral and ethnic violence as some of the greatest challenges to democracy and democratization in Africa. This explains why many commentators still analyse the 2019 presidential election within the context of the 2015 presidential election which was historic in several ways. First, it was one of the most hotly-contested in the history of the country and the outcome of the votes show a neck-to-neck contest between the two leading candidates, a phenomenon not witnessed since 1979 multi-party election. Second, it also saw the influence of social media and digital technology in election management and monitoring. Third, the election saw the first time an opposition candidate defeated an incumbent president in Nigeria’s electoral history.

Against the expected drama, passion, propaganda, and excitements surrounding the elections in Africa’s largest democracy, the 2019 presidential election has its uniqueness. With the experience of the 2015 election, we can predict (with a large degree of precision) some of the issues we think many people should know about the forthcoming presidential election.

The Candidates: Two Horse-Race, Familiar Foes

Except there is going to be a rare upset, the 2019 campaign, like previous presidential elections, is going to be a straight fight between sitting president Muhammadu Buhari, 76, and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 72. Both were candidates during the 2007 presidential election but were defeated by late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In 2014, they both contested for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which saw Buhari emerging victorious with 3430 votes as against Atiku’s 954.

Atiku Abubakar campaigning in the norther city of Sokoto on 3 December 2018. He’s billed to give President Buhari a tough time at the polls on 16 February / Photo: Atiku Abubakar Twitter


There are, however, other candidates like ex-Education minister, Oby Ezekwesili, 55; ex-deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu, 55; and the publisher of the media outlet Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, 47; whose campaigns have gained huge momentum among young people since 2018 but not enough to upset the well-oiled campaign machineries of the two leading candidates.

The parties: How they stand

Unlike what obtains in some climes, there are no provisions for independents to stand for elections in Nigeria. Political parties are, therefore, important institutions in the Nigerian electoral system.

As it is that there are two frontline candidates in the 2019 presidential election, there are two leading parties – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and APC. Of Nigeria’s 20-year democratic experiment, the former has ruled the country for 16 years, while the latter has been in charge since 2015.

Of Nigeria’s 36 states, the APC is in control of 22 states spread across her six geopolitical zones. The PDP, on the other hand, is in charge in 13 states spread across four of the six geopolitical zones. Both parties have a fairly equal number of members in the country’s national legislature with the PDP laying claim to its leadership. The All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the only non-APC/PDP party, that is in control of a state in Nigeria. The party has been in control of Anambra state for over a decade.

While there have been several attempts to create a “third force” to break this two horse-race in recent times with the formation of movements and organisations like the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), Coalition of Nigeria Movement (CNM), Red Card Movement (RCM) and the likes; the lack of cohesion, poor funding, unhealthy rivalry, naked ambitions, among other things within and between these movements and organisations have largely restricted the choice of the electorate to the two leading parties. Some of the leaders of the movements have also endorsed one of the two leading candidates.

Electoral Mathematics – The Numbers

The Nigerian presidential election is traditionally decided between the country’s six geopolitical zones: North-West, North-East, South-West, North-Central, South-South, and South-East. Since both leading candidates’ parties are fairly equal in their geographical spread, understanding the significance of the numbers becomes crucial.

There are currently 84,271,832 registered voters according to Nigeria’s electoral body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In 2015, Buhari polled 15.4 million votes (or 54%) to defeat sitting president Goodluck Jonathan who polled 12.9 million (45%). Most of Buhari’s votes came from the North-West, North-East, and South-West which has the highest number of registered voters – 20.1 million, 11.2 million, and 16.3 million respectively – according INEC. Buhari also won in four out of the six states in the North-Central which has about 13.3 million registered voters. He lost in largely PDP strongholds of the South-South, where former president Jonathan hails from, and the South-East where he barely polled 15 percent of the region’s total votes.

The North-West – where president Buhari hails from his considered his stronghold because he has always had his highest number of votes – has the highest number of registered voters and the highest voter turnout. Buhari has some cult-like following in the region especially in Kano, Nigeria’s most populous state. The defection of former Governor of Kano state, Engineer Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso with his supporters (including the resignation of the state’s deputy governor, Professor Hafiz Abubakar) to the PDP as a result of APC’s intra-party dispute may affect Buhari’s chances.

The political fate of Engineer Kwankwaso remains unclear with the return of Professor Hafiz Abubakar and several of Kwankwaso’s supporters (or the Kwankwasiyya movement) to the APC and declaring support for Buhari.

Buhari’s approval rating is also high in the North-East. He served as a military governor of the old North-Eastern state in the 1970s. His wife, Aisha, hails from Adamawa, North-Eastern Nigeria. The PDP has a slight advantage with its control of two states – Taraba and Gombe – in the region. While the Taraba state governor, Darius Ishaku, who is joined by ex-Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Al-Hassan, who recently resigned from the Buhari’s government, is expected to mobilise for Atiku, the former vice president faces a herculean task of the huge Buhari following in the region even though he also hails from the North-East.

Atiku’s stronghold is likely going to be in the South-East. He enjoys popularity here partly because of the region’s strong anti-Buhari posture since 2015 and the fact that his running mate, Peter Obi, is from Anambra state. Atiku might win the region comfortably but analysts are of the view that there are issues that he may need to worry about. First, the region is the least voting bloc in the federation. Second, the three PDP governors in the region that are supposed to be at the forefront of Atiku campaign have been seen openly flirting with President Buhari. The region has seen many notable politicians defect from PDP to the APC since 2015. Third, the separatists’ group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has insisted on his “no referendum, no election” mantra which means the region may still witness low voter turnouts that have characterised her past elections.

The South-West has six states all of which are under Buhari’s APC’s control. Some analysts are of the view that this may not amount to much in that the region has a history of not voting along party lines. In 2003, despite the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in control of the six states, former president Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP won all the states except Lagos. That notwithstanding, Buhari may do better than he did in the region in 2015. He seems to have grown more popular with the post-humours recognition of late Chief MKO Abiola as a winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida annulled. Also, Buhari’s running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, hails from the region. It is unclear the role his church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) with a large following in the region will play. Atiku will face an uphill task of winning in this region because the two PDP-controlled states – Ondo and Ekiti – have been overrun by the APC. The two most recent elections in Osun and Ekiti have been won by the APC.

The South-South region is considered PDP’s traditional stronghold because it is the home of former PDP president Goodluck Jonathan. Atiku should not have much problems winning this region. He may, however, have to cope with the new threats posed by the defection of Godswill Akpabio and Emmanuel Uduaghan – former governors of Akwa Ibom and Delta states respectively. The two former PDP top men have declared their support for Buhari.

The North-Central, in addition to the South-West, are considered swing states in the Nigerian presidential elections. The insecurity in the region, especially in states like Benue and Plateau, are some of the reasons Buhari may not have much claim to the region’s votes. The Benue state Governor, Samuel Ortom, has defected to the PDP in addition to his counterpart in Kwara state, Abdulfatai Ahmed with the guidance of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. The region may as well be the battleground for the 2019 presidential election.

The Electoral Guidelines

The basic guidelines for Nigerian elections are the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act (as promulgated by the National Assembly). To be declared elected winner of the Nigerian presidential election, the candidate must not only get the highest number of votes but also poll at least one-quarter of the total votes cast in two-thirds of all the states. This simply means that in addition to polling the highest number of votes concentrated in a few populous states, a candidate must have his or her geographical spread to at least twenty-four states of the federation. If this requirement is not satisfied, the two top contenders must go for a re-run for a winner to emerge.

Besides the Constitutional provision, the Electoral Act is often one of the most contentious issues in Nigerian elections. The Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2015 made provisions for INEC to deploy card reader machines as part of measures to curb electoral malpractices. This came with new, unexpected challenges largely having to do with logistics. Many voters, reportedly, voted in 2015 because of malfunctioning card reader machines in several states. This led to many calling for the abandonment of the use of the machines altogether.

In 2017, the National Assembly sought to amend the provision of the use of the card reader machines but the Bill was vetoed by President Buhari whose victory in 2015 was partly due to the card reader machines. The National Assembly, in the most recent version of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, made provisions for electronic transmission of election results from polling units which the President also rejected. The fear of hackers and cyber-attacks may have been responsible for this.

Incumbency: Any advantage?

Based on conventional wisdom, incumbents should normally have the advantage over challengers in any election (especially in Africa), but recent evidence proves otherwise. The historic 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, the 2016 elections in Ghana, Benin Republic, and many other countries prove that incumbency is really no advantage.

Having said that. It is worthy to note some of the following interesting details. First, this will be the first time in its 21-year history that PDP will be contesting a presidential election as a challenger. Buhari, the APC candidate, has contested and lost three previous presidential elections prior to 2015 all to three different PDP candidates. Though President Buhari has consistently assured everyone of a free and fair electoral contest, there is nothing to show that he has control over his lieutenants in this commitment. Of all the seven midterm gubernatorial elections conducted since 2015, the APC have won five unseating the PDP in three (Kogi, Ekiti, and Ondo) states in the process thereby spreading fears that the APC may deploy full state institutions into winning the 2019 presidential election as witnessed in the most recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states.

The PDP on the other hand is in control of oil-rich states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Delta with considerable oil revenue allocation to combat APC’s resources.

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