Analysis: Why The 2019 Presidential Election Is No Contest By Saheed Animashaun
I begin with a caveat; nothing in this article is intended to make a case for the return of Buhari in 2019.
The general elections are less than a year away, and while the current Buhari-led administration may have massively underperformed, all pointers indicate that President Buhari would present himself for re-election.
More than at any time in recent history, several individuals have indicated interest in running for the toughest job in the land. However, it appears none of them comes anywhere close to defeating Buhari.
In my opinion, only three things could stop Buhari from renewing his tenancy at Aso Rock:
• If he does not contest
If an implosion occurs within the APC, especially one that involves Bola Tinubu and some other key APC leaders dissociating from the President
• If the opposition is able to come up with a united and well-structured front, championed by a candidate with integrity and a truly national appeal
I do not foresee any of the above happening. Worst case, Buhari may be unable to garner the constitutionally required 25% of votes in at least two-thirds of the states of the federation, leading to a run-off where a simple majority will suffice. Below is a breakdown of reasons why I posit that the 2019 Presidential election is Buhari’s to lose.
1. Poor quality opposition
Just as the APC has shown it was largely unprepared for governance, the PDP and other political parties have proven to be amateurs when it comes to playing opposition politics. The APC has scored so many own goals that it is surprising that the PDP and other opposition parties have been unable to take advantage of them. PDP is a damaged brand, and it is already having challenges producing any candidate capable of upstaging Buhari. Many Nigerians have still not forgotten the 16 years of PDP from 1999 to 2015, during which it woefully failed to put Nigeria on a path to socio-economic recovery.
Former Vice-President, wave-rider and serial defector, Abubakar Atiku, is the PDP’s most prominent presidential hopeful at the moment. He has probably switched parties more times than the Super Falcons have won the Africa Women Cup of Nations! In addition to the fact that his reputation has been largely tarnished by former President Obasanjo, he has a metaphorical “I-am-corrupt” tag hung on him, even though no corruption charges have been preferred against him. This tag is aided by the controversy surrounding his inability to travel to the USA. While he has a strong following in Nigeria, he would have a hard time winning in any of the North-West and North-East states (asides Adamawa and Taraba maybe). With Tinubu and the APC’s South-West structure still intact, Atiku has a near-nil chance of clinching the majority of votes in the South-West. Invariably, even if he gets a majority in the South-South and the South-East, which may be further balkanized by another “Third Force” candidate, it would definitely not suffice.
Other possible PDP contenders include Ahmed Makarfi, Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Shekarau, Donald Duke, Ibrahim Dakwambo (arguably their most credible and presentable candidate) and APC stalwarts Bukola Saraki and Rabiu Kwankwaso (if they defect). It is unlikely that any of these candidates will defeat Atiku in the PDP presidential primaries, on the premise that he must have gotten assurances before re-defecting to the PDP, and his vast financial war chest, coupled with his penchant for “dollarizing” such primary elections. He is easily the most popular among the candidates. Nothing is guaranteed in Nigerian politics though; chief “coup” plotters Wike and Fayose might just have surprises up their sleeves for the Turakin Adamawa!
Other “Third Force” opposition blocs such as Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigeria Movement, Tope Fasua’s ANRP, Fela Durotoye’s ANN, the Nigeria Intervention Movement, the Red Card Movement, and a growing number of youthful and party-less candidates like Omoyele Sowore, Adamu Garba, Ahmed Buhari and the not-so-young Kingsley Moghalu have so far not pulled enough weight to suggest that they could cause an upset in 2019. Their biggest collective undoing at the moment is that they are not united and may not be able to unite. Many of them are calling for an end to PDP and APC, but I don’t see how they would unite with an Obasanjo-championed coalition, for instance.
2. Criticisms by elder statesmen
While many may posit that the criticisms of the Buhari-led government by past Nigerian leaders – aka “elder statesmen” – will dent his 2019 chances, I believe they will do the exact opposite! Foremost among these critics are Obasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma, and Ibrahim Babangida. One frequently touted strong point of Buhari is that he is pro-masses and largely anti-establishment. While the argument may not be factually correct, it has been further strengthened by the seemingly frantic salvos of the trio, since they are major financial shareholders in “Nigeria Plc.”. The criticisms of Buhari by these fellows have nothing do with making Nigeria better, but with ensuring the continued emptying of Nigeria’s cash reserves into their coffers, thus making it easier for the Buhari campaign team to sell their candidate. All they have to say is: “Vote for Buhari; the man of the masses. Even the corrupt elites that have ruined Nigeria are against him”.
3. Buhari’s popularity across the country
It would take monumental efforts from any opposition candidate to wrestle majority votes from the North West and North East (asides Taraba and Adamawa) from Buhari. Recent elections (like Anambra) have also shown that APC can get 25% or more in some South-East and South-South states (Edo, Anambra, and probably Imo, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers). The South-West remains an open ground; the APC is definitely not going to get as many votes there as it did in the last elections.
4. Possibility of an Igbo President in 2023
The biggest selling pitch for the APC in the South East is the claim that the second term of Buhari would culminate in an Igbo Presidency come 2023. The extent to which this is believed by voters in the South East may determine how well they vote for the APC. Alternatively, it may determine how high voter apathy would be in the region.
5. Spread of PVC Collection
According to statistics obtained by The Punch from INEC in February, the North-West and North-East geopolitical zones (Buhari’s strongest bases) jointly have 9 million more registered voters than the South-South and South-East combined. Add the fact that no major contender is from the South-East or South-South, and you will understand that this is clearly an advantage for Buhari.
In addition, according to a statement by INEC in February, more than 7 million PVCs have not been collected across Nigeria. An analysis by Deep Dive Intelligence shows that of this 7 million, more than 3m are from the South West (with 1.4m from Lagos alone). Imo, Rivers, and Edo (states won by PDP at the last election) also jointly have more than 1.2 million uncollected PVCs.
A combination of voter apathy and the strenuous PVC registration/collection process may ensure that the statistics above eventually mirror voter figures during the elections.
6. Futility of presidential debates in Nigeria
Most of the presidential candidates will comfortably outperform Buhari in a presidential debate. I doubt that his media team will encourage him to take part in any debate, for obvious reasons. At best, they may send his eloquent Vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to represent him. Luckily for him, election debates count for little in Nigeria; previous elections evidently support this notion.
While a lot can change between now and February next year, in my opinion, all indices on ground point to the successful re-election of Buhari in 2019, not necessarily because of good performance, but because of poor opposition.
Saheed Animashaun is a political analyst. He writes from Lagos and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org