Who is likely to win Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election?

So far it appears that the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari will win reelection. According to Africa Confidential:

His street support is still impressive across the north and he remains a force to be reckoned with – even if his APC allies are divided or upset with the primaries or his overall approach to governance. With the powers of incumbency behind him, he may hold the upper hand. Many of the 21 APC governors will also hold this advantage, but more of them will be vulnerable to PDP challengers, especially in Plateau, Kaduna, Kogi, Imo, and perhaps even Lagos and Kano, although these latter two states look stronger for the APC.Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.36.46 PM

Atiku’s deep experience in election matters may outflank Buhari’s APC handlers, but he will need more than just his deep pockets to outbuy or check the APC machine. He will also need to demonstrate genuine public support, mobilised by a major ground operation backed by local PDP networks.

At 71, Atiku is more energetic and comfortable with speaking on the stump than the taciturn, 75-year-old Buhari. That will be important for reaching Nigeria’s social media-savvy voters, who threw their weight behind Buhari in 2015 but have grown frustrated with his slow pace. If the election does end up close, as appears likely, the APC’s control of the security forces may prove pivotal and provoke a crisis. If, however, Atiku does in fact win and the APC respects the result, as Jonathan did in 2015, Nigerians may at least come to feel that elections, however flawed, can lead to change.

And here’s a great report from USIP on the factors at play in Nigeria’s 2019 elections.

 

The Choices in the Nigerian Election

Alex Thurston over at Sahel Blog has an excellent take on the credentials of the two leading candidates in the Nigerian election – the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari. Thurston, in particular, cautions against simplistic narratives about either candidate that only serve to distract from the universe of issues at stake in this election:

In much international coverage of the race, whether by non-Nigerian journalistsor Nigerians speaking to international audiences, the two candidates have been presented in crude and one-dimensional ways. The narrative at work in such commentaries says that Jonathan is a bumbler – a nice guy perhaps, but ultimately an “accidental president” who is in over his head, too incompetent to deal with problems like corruption or the violence caused by Boko Haram in the northeastern part of the country. Meanwhile, the same narrative tells us that Buhari is a thug – an essentially military man whose record is fatally tarnished by his regime’s actions in the 1980s, and whose prospects for winning the presidency have grown only because of Nigerians’ anxieties about Boko Haram. The narrative goes on to say that Nigerians face two very bad choices for president – perhaps implying that “the devil they know” is the better choice.

The rest of the blog post is here (highly recommended).

In related news Nigeria’s INEC on Tuesday announced that it had hit a 75% PVC issuance rate (or around 52 million people) to the almost 67 million registered voters. This included an average issuance rate of 76% in the three states worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency (Yobe, Adamawa, and Borno).

Making Sense of the Decision to Postpone Nigeria’s February 14 Elections

Last Saturday Nigeria’s electoral management body (INEC) postponed the February 14th national elections to March 28th. State elections were also moved from February 28th to April 11th. The official account is that INEC reached the decision after it became clear that the military would not guarantee security on election day (and therefore needed six weeks to pacify the northeast before reasonably peaceful elections could take place).

The head of INEC, Attahiru Jega, was categorical that “for matters under its control, INEC is substantially ready for the general elections as scheduled, despite discernible challenges being encountered with some of its processes like the collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) by registered members of the public.”

Naturally, the postponement raised a lot of questions.

Boko Haram has been terrorizing Nigerians for the better part of six years. It is therefore a little odd that the military suddenly found the magic formula to quell the insurgency in exactly six weeks. Why now?

Reactions from several commentators questioned the intentions of the Nigerian military, and by extension, of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration.

  • At the New Yorker Alexis Okeowo wonders why after six years the government has suddenly found the will and power to neutralize Boko Haram in six weeks. She argues that negative sectional politics prevented Jonathan, a southerner, from extinguishing the Boko Haram before the insurgency (mainly concentrated in the northeast) got out of hand. Okeowo also pours cold water on any hopes that a Buhari presidency would be any better for either Nigerian democracy or nation-building.
  • Tolu Ogunlesi at FT invokes the events of 1993 – that saw Moshood Abiola robbed of the presidency after an election – in arguing that the postponement might, among other things, be a sign of both a resurgence of the Nigerian military and an attempt by the same to prevent Buhari (who is perceived to harbor intentions of reforming the military) from becoming president.
  • Both Karen Attiah (Washington Post) and Todd Moss (CGD) see in the postponement a risky gamble by Jonathan and the military that might pay off (and result in a reasonably acceptable conduct of elections in six weeks) or completely backfire and mark the beginnings of a period of political instability in Nigeria.
  • Alex Thurston over at Sahel Blog notes that while the Jonathan campaign has praised INEC’s decision, the Buhari camp has expressed “disappointment and frustration [with] this decision.” But at the same time Buhari urged all Nigerians not to take any actions that might further endanger the democratic process in the country. Whether the opposition will heed Buhari’s call will crucially depend on the outcome of the March 28th contest.
  • Chimamanda Adichie, writing in the Atlantic, terms the postponement “a staggeringly self-serving act of contempt for Nigerians” that unnecessarily introduces even greater uncertainty into Nigeria’s political climate [ incidentally, following the postponement Nigeria’s overnight lending rate soared to 100 pct and the Naira hit 200 against the US dollar on Tuesday].

At face value, INEC’s decision seems reasonable. The security situation in the northeast makes it impossible to conduct a credible election. Plus, given Nigeria’s election law, it’s probably in the interest of the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, for elections to be conducted in the northeast (the winner needs a plurality of votes, and at least 25% in two thirds of the states and Abuja). The decision is also squarely constitutional. Like most Commonwealth states, election dates in Nigeria are not constitutionally fixed, and can be moved by the EMB. The only constraint on INEC is that elections must be head by April 29th, a month ahead of the constitutionally-mandated handover date of May 29th. Lastly, postponement buys INEC more time to issue permanent voter cards (PVCs). As of February 4th, only 44 out of 68.8 million potential voters had been issued with a PVC, a requirement to be able to vote (Lagos, a Buhari stronghold, had an issuance rate below 40%). These reasons might explain Buhari’s reluctant acceptance of the INEC decision.

That said, the timing of the postponement and the manner in which it was done are suspect. The Nigerian security establishment understood the challenge that Boko Haram posed with regard to the conduct of peaceful elections years in advance. So why act a week before the election? In addition, it was quite clear that the directive did not come from the generals per se, but from Aso Rock via the national security adviser Mr. Sambo Dasuki. The result is that the military has come off as an interested player in the election. At the same time, Mr. Dasuki’s involvement has dented (even if just slightly) INEC’s credibility as an independent arbiter in the process. As is shown below, Nigerians’ trust of the electoral process is already very low.

Confidence in the integrity of Nigerian elections

Confidence in the integrity of Nigerian elections

For the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, the postponement presumably buys more time to try and dampen Buhari’s momentum. Some have argued that it also allows him to device ways of ensuring a victory, whether through clean means or not. My take on this is that this strategy will probably backfire. First, it signals to voters weakness and unfair play – things that might anger fence-sitters and make them break for Buhari come March 28th. Second, the election monitoring literature tells us that smart incumbents rig elections well in advance. This is for the simple reason that election day rigging (or rigging too close to the election) is often a recipe for disaster (see Kenya circa 2007).

These elections will be the closest in Nigeria’s history. The polls are essentially tied. The current postponement will no doubt raise the stakes even higher ahead of March 28th. Furthermore, the shenanigans of the past week will increase pressure on INEC to conduct clean elections, especially in the eyes of Buhari supporters.

Ultimately the folly of the postponement may be that it has raised the bar too high for INEC. Nigeria might find itself in a bad place if Buhari loses an election marred by chaos and irregularities.

On the upcoming Nigerian elections

On February 14 Nigerians will go to the polls in what is arguably the most important election in the world this year. Here is a (small) collection of things you need to read before then:

1. Alex Thurston has a great backgrounder for CSIS on the upcoming Nigerian elections. Want to know about the coalitions angling for power in Abuja and state capitals all over Nigeria and how ongoing political maneuvers will impact the outcome of the presidential election? Then click here.

2. Earlier this month Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi wrote an excellent piece for FT that emphasized the fact that this will be Nigeria’s closest and most unpredictable election yet (a point echoed by Zainab Usman, a Nigerian DPhil Candidate at Oxford, over at African Arguments). The level of competition will no doubt put pressure on INEC, and the losing candidate, to ensure that the legitimacy of the process is not tarnished, regardless of the outcome.

3. Brookings has a nice summary of some of the key political and policy issues at stake in this year’s election.

4. In the only detailed forecast that I have seen ahead of the election, DaMina Advisors project that APC’s Rt. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari will win with 51% of the vote (and get 25% in at least 27 states). There have not been any reliable polling data coming out of Nigeria in this election cycle, so take DaMina’s projections with a Naija size grain of salt.

5. And lastly, here is an op-ed from the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Charles Soludo, on the economic dimension of this year’s election, as well as incumbent Goodluck Jonathan’s many failures.

If you have suggestions on interesting analyses ahead of the election please do share in the comments section.