Frozen in electoral time

Frozen in electoral time

By Mahmud Jega |

The long and arduous 2019 election season came to a shattering climax this morning with the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election. The retired Army General, former military ruler and veteran opposition leader who made history in 2015 by defeating a sitting president was re-elected this time around by beating back a determined effort by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate. This is the third time since 1999 that a sitting president was re-elected in Nigeria, and the second time in 20 years that a president is serving a second term in Aso Rock.

Buhari got 15.2 million votes, two hundred thousand less than the 15.4 million votes he got in 2015. This, even though the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] registered 15 million more voters since 2015. Atiku got 11.3 million votes, a million and a half less than the 12.8 million votes that President Goodluck Jonathan got in 2015. Still, Buhari led Atiku by nearly four million votes, more than the 2.5million margin he had over President Jonathan in 2015.

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In other words, both APC and PDP candidates suffered a decrease in votes, APC only marginally, PDP a little more substantially. To put it another way, incumbency at the Federal level and in many states hardly benefitted APC electorally while PDP’s loss of incumbency at the Federal level and many states did not seem to affect it too much.

Votes for the two major candidates dropped even though there are 84 million registered voters in Nigeria in 2019, 15 million more than the 69 million registered voters in 2015. Voter turnout in many states suggests that there was a drop in voter enthusiasm compared to 2015. In Lagos State for example, turnout dropped by around 300,000 while in Kano State, it dropped by nearly half a million. Some states that gave PDP huge votes in 2015, such as Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom, fell way short this time around, while APC also recorded fewer votes in its three biggest vote banks namely Kano, Katsina and Kaduna.

President Buhari won the election in 19 states while 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] went to Atiku. The states Buhari won are Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno, Gombe and Bauchi. Atiku won in Oyo, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Abia, Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau and FCT.

Electorally speaking, Nigeria was nearly frozen in time. In the whole country, only five states changed sides since 2015. While Ekiti State moved from PDP’s column to APC’s, Benue, Adamawa, Oyo and Ondo States moved from APC’s column to PDP’s. All other states remained where they were in 2015. Kwara and Sokoto failed to make a switch even though their APC governors defected to PDP. Ondo, which voted APC when it had a PDP governor, now voted PDP when it has an APC governor. Adamawa, which voted solidly for Buhari in 2015 when it had a PDP governor, switched over to PDP now that it has an APC governor, possibly because it is Atiku’s home state. Benue and Kogi, which voted APC in 2015 when they had PDP governors, went their separate ways this time around with Benue going PDP and Kogi going APC.

Buhari owes his victory to the overwhelming support he personally enjoys in the populous North West, North East and parts of the North Central, especially Niger State. He reaped the biggest votes in Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Borno, Bauchi and Jigawa States, much as he did in 2015. He however lost half a million votes in Kano State alone, possibly due to voter apathy but possibly also due to the Kwankwasiyya factor. While Buhari captured all the South Western states in 2015, he lost two key Yoruba states, Oyo and Ondo, this time around. Even though Buhari won in Lagos, most Lagosians stayed at home and he got only 580,000 votes in a state with 6.5million registered voters. PDP’s tally also slumped in Lagos, from 600,000 in 2015 to 450,000 in 2019.

Noticeably however, President Buhari made no electoral inroads at all in the South East and South South, the same areas that voted against him in 2015. Even APC-controlled Imo and Edo states voted for the PDP candidate, the former very heavily, the latter only marginally. Plateau, which is APC controlled, voted for the PDP presidential candidate, same way it did in 2015. Then also, PDP-controlled Gombe, Kwara and Sokoto states voted heavily for the re-elected president.

Four possible factors explain the drop in voters’ enthusiasm in this year’s presidential election, compared to 2015. The top one is the lack of regional, religious and ethnic difference between the two top contenders. Both Buhari and Atiku are Northern ethnic Fulani Muslims, which virtually eliminated inter-communal competition in the contest. Secondly, there was a noticeable paucity of money. Unlike in 2015 when the ruling PDP shoveled billions of naira in diverted state funds into the campaign, the stern and austere Buhari ensured that APC had little money to prosecute this year’s campaign. There was a marked shortage of wall posters, radio and television jingles, newspaper ads and funds for “mobilization.” PDP, on the other hand, had nowhere near the funds it had in 2015. Mega private corporations that generously donated to it in 2015 did not do so this time. Talk about Atiku’s stupendous personal wealth also did not materialize in this election.

The third likely factor was the short campaign period. Even though the parties had three months under the election time table to campaign, they did not start until mid-January, when they launched a vigorous campaign of mega rallies, two per day at times. The fourth likely factor was postponement of the poll from last week. Millions of people travelled home from the big cities before February 16 and many of them did not return home the following week to vote.

The only thing that matters now is that Buhari has won re-election. The most dramatic moment of 2015, i.e. President Jonathan’s concession phone call, might not happen this year, in which case a protracted legal battle over the results is not out of the question. The country has another very important election lined up next week, to elect state governors and members of state Houses of Assembly. Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari must unfold his second term program and style of rule. How different that will be from his first term, remains to be seen.

Credit: Daily Trust

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