On 3 July, some prominent Nigerian politicians announced that they were breaking with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and forming a new bloc called the Reformed All Progressives Congress (R-APC). The breakaway group say they are dissatisfied with the performance of the APC and particularly with President Muhammadu Buhari. In their statement, the R-APC also complain about what they allege is a lack of internal party democracy and a pattern of top-down manipulation for the selection of party officers. The R-APC specifically objects to how events played out at the APC National Convention, the main events of which were on 23 June.
The R-APC is chaired by Bula Galadima of Yobe State, a former Buhari ally, but in terms of actual sitting elected politicians, the key figures in the R-APC are Senate President Bukola Saraki (Kwara State), House Speaker Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi), and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano).
In some ways, the R-APC is a rebranding of the “New People’s Democratic Party” or nPDP, a group of primarily northern elites that broke with the then-ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2013. The story is well summarized here, including how the nPDP figures felt marginalized under the big tent of the APC after the 2015 election victory. nPDP leaders believed that other constituent parties and blocs within the APC, a mega-coalition of four parties, were getting better positions and offices. Saraki and Dogara’s positions were opposed by prominent APC figures, and there have been major tensions between Buhari on the one hand, and Saraki and Dogara on the other, since the 2015 elections if not longer.
Although it may seem that history is repeating itself, I think that it is too early to conclude that the split has decisively affected Buhari’s re-election prospects. What matters, ultimately, is the electoral map. In 2015, the APC represented a major threat to the PDP because the APC could – and, obviously, eventually did – put together a coalition (of elites or voters, as you like) that won the north, most of the southwest, and significant parts of the Middle Belt. If 2011 serves as precedent, then Buhari can win in the north even over the opposition of some northern elites – Kwankwaso, for example, won back the governorship of Kano in 2011 on the PDP ticket even as Buhari won the state in the presidential contest.
A major question for the R-APC, then, is how far south its reach extends. I hesitate to use the term, but one might call Adamawa and Kwara “swing states” in the Nigerian context; Buhari lost both in 2011 but won both in 2015. If the R-APC pulled those two states out of Buhari’s column come 2019, it wouldn’t necessarily spell doom – in 2015 (.pdf), the APC/Buhari won 21 states to the PDP’s 15 states and got 15.4 million votes to the PDP’s 12.8 million votes. Take Adamawa (374,701 votes for the APC) and Kwara (302,146 votes for the APC) out of Buhari’s column, and the APC still would have gotten roughly half of the approximately 28.6 million valid votes cast. Things will be very different in 2019, of course – more voters, different dynamics – but the point is that Buhari could win without those two states. What would become truly dangerous for Buhari is if the R-APC starts picking off states in the southwest. It is perhaps no accident that alongside Galadima as chairman, the R-APC appointed Fatai Atanda of Oyo (just south of Kwara) as National Secretary. One problematic scenario for Buhari would see him winning a plurality of votes but falling short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off. In a way, the fragmented opposition bodes well for him, but enough cracks within the APC and enough momentum for different opposition groups in different parts of the country and he may run into trouble.