Nigeria: Initial Impressions Regarding Buhari’s Re-Election

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been re-elected to a second four-year term, as many observers expected. Working off of these figures for 2015 and these figures for 2019, here are a few initial points I would make:

  • Buhari’s map shifted and contracted slightly even as his absolute numbers held basically constant. That is, Buhari won 21 states in 2015 and 19 in 2019, with four states moving out of his column (Adamawa, Benue, Ondo, Oyo) and two states moving into his column (Ekiti and Nasarawa). The 2019 map is essentially just a bifurcation of Nigeria with a line running from the northeast to the southwest. In terms of absolute numbers, Buhari won roughly 15.4 million votes in 2015 and roughly 15.2 million in 2019. Turnout was low, perhaps partly because of the last-minute, one-week delay.
  • Buhari won largely because of massive margins in the north. In patterns that partly replicated patterns from 2015, Buhari scored huge margins in northern states such as Kano (1.07 million vote margin), Katsina (920,000 vote margin), and Borno (760,000 vote margin).
  • If Buhari won by fraud, it was through elevating northern vote totals while simultaneously drawing a plausible map. Some of the northern numbers deserve real scrutiny. Why was Kano such a blowout, when many observers expected it to be competitive? How did the Buhari vote in Borno jump from 473,543 in 2015 to 836,496 in 2019? At the same time, if Buhari’s camp rigged, they either wisely refrained (or were other constrained) from any attempt to take states in the south east and south south (where Buhari won nothing, although he won enough of the vote there to avoid running afoul of the requirement that the winner obtain at least 25% in at least two-thirds of Nigeria’s states). And Buhari’s camp either decided (or was forced) to run tight races in much of the southwest and the Middle Belt, ceding some states (again, Oyo, Ondo, Benue, and one might add Edo* and Taraba) and squeaking by in others (Osun, Nasarawa, and arguably Kogi, depending on what you consider a tight margin). In other words, if they rigged, they didn’t try to take the whole cake – just enough to make sure they won decisively.
  • The southwest isn’t as solid for Buhari (and Tinubu?) as I expected. In my more simplistic moments, I think of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) as a deal between the north and the southwest, personified respectively by Buhari and former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu. But 2015 and 2019 show that even that caricature has some truth to it, TInubu can’t simply “deliver” the southwest. There are always gaps, be it Ekiti in 2015 or Oyo and Ondo in 2019.
  • The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) erred by nominating Atiku Abubakar. It sounds obvious in hindsight, but I think it bears mention: Abubakar, a former Vice President, had wide name recognition but also clear baggage, especially in terms of his previous tenure and his perceived associations (fair or unfair) with corruption. I wonder if another (younger?) candidate would have done better.

*Technically south south, but adjacent to the southwest.

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