Nigeria: The Two Major Parties’ Presidential Candidates Face Off for the Next Eight Months

Nigeria will hold an open presidential election in February 2023; current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited. In the last two weeks, both of the two major parties have concluded their presidential primaries. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2015, selected former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (in office 1999-2007) as its nominee. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) selected former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu (in office 1999-2007) as its nominee. One might say this is the least surprising outcome, given the stature of both men and their longstanding, open ambition to be president. Atiku was the runner-up in 2019 against Buhari, and Tinubu was the main architect of the APC, which formed in 2013 as a vehicle for Buhari’s fourth run for the presidency, but also as a compromise between opposition politicians in the north (Buhari’s turf) and the southwest (Tinubu’s).

The official campaign period is from 28 September 2022 to 23 February 2023 but I would say that the real-life campaign is now in full swing.

Given the advantages of incumbency, I would put Tinubu as the early favorite to win. On the other hand, both of the major parties are fractious coalitions, and a rebellion by part or all of the electorate is a possibility, especially given that both Tinubu and Abubakar represent a political class – septuagenarian, wealthy, careerist, and often vague on policy prescriptions (by choice, not due to lack of awareness of possible policies) – that is inherently distant from the lives of most ordinary Nigerians. Complex expectations about rotational dynamics and ethnoreligious balancing also come into play; Tinubu is a southerner and Abubakar is a northerner, Tinubu is Yoruba whereas Abubakar is Fulani, although both are Muslims.

Biographies of both men are legion, but the profiles from the BBC – of Abubakar and of Tinubu – are a good place to start if you are not familiar with either or both of them.

Nigeria 2023: Five Presidential Aspirants to Know

On February 25, 2023, Nigeria will hold presidential elections. Current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited and cannot run. The open presidential race will have major implications for the future of Nigeria and for West Africa and beyond.

Major politicians are starting to declare or at least strongly telegraph their candidacies, especially in advance of the presidential primary election for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), slated to be held on May 30-31 of this year, and the primary election for the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on May 28-29. The APC is expected to “zone” its candidate to southern Nigeria, as a power rotation after eight years of a northerner in the presidency.

Here are five names to know, including both APC and PDP candidates:

  1. Bola Tinubu: The Governor of Lagos State from 1999-2007, Tinubu has played a central role as a powerbroker in southwestern Nigeria and in national politics. He is widely considered the leading architect of the 2013 inter-party merger that created the present ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Tinubu declared on January 10: “I have the confidence, vision and capacity to rule, build on the foundation of Mr. President, and turn Nigeria better. I’ve done that before in Lagos State. You’ve seen that experience and the capacity to turn things around and that is what we are doing.”
  2. Yemi Osinbajo: Nigeria’s sitting Vice President since 2015, Osinbajo also hails from Lagos, where he was Tinubu’s Attorney General from 1999-2007. As Vice President, Osinbajo has often been particularly visible at moments when Buhari has been on extended medical leaves and my impression has been the Osinbajo travels internally within Nigeria more than Buhari does. Osinbajo announced his intention to run for president on April 11. He presented himself as a voice for ordinary Nigerians: “I’ve stood where you stand and sat where you sit. I know and I understand our hopes, aspirations and fears from a place of relatable proximity; and I believe that in those hopes and aspirations are the seeds for the great Nigeria that we all desire.” For whatever it’s worth, Tinubu is Muslim while Osinbajo is Christian; both belong to the APC.
  3. Rotimi Amaechi: Current Minister of Transportation and former Governor of Rivers State (2007-2015) in the Niger Delta, Amaechi is yet another APC aspirant for president. Announcing on April 9, Amaechi highlighted his long experience in elected and appointed positions. He said: “I pledge my heart, mind and soul to the task of building a Nigeria in which every child can go to school, every young person can find work or support to start a business, every citizen can travel safely around the country and sleep at night knowing that law and order prevails and every Nigerian feels included, heard, and respected.”
  4. Atiku Abubakar: Former Vice President (1999-2007) and runner-up in the 2019 presidential election, Abubakar is from Adamawa State in the northeast. He declared his candidacy on March 23, outlining a five-point agenda that emphasizes national unity, security, economic development, education, and the devolution of power to the states and local governments. As in 2019, Abubakar seeks to contest on the PDP ticket.
  5. Bukola Saraki: Member of a major political dynasty from Kwara State, Saraki served as Governor (2003-2011), Senator (2011-2019), and Senate President (2015-2019). The political landscape is shifting fast in advance of the PDP primary, but Saraki has recently been part of a four-candidate alliance advocating for a PDP unity candidate; the other members of the alliance are Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal (elected 2015, re-elected 2019), Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed (elected 2019), and the investment banker Mohammed Hayatu-Deen. Notably, many of the PDP’s top candidates are from the north, as is outgoing President Buhari.

BBC Pidgin has a list of the major APC aspirants and a separate list of the major PDP aspirants; both lists include a number of governors and former governors not mentioned above for reasons of concision.

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.

Resources for Following Election Results from Nigeria [Updated]

Nigeria held presidential elections on February 23 (after a last-minute, one-week postponement). I expect the incumbent, Muhammad Buhari, to win.

As results come in, here are a few sites and accounts that are useful for following along:

 

Thoughts on the Postponement of Nigeria’s Elections

On the night of February 15-16, in other words the eve of Nigeria’s scheduled presidential and legislative elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a one-week postponement to February 23. The postponement also affects the gubernatorial and state assembly elections, initially previewed for March 2 but now slated for March 9.

From the INEC website, here is an excerpt from Chairman (Prof.) Mahmood Yakubu’s remarks on February 16. I will quote at length, because I find some of this remarkable:

It is therefore not unexpected that such a tremendous national mobilization of men and materials will encounter operational challenges and we have had our own fair share of such challenges. There has been delays in delivering ballot papers and result sheets for the elections which is not unusual. However, I must emphasize that all the ballot papers and result sheets were ready before the elections despite the very tight legal timeframe for finalizing nomination of candidates and dealing with the spate of legal challenges that accompany it. In this regard, the Commission has been sued or joined in over 640 court cases arising from the nomination of candidates. As at today, there are 40 different court orders against the Commission on whether to add or drop candidates. The net effect of these is that there is usually roughly a one-month window for the Commission to print ballot papers and result sheets and either fly or transport them to several destinations until they finally get to each polling unit. Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather. We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs – Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yola (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics.

Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State Office at Awka. In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In Isiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the re-compiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.

What stood out to me were the defensive tone and the reference to sabotage. The postponement has obviously occasioned concerns (including from me!) that this a maneuver designed to favor the incumbent and reduce turnout, but here we see Yakubu portraying INEC as the target rather than the author of efforts at tampering.

Of course, past postponements have not necessarily favored the incumbent. In 2015, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a six-week delay amid the military campaign against Boko Haram. Jonathan then lost to Muhammadu Buhari.

That does not mean, however, that there is no cause for concern here. Jonathan’s administration deserves substantial criticism, but through 2018 and 2019 Buhari’s administration and the current iteration of INEC have made several problematic moves. This postponement follows two other incidents that troubled me: the highly contentious partial re-run of the gubernatorial election in Osun in September, and the presidency’s suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen in January.

Overall, I have long expected Buhari to win (partly, I admit, because of a status quo bias on my part – other analysts, most prominently the Economist Intelligence Unit, predict a win by Buhari’s chief rival, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar). Buhari’s central political alliance, with former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu, remains intact and seems likely to help Buhari reconstruct most of the map he won in 2015 – the north plus the southwest plus part of the Middle Belt.

But the map could shrink. There are internal, state-level conflicts within Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) that could affect Buhari’s prospects in northern states such as Kano. Meanwhile, Atiku and his allies have pull in states such as Adamawa and Kwara. I don’t expect all of these states to shift to Atiku’s column, but the “solid north” may be more competitive for Buhari than in 2011 and 2015. These dynamics give the president’s team an incentive to tamper – whether they have that intention is another question. But the postponement looks bad, not just in terms of INEC’s professionalism but also in terms of tampering.

My final thought is that I think another postponement is possible, although I would put the chances well under 50%. But if the logistical challenges were serious enough to warrant a one-week postponement, and if there are ongoing efforts at sabotage, then one week may prove insufficient.

For more, I recommend reading Fola Adeleke‘s piece at The Conversation.

 

Roundup of Important Writing on Nigeria’s Presidential Elections

Nigeria is holding presidential elections on 16 February and state elections on 2 March. Here are some important pieces I’ve seen:

  • At Quartz, Stephen Onyeiwu has the bluntly but appropriately titled, “Nigeria’s president Buhari failed to fix Nigeria’s economy, but still has the edge this election.”
  • At Reuters, Paul Carsten has a good overview of the contest and the context.
  • The main challenger, former Atiku Abubakar, laid out his economic vision at Al Jazeera.
  • Crisis Group notes “Six States to Watch” in both the presidential vote and the state contests to follow two weeks later. The states are Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Adamawa. In a similar vein, at USIP Oge Onubogu and Idayat Hassan write, “The Risk of Election Violence in Nigeria is Not Where You Think.”
  • At the BBC, Mayeni Jones explores the influence of “godfathers” over politics and elections.
  • A Vanguard editorial examines the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and calls on the president to reinstate him. Jibrin Ibrahim goes even deeper into the situation, writing, “Walter Onnoghen put Nigeria along the path to constitutional crisis by seeking to act as if he was above the law and President Muhammadu Buhari worsened the situation by suspending him without the accord of the National Judicial Council and swearing in Justice Tanko Muhammad as his interim replacement without allowing the National Judicial Council and the Senate play their constitutional roles.”
  • At African Arguments, Idayat Hassan looks at “fake news” and its political impact.
  • At This Day, Olusegun Adeniyi writes, despairingly, “Neither of the two candidates is offering ideas on how to resolve this nagging problem [of university staff strikes] or any of the other contradictions that define our nation today. Aside the tantrums, abuses and disinformation being exchanged in the social media by supporters of these two leading candidates, one cannot ascertain where they stand on critical national issues.”
  • At The Guardian, Feyi Fawehinmi gives satirical “Political Season Awards” to Nigerian politicians – but closes with the following ultra-serious, and now oft-cited, advice: “Get your PVC. Go out and vote your conscience. And please stay safe – no Nigerian politician is worth your life.”

Nigeria: Quick Thoughts on Oby Ezekwesili’s Candidacy, Technocrats Turned Politicians, and More

Yesterday I posted about former Vice President Atiku Abubakar securing the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nomination for Nigeria’s February 2019 presidential election. Today I’d like to mention another candidate, former cabinet minister, former World Bank Vice President, and #BringBackOurGirls organizer Oby Ezekwesili. She is running as the candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria.

From the BBC:

Along with reaching out to Nigeria’s youth, Ms Ezekwesili has an obvious appeal to women, and her high profile in the country and international respectability could also boost her candidacy.

She is also from the south of the country, while the two leading men are from the north, so this could help her pick up votes among southerners who want one of their own to lead the country.

Ms Ezekwesili is likely to elicit some support and could make the APC and PDP nervous, but the power of the established parties may be hard to overcome.

I am particularly interested in this candidacy because I have been following, for some time now, the ways that senior Nigerian technocrats become politicized and/or attempt to convert their technocratic reputations into political capital. I explored these themes in an article published at African Studies Review earlier this year. That article started with an excerpt from an interview Mehdi Hasan did with Ezekwesili, where he repeatedly insisted (and she repeatedly denied) that she was a politician. Funny how things change.

Nigeria: Thoughts on the PDP’s Nomination of Atiku Abubakar

Yesterday, 7 October, Nigeria’s former ruling party (the People’s Democratic Party or PDP) selected Atiku Abubakar as its nominee for the 2019 presidential elections. Abubakar served as Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999-2007, the first eight years of the PDP’s sixteen-year reign.

Abubakar has been a party’s nominee for president once before. Late in the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo (also served 1999-2007), the two men fell out, partly over power struggles and partly over the issue of Obasanjo’s desire to overturn term limits and obtain a third term. In 2007, Abubakar was the Action Congress’ nominee. He placed third in the general election that year, taking 7% of the vote; the winner was Obasanjo’s hand-picked successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, while Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria’s current president, elected in 2015) took second place. Atiku also eyed presidential runs in 2011 and 2015, although in 2015 he backed Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He then left the APC in 2017 and returned to the PDP.

Abubakar hails from Adamawa, in the far northeast. His political rise, ironically, was through the network of Yar’Adua’s older brother, the late Shehu Yar’Adua (1943-1997). In 1998, he won the gubernatorial election in Adamawa, but was quickly tapped as Obasanjo’s running mate. It’s worth mentioning here that S. Yar’Adua was Obasanjo’s second-in-command when the latter was military head of state from 1976-1979.

Returning to the present, Abubakar has defeated or outmaneuvered a slate of other prominent northern politicians, including various governors and senators to become the PDP nominee. These politicians include Senate President Bukola Saraki, of Kwara State; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, of Kano; Governor Aminu Tambuwal, of Sokoto; and former Governor Sule Lamido, of Jigawa. Some of these governors only recently rejoined the PDP after several years in the APC and a transitional phase in the “Reformed APC.”

In victory, Abubakar is emphasizing the theme of “let’s get Nigeria working again.”

Other candidates are pledging their support:

As of now, I do not rate the PDP’s chances highly. In fact, they are exposed to some of the same dilemmas that confront the ruling APC: (1) only one person can be the nominee, which creates restlessness among other politicians and can lead to repeated party-switching; and (2) seniority, and money, weigh heavily in parties’ selections of presidential nominees, meaning that the nominees are not always the best candidates, nor are they always well positioned to promise genuine change to voters. The PDP had to pick a nominee, of course, but picking Abubakar may now make them vulnerable to some of the defections that have plagued the APC this year (and that plagued the PDP during the lead-up to the 2015 elections). Meanwhile, one wonders whether the prospect of choosing between Buhari and Abubakar will not leave many southerners indifferent, not just because both candidates are northerners but also because both men represent the class of military officers and their proteges that have dominated presidential politics for decades. Abubakar, moreover, seems to me to be someone with clout and influence but without widespread personal popularity. Buhari, despite his many weaknesses as a president and a candidate, still has a charisma that Abubakar lacks. If figures such as Kwankwaso, Saraki, Lamido, and Tambuwal remain with the PDP and successfully peel their states out of Buhari’s column, the PDP and Abubakar might be able to put together a winning map that includes parts of the north, the middle belt, and the southeast (and here I mean both the South East and the South South). But I’m a bit skeptical that that will happen.

 

 

 

World Politics Review Article on Nigeria’s 2019 Elections

Yesterday I had a piece out with World Politics Review, looking at the approaching February/March 2019 elections through the lens of intra-elite shifts and some of Nigeria’s multi-faceted problems. The piece amplifies some of the themes from this post, and it would be well worth reading Matt Page’s latest for Quartz, which deals with some of the same developments.

As always, comments welcome below.