Africa’s most populous nation and leading producer of oil gears up for their elections on February 16, observers would be keen to see if Nigerians would retain President Buhari for his second and final term or return to the party which ruled the country for 16 years until Buhari’s presidency. The president is elected using a simple majority of total votes cast. As well as, at least a quarter in two-thirds of its 36 states. Otherwise, a run-off is called, which will be held within 7 days after the announcement of the election result, in accordance with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
After organizing the most expensive election in Africa in their last election in 2015, it came as no surprise when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman requested for N189.2 billion (approx. $523 million) for the 2019 election, up from N120 billion (approx. $332 million) in 2015. The chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in August 2018, attributed the difference to a number of factors including, increase in number of political parties from 44 in 2015 to 91 in 2019, thereby affecting the size and cost of ballot papers, increase in voter population from 69 million in 2015 to 84 million, high cost of logistics, and exchange rates.
With 91 political parties registered for the 2019 elections, only 73 parties have nominated their presidential candidates. However, with few weeks to the election, the withdrawal of presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, has been rendered invalid by the country’s electoral commission on the grounds that “by Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) the period for the withdrawal of candidates for all categories has lapsed.”
Despite having 73 candidates vying for president, it’s likely going to be a two-horse race as witnessed in 2015 between the two leading parties, All Progressives Congress (APC), represented by incumbent President Buhari and the main opposition party, Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), led by former Vice-President under President Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar. With Buhari winning 53.96% of the total votes cast against incumbent President Jonathan’s 44.96% in 2015, making it the first time an incumbent lost re-election in the country, President Buhari would try to consolidate his gains to get re-elected for his second and final term on February 16.
It must however be noted that the 2019 election wouldn’t be the first time Atiku has contested Buhari in an election. In the 2007 presidential elections, which was won by Umaru Yar’Adua, candidate for the then ruling PDP, Atiku’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was third, behind Buhari’s All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Also, after the formation of APC, which was a coalition of opposition parties including Atiku’ ANC and Buhari’s ANPP, in 2013, both politicians contested in the party’s primaries for the flag-bearer position in December 2014. This was won by Buhari, with Atiku being distance third. Buhari further went on to win the general elections in 2015 against incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan. In the 2019 elections, Atiku has switched camps from the ruling APC, to the main opposition party, PDP, to challenge Buhari again.
One unique feature about this election is that, the two leading candidates, President Buhari and Atiku are both northern Muslims, and this would help avoid identity politics, in terms of supporting a candidate based on religion or region. For instance, in the 2015 election, it was between a southern Christian, President Jonathan and a northern Muslim, Buhari. Though President Jonathan had low approval ratings, he was still elected as the presidential candidate of PDP. The PDP’s problems were compounded when some 5 state governors from northern Nigeria and former Vice President, Atiku, felt the presidential candidate from their party, as per tradition, should have come from the north, defected to the APC, thereby affecting their (PDP) electoral fortunes.
Last May, President Buhari signed a bill reducing the presidential age limit from 40 to 35, in order to give younger people the opportunity to contest for the highest position of the land. Despite this law, only 11 out of the 73 presidential candidates are under 40 years. This can be attributed to the cost of filing for nomination in the major parties. For example, the cost of filing for nomination as a presidential candidate was N45 million (approx. $124,000) in the ruling party APC, and N12 million (approx. $33,000) for the main opposition PDP. With high levels of unemployment among the youth and the country’s minimum wage pegged at N30, 000/month (approx. $84.00) these fees proved way beyond the means of most youths.
ISSUES SHAPING UP THE ELECTIONEERING CAMPAIGN
Many issues have come up during the campaign leading up to the election on February 16. Amongst them include corruption, security, state of the Nigerian economy, Buhari’s health and the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Being one of the tripod policies promised to Nigerians by Buhari’s party during the 2015 electioneering campaign when he declared, “if we don’t kill corruption in this country, corruption will kill Nigerians”, the administration is indeed living the talk.
Few months after being inaugurated as president in May 2015, Buhari implemented the Treasury Single Account (TSA), which sought to regulate the level of accountability and transparency in the government’s financial resources. This was because previous governments had operated multiple accounts for the collection and disbursement of government revenues, making it difficult for the government to ascertain the money they had in their coffers at any given point in time, thereby paving way for corruption.
Despite the policy being introduced in 2012, the previous government had no political will to enforce it. For instance, in January 2015, President Jonathan ordered all federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to close their existing accounts with commercial banks and transfer them to the TSA, with February 28, as the deadline. This directive was ignored and none of the MDAs were sanctioned.
Upon Buhari’s assumption to power in May 2015, and Nigerians also being aware of his stance on anti-corruption from his previous administration in the 1980s, the policy was implemented, when he directed the MDAs to enforce it.
Also, Buhari’s current administration has seen the prosecution of several high profile personalities including politicians, judges, civil servants and retired military officers, implicated in corruption cases. For example, on January 25, 2019, he suspended the federal Chief Justice, Walter Onnonghen, who was charged by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for failing to disclose his assets, arguing that “no one must be, or be seen to be, above the law.” Other high profile personalities prosecuted include Joseph Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Jolly Nyame, former governor of Tabara State.
His anti-corruption campaign has seen the country recover billions of Naira in stolen assets, from corrupt citizens. According to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), by May 2018, about N500 billion (approx. $1.4 billion) have been recovered from 603 corruption cases prosecuted, since Buhari came into office in May 2015. Despite these achievements, Buhari’s campaign has been perceived as targeting his political opponents, allowing his political allies to go free.
Atiku on the other hand has been accused of several corrupt practices including using his position in the Nigerian Customs Service to perpetrate acts of corruption and also using one of his wives, Jennifer, to launder more than $40million in suspicious funds between 2000 and 2008 to the US, thereby tainting his image. However, Atiku has persistently rejected these allegations.
Fighting corruption, Atiku has promised to use advanced technological tools in the country’s public and private sectors, when he becomes president. He sees this as a way “to prevent any form of direct contact that can cause corruption”. He said this while speaking at a town hall meeting organized by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in Abuja, on January 30, 2019.
Another issue dominating the campaign is security. Prior to the 2015 election, Nigeria had been plagued with attacks from the militant group, Boko Haram, including kidnapping of school girls. These incessant attacks even led to the postponement of the 2015 election. With this background, President Buhari promised to end the insurgency, as part of his three major policies, when elected as president.
Within few years of his administration, he was able to secure the release of hundreds of girls kidnapped in Chibok by the militant group since 2014. Also, the Nigerian Army together with the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was able to recover large swathes of lands in northern Nigeria occupied by the group.
However, these early successes were short-lived. On November 18, 2018, for instance, the militant group attacked an army base in Metele village in Borno state, near the Niger border, and according to the Nigerian Army, at least 23 soldiers were killed. Also, Boko Haram has been able to recover some of the lands they lost to the army in the early periods of Buhari’s presidency. For example, in late December 2018, the Islamic State West African Province, a splinter group of Boko Haram, took over the town of Baga, near the Chad border, and seized the nearby military base of the MNJTF.
Moreover, violence in central Nigeria has compounded to the security challenges faced by Buhari’s government. According to the International Crisis Group, fighting between farmers and herdsmen in central Nigeria has led to more deaths than attacks by Boko Haram in 2018.
As Buhari seeks re-election on February 16, Nigerians are wondering if the president can handle these security challenges.
Capitalizing on the president’s inability to handle the level of insecurity in the country, Atiku is assuring Nigerians he has the solution. He argues that job creation would help solve the insecurity in the country. In a recent campaign rally at Minna, in Niger State, on January 9, 2019, he remarked, “they have been unable to control insecurity because they have been unable to provide jobs and businesses for the people.” He continues that, “so by the time we provide jobs and businesses for our young men and women, you will hear of less crime and insecurity.”
Being the third of Buhari’s government tripod policies promised to Nigerians before he became president, the state of the Nigerian economy has been a major issue hanging around the neck of the ruling government. This is where his administration has struggled most.
Being the leading producer of oil in Africa and the country’s economy being largely dependent on oil, the fall in its prices between 2015 and 2016 affected Buhari’s early years in office. Prior to becoming president, oil prices were over $100/barrel. It dropped to $63 by the time he was inaugurated in May 2015 and by February 2016, it has fallen to $35, thereby affecting the country’s budget. For example, the 2016 budget had a deficit of N2.2 trillion, (approx. $6.1 billion), which was about 2.14% of GDP. Against this backdrop, Buhari couldn’t prevent the country from going into recession in 2016. However, the Nigerian economy has started recovering but at a slow rate.
Also, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Buhari’s tenure has seen a continuous rise in unemployment rates from 13.9% in July 2016 to 18.8% in July 2017. As at July 2018, it has risen to 23.1%. His inability to address the country’s economic problems since he became president has left many Nigerians frustrated and disappointed in his administration.
Atiku on the other hand is seen by many Nigerians as capable of addressing the state of the Nigerian economy because of his track record. As a private citizen, he’s been able to establish multi-billion dollar companies covering sectors like agriculture, logistics, education, food and beverages and media, employing thousands of Nigerians. Boasting from his experience, Atiku argues that he is the right candidate to get the Nigerian economy back on track by reducing unemployment, attracting investment and putting Nigeria on a $900 billion GDP by 2030. In achieving this, Atiku has pledged to reduce tax, since that would attract more foreign investors into the country, thereby creating jobs to address the issue of unemployment.
Another issue dominating the campaign is the health of President Buhari, as he spent several months seeking medical treatment abroad since he became president in 2015. In one instance, in 2017, he was away for 104 days. That was the second time he had been on such vacation that year.
His regular absence from the public sphere whiles seeking treatment to a disease unknown to the Nigerian public, led to false reports of he being dead. It was even falsely claimed he had died and had been cloned. This led Buhari send out a tweet whiles away in Poland on December 2, 2018, dismissing the clone rumors as “ignorant”. With Nigerians having already dealt with the trauma of losing a sitting president due to ill health in 2010, Buhari’s health has left many worried and concerned.
Chief Justice’s Suspension
On January 25, 2019, President Buhari suspended the federal Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, sparking protests from many Nigerians. Though the decision may be good, as this is part of the president’s anti-corruption campaign as a result of the Chief Justice being charged by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for failing to disclose his assets, the timing is bad. This is because with few weeks to the election, the Chief Justice, who heads the Supreme Court, would superintend on any legal challenge to the election result should there be one. This has left many Nigerians and observers concerned.
Atiku has described the president’s action as “geared towards affecting the outcome of the 2019 Presidential elections”. But the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, on January 28, dismissed this allegation remarking that, the suspension “has nothing to do with the forthcoming elections”.
ELECTION OBSERVER MISSIONS
The INEC on January 27, 2019, announced the observer missions for the election and these included both domestic and international observers. With the local observers, 116 institutions were given accreditation including Action Aid Nigeria, Al-Habibiyyah Islamic Society, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Centre for Citizens with Disability, Christian Council of Nigeria, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Rights Monitoring Group, The Albino Foundation, Women Empowerment for Global Impact Initiative and Youth Initiative for Better Nigeria. With regards to the international observer missions, 28 institutions were accredited and they include, the African Bar Association, African Union, British High Commission, European Union, International Human Rights Commission, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Pan African Women Projects, The Commonwealth and the US Embassy.
ANY OTHER ELECTION?
Aside Nigerians electing a president, they would also have a chance to vote for new legislators in the National Assembly elections on the same day, where several candidates would be elected to fill up the 360 and 109 seats in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. On March 2, 2019, Nigerians would again go to the polls for the gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections.
Cornelius is a freelance researcher who holds an MSc in Defense & International Politics and BA in History and Geography