By Mojeed Alabi
For the fifth time since 1999 when the fourth Republic began, Nigerians last Saturday went to the poll to elect a president who will lead the nation for the next four years.
The announcement of the presidential election result by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, was almost halted by the protests of the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It accused the umpire of bias and complained of irregularities in the results announced by the electoral commission. The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has rejected the result and said he would challenge it in court.
Mr Buhari came to power in 2015 on the tide of popular discontent against his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. However, the tide started ebbing a few months into his administration, starting with his delay in appointing ministers.
For a man regarded as a firm and fearless leader with disdain for corruption, his close association with people accused of fraud and his frequent trips abroad in search of medical care soon impaired his goodwill.
A series of policy mishaps, delayed or failed responses to key national issues, economic troubles leading to massive loss of jobs, increased insecurity, among others, forced many Nigerians to seek alternative, believing that the jinx broken by Mr Buhari when he unseated a sitting president in 2015 can be repeated in 2019. They wanted to serve Mr Buhari a dose of his own medicine.
Based on the results announced by INEC, Mr Buhari has survived and has again been handed a four-year term — that is if not upturned by the court where his opponent has vowed to seek redress.
How then did a man many see as slow, aged and unfit to rule, triumph? This is especially taking into consideration the wide margin of about 4 million votes he won with this year, as against the 2.5 million votes he secured ahead of the incumbent in 2015.
Without prejudice to allegations of electoral manipulation that will be decided by the Supreme Court if Mr Abubakar makes true his threat, here are some factors that helped Mr Buhari to victory.
Loyal support base
Since 2003 when Mr Buhari began his quest for the presidency, there are states in the North East and the North West he has never lost, whether running in the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) or even in his new APC. The states are Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Yobe, Borno, Gombe, Bauchi, among others.
While many attributed this support to Mr Buhari’s lifestyle compared to other politicians and his religion of Islam, the fact that he had contested against fellow Muslims from the same northern region and still beat them appears to defeat this claim.
Since the death of the former premier of the defunct northern region, Ahmadu Bello, Mr Buhari is the only leader from Northern Nigeria who has managed to build a cultic following that is largely unconcerned about his performance in office. The real motivation for this support remains unclear.
The opposition PDP also made inroads into some of these northern states, and particularly Kano, where a former governor of the state, Rabiu Kwankwaso, led the battle for the PDP. But the party’s efforts yielded little compared to Mr Buhari’s APC’s.
Mr Buhari won in Kano despite his association with Governor Abdullahi Ganduje who was filmed accepting dollars alleged to be a bribe from a state contractor. The APC candidate scored more than 1.4 million votes compared to the paltry 391,593 garnered by his rival.
Power of incumbency
Until 2015 when former President Jonathan left office, upstaging incumbents in Nigeria, and most nations across Africa had been a strange sight. Thus the commendation that greeted Mr Jonathan’s historic phone call to his opponent, even before the final collation of results in 2015, was not unexpected.
Apart from the common sit-tight syndrome afflicting African leaders, except a very few including the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa, an African leader, whether in a democratic or autocratic system, is usually dominant. The power transcends their ability to muscle opposition at home, but also to curry the favour of many international organisations whose business interests and other deals require state protection.
As the world’s most populous black nation, the president of Nigeria is powerful and commands great respect from far and near, even if the citizens feel otherwise. Also, in the case of Mr Buhari, apart from his mass appeal to a section of the country, his assumption of power in 2015 has attracted him more friends across the bridge down south. Prior to his emergence in 2015, selling his candidacy to the southern electorate was a herculean task.
But in 2019, with political appointments offered many Nigerians across the states of the federation, and political patronage enjoyed by many politicians and businessmen and women, the story changed significantly for Mr. Buhari. This is evident in the results of the election across the states. For the first time in the history of his electoral journeys, Mr Buhari, apart from simple majority also secured the constitutionally required 25 per cent of total votes cast in 34 states of the federation.
Buhari’s relationship with governors
This was a significant strength of Mr Buhari’s campaign in the southeast region, where the president faced stiff opposition. The president, since his assumption of power, has related cordially with all governors regardless of political party or ethnic affiliations. When bailouts were dished out to the states to assist them on salary payments, the sharing formula was generally accepted as fair and just.
The Enugu State governor and his counterparts in Ebonyi and Abia, who are of the PDP, had no reason to be committed to plots against the president. When their party queried their commendation of the president, one of them was reported to have said his relationship with the president was beyond politics.
The Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, whose predecessor was the running mate of the PDP candidate, did not also hide his admiration for Mr Buhari. He said he had taken more infrastructural projects to the region than many of his predecessors.
Defections and political realignments across the country helped Mr Buhari’s reelection bid in no small measure. The endorsement of some key figures seemed to have enhanced his chances.
For instance, Godswill Akpabio may have lost his senatorial reelection bid in Akwa Ibom State, but his defection to APC emboldened the president’s camp and reduced the strength of the PDP. While he failed to win the state for the APC, the president’s performance in the state cannot be dissociated from his efforts alongside other leaders in the party.
A similar scenario played out in Rivers State, which is generally regarded as the hotbed of intriguing politics. The combination of the strength of former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Magnus Abe, among others, gave a stiff challenge to the PDP in the state. Even when Mr Amaechi was the state governor in 2015, the president could not record more than 69,000 votes, compared to the PDP’s more than 1 million votes recorded. But the story changed this year.
The emergence of a former governor of Abia State who is facing corruption charges, Orji Kalu, as a senator-elect on the platform of the APC, is a confirmation of the influence of the power of realignments on the fortune of Mr Buhari in the east.
PDP/Atiku’s alleged baggage of corruption
If Mr Buhari was unable to achieve anything in the last four years, he was able to demonise the main opposition party as a haven of corruption. Anywhere the president or his party members went, they were quick to label the PDP as a gathering of corrupt individuals.
They usually backed up their claims with accounts of how the nation’s economy plummeted under the weight of financial malfeasance during the 16 years of the party’s reign. Not even the argument that the APC has been turned to a sanctuary for those it tagged as corrupt could stop the ruling party from tarring its opponent black.
The public apology by the party through its national chairman, Uche Secondus, may have worsened the situation, as it was seen by many as an admission of guilt.
The choice of Atiku Abubakar as its presidential candidate did not also help matters, especially with the baggage of yet unproven corruption allegations placed on Mr. Abubakar’s head.
Efforts to clear his name and his hurried visit to America ahead of the election could hardly change the minds of many Nigerians about the PDP candidate. Even when many Nigerians did not want Mr Buhari’s return as president, Mr Abubakar was not the alternative for them. A leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, said rather than voting for either, he would stay away.
The ASUU leader, who asked not to be named, described the choice before Nigerians as Hobbesian, saying there was only one offer, and it was either Nigerians took it, or they would lose it.
PDP’s protracted crisis
Another major factor that may have influenced the reelection of Mr Buhari was the prolonged crisis within the opposition PDP. Until 2018, the crisis of leadership that rocked the party led to the exodus of its members to other parties. The ruling APC was a beneficiary in many states. The likes of former Borno State Governor, Ali Sheriff, and his supporters; its former spokesman, Dayo Adeyeye in Ekiti State; Iyiola Omisore, a former senator in Osun State; Jerry Gana, former presidential aspirant, and the party’s chairman in Lagos State, Moshood Salvador, among others, left the party.
The fallout of the party’s presidential primaries also affected the party as the choice of the delegates raised dust. The selection of Peter Obi, regarded as a new entrant into the party from his former All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), also fueled further crisis. Even when the party stakeholders publicly denied any rancour over Mr. Obi’s choice, keen watchers knew all was not well. That may have contributed significantly to the improved figures recorded by Mr Buhari in Mr Obi’s region.
The last-minute postponement of the general election was one of the major factors that affected voters’ turnout last Saturday. There are indications that Mr Buhari was a major beneficiary. Many Nigerians, and particularly those who travelled far distances before the postponement, could not make it back to their polling centres a week after.
APC’s firm leadership
The renewed energy brought on board by the new leadership of the APC under Adams Oshiomhole, a former governor, also helped the party.
Even though his leadership was accused of meddlesomeness and corruption by some stakeholders, his ability to maintain party supremacy seemed to have instilled discipline in the party. People may query the fallout of the party primaries in states such as Rivers, Zamfara, Imo, and Ogun, but the outcome of the elections in many of these states proved the party leader right.
Before Mr. Oshiomhole’s emergence, the leadership seemed to have lost grip on the party structures across many states. The conflict between the executive and the Legislature was not unconnected with the poor leadership of the ruling party.
Politics of endorsement
Endorsements like those from the regional and socio-cultural groups such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, among others, seemed to have caused more divisions than unity. Many accused the groups of receiving pecuniary gains for their decisions, and as a result, decided to vote against their wishes.