Nigeria ought to have held an election on 16/2/19. It would have been the first stage of general elections that hold every 4 years because we have a USA style presidential system. Unfortunately, the elections were postponed 5 hours before polls opened. There is a word in Nigerian pidgin; “anyhowness”. It is a combination of many things including nonchalance, carelessness, incompetence and stupidity. For a country that is used to displays of anyhowness, this postponement was a level lower. The reasons for the postponement include lack of readiness by the electoral authority INEC, despite having 4 years to prepare and having conducted 5 previous general elections and numerous bye elections from 1999 (when the military handed over to civilians) to date.
During the 2016 US elections, a recurring sentiment that I found bemusing was how both candidates were disliked and the election was a case of having to choose the least bad option. That is now the case with this election, 2 main candidates and for me, both are repugnant. The incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari contested in 2003, 2007, 2011 & 2015. When he lost in 2011, I wept. He is a retired general who was head of state from 1983 to 1985. While I am too young to remember what his regime was like, the popular belief is that he ruled with discipline and integrity. These qualities shone even brighter in comparison to his successor; General Babangida whose barefaced looting of state coffers became the norm for subsequent rulers. After Buhari’s loss in 2011, he vowed not to contest again. I thought it was a good decision and I hoped he would support a younger, proven competent person for the 2015 polls. However, he changed his mind, contested, and won under the flag of the All Progressives Congress (APC). That was the first time a sitting president had lost an election in Nigeria. The guy who lost, Goodluck Jonathan, wrote his name in gold by handing over peacefully.
There are probably as many as 30 other candidates contesting against the president. However, only one – Atiku Abubakar – stands a chance because he is a stronger, richer, more experienced politician. He is also the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP had ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Atiku had been vice president from 1999 to 2007 under President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, they had a falling out and Obasanjo threw his support behind another candidate who got the party’s ticket and won the election. Atiku allied with Buhari to form the APC in 2015 and was instrumental in helping Buhari to win against Goodluck. However, he left the APC, re-joined the PDP and got the ticket to contest against his former ally.
Goodluck had been voted out because his administration was horribly corrupt. No government had earned as much money as his in Nigeria’s history. Yet, by the time he handed over in 2015, the government could not even pay salaries. Further, there was an insurgency in the Northeast of the country and the government had lost control of about 15% of the country’s land mass. Buhari came in on a promise to defeat the insurgency and fight corruption. There was much hope that he would succeed against the insurgents because while he was a general, he had commanded troops that guarded the North-eastern border and had even had skirmishes with our neighbour, Chad Republic. In fairness, the insurgents have been severely degraded since he took over but the military has been unable to complete their defeat. Further, the allegations of corruption within the leadership of the military which had hampered efforts in the previous administration resurfaced. However, this is not why he lost my support. For a man who came in as Mr Anti-Corruption, his efforts to tackle it have been superficial and disjointed. It is clear that only opponents of the government are investigated and harassed for being corrupt. Additionally, for a man of his experience, fighting corruption should have been systemic, strengthening the police and courts so that the fight can continue after his administration ends. That is my biggest issue with him, the dishonesty and superficiality of the anticorruption effort. Further, when he was head of state in the 1980s, the country went into a recession. It went into another recession after he took over in 2015. While the latest recession is not his fault given the mess he inherited, his handling of the economy probably worsened it. His policies are statist and populist and he seeks to bring back the state led economic model of the 1970s and 1980s. So, these are the reasons why I do not like Buhari. I do not think his administration has been a success and I do not think he will do better if given a second term.
Atiku has been campaigning on a promise to fix the economy. He is asking Nigerians to choose between integrity and capacity. He argues that he has the capacity to lift Nigeria out of poverty. The PDP boasts that while they were in power, Nigeria’s economy grew to become the largest in Africa, with a GDP in excess of $500 billion. However, the growth of the economy was mostly due to high crude oil prices. The Nigerian government lives off crude exports. Further, given the sums earned by the government from 1999 to 2015, the achievements the PDP boasts of are nothing of note. The country earned almost $400 billion in 16 years, yet we lack reliable power. We have only 1 functioning passenger rail line that was built with a Chinese loan and it is just 200 km long. We have to import refined petroleum products. The PDP’s rule was just an exercise in profligacy and looting of state resources. For that reason, I cannot support the return of that party.
Nigerian presidential elections are sometimes starkly binary affairs. This was the case in 2003, 2011 and 2015. There are 2 basic divisions in the country – north/south and Muslim/Christian. The religious divide is not absolute because the southwest and the middle belt (also known as north central) are well mixed. The southwest is nearly 50% Christian while the middle belt is about 40% Christian. These figures are estimates because tribe and religion are the bases for access to state resources and thus a census is a contentious affair. There was one in 2006 but it omitted these indices. These factors usually mean that if the main contenders come from different parts of the country or have different faiths, then it is easy to predict which part of the country would vote for which candidate. Usually though, the main candidates are usually from the same region and of the same faith. This is done to avoid politically motivated sectarian strife.
There have been 5 presidential elections from 1999 to date. In 1999, General (Rtd) Olusegun Obasanjo was the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) while Chief Olu Falae was the candidate of an alliance of 2 parties – All People’s Party (APP) & Alliance for Democracy (AD). They were both Christians and Yoruba from the southwest. Obasanjo won because he had the backing of the military which was dominated by northern Muslims. Obasanjo was a former military head of state who in 1979 got the distinction of being the first military ruler in the world to hand over to civilians. He did not get the vote of his kinsmen in the southwest who preferred the more cerebral Falae. Further, Obasanjo was seen by them as a front for the northerners. In the 2003 elections, Obasanjo contested (for the PDP) and won against another retired general, Muhammadu Buhari (contesting for the APP). Buhari is from the northwest, is Muslim and Fulani, a tribe resented by southerners and Christians for their dominance of national politics and a history of conquest and arrogance. In 2007, Buhari contested again (for APP) against Umaru Yaradua (PDP). Yaradua was the governor of Katsina state, which is Buhari’s state. He was also a northern aristocrat, like Buhari. Yaradua won the election decisively mostly because of federal power. Yaradua had been the PDP’s candidate because there is an unofficial agreement to rotate the presidency between the north and the south. This also means that if the president is Muslim, his vice president will be Christian and vice versa. Yaradua died in 2010 and Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent vice president, was sworn in. Goodluck’s ascension was not without controversy. Yaradua was ill for most of his presidency. There had to be civil demonstrations before Goodluck could be sworn in as acting president because even though the president was clearly incapacitated, his political cronies were loath to release the levers of the state. Goodluck is from the Niger Delta; the oil producing region of the south. For national political purposes, the region is called the south-south. It is a region that for all the wealth it has produced for Nigeria, is blighted by poverty and environmental degradation. The failure of Nigeria’s local, state and federal governments is evident in all parts of the country. However, in the south-south, it is perhaps worse because the federal government is complicit in the destruction of the environment and suppression of the people. During the military era, troops were regularly used to quell legitimate outcries against the destruction of the environment that international oil companies engage in while producing crude oil. Goodluck came into the presidency with huge goodwill. He contested and won against Buhari in 2011. However, by 2015, the goodwill was largely gone and he lost to Buhari (who contested under an alliance of parties that formed a new party called APC).
Goodluck had been vice president for 2 years and then became president when Yaradua died. While he was completing Yaradua’s term, I do not think he did well. There were no indications that he would improve if he were to win another term. However, he won the 2011 elections. I believe he won squarely because he had a lot going for him. The minority tribes of the country and virtually all the Christians voted for him. My fears were proven correct as his government turned out to be an inept and glaringly corrupt administration. I supported Buhari passionately in 2011 and less so in 2015. His incompetence as president has been disappointing.
This election, which has been rescheduled to 23 February 2019, is between 2 Fulani Muslims. Buhari is from the Northwest, the region which has dominated national politics since Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Atiku is from the Northeast, the poorest region in the country. I will not vote for either one even though I am a Fulani Muslim from the same region as Buhari. I have no confidence in either of them and I think neither one will improve the country’s situation much.