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Opinion: The Race For Nigeria’s Presidency In 2019 By Paul Carsten

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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari announced on Monday he wants to
seek another term in office in February 2019 elections. 

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With that
declaration, the race to lead Africa’s largest democracy is underway.
The path ahead could be tough for his All Progressives Congress (APC),
the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) opposition and any other party that
may contest the vote.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Buhari’s 2015
victory was built on three promises: to rid Nigeria of its endemic
corruption, to fix the economy and to defeat threats to security. 
The
results have been mixed. He has not brought an end to the war with the
Boko Haram insurgency, now in its tenth year.
The economy
entered and climbed out of recession under Buhari, yet the average
Nigerian is still getting poorer; and opponents say his administration
is failing to tackle endemic corruption, targeting only the president’s
enemies and ignoring allegations against his allies. 
After
spending five months in Britain last year being treated for an
undisclosed ailment, opposition groups and other critics said he was
unfit for office and his administration was beset by inertia. 
If Buhari wins again, his opponents say, Nigeria would be in for another four years of political torpor. 
On
the other hand, the president’s supporters say the opposition has
little to offer beyond “Not Buhari” – a sign of Nigeria’s
personality-driven politics.

FAULT LINES AND FRACTURES

Nigeria
is deeply divided. One of the most fundamental rifts is between the
mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south, and the population
is fairly evenly split between the religions.
Africa’s most populous
country also has more than 200 ethnic groups, with the three largest the
Hausa in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo in the
south-east. 
That has led to an unofficial power-sharing agreement
among Nigeria’s political elite. The presidency, in theory, is to
alternate between the north and south after every two four-year terms. 
Buhari, a northern Muslim, has held the post since 2015. His
predecessor, the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan, is a southern Christian. 
In
keeping with the accord, the PDP is set to select a northerner as its
candidate for 2019. 
Those divisions play into what could be one
of the major issues of the 2019 elections: deadly violence between
mostly Christian farmers and mainly Muslim nomadic herders that has
broken out in the Nigerian hinterland states known as the Middle Belt. 
Buhari’s
critics say he is soft-peddling justice for the killings because he,
like most of the herders, is from the Fulani ethnic group and is Muslim. 
The presidency denies that criticism, which also largely ignores
the fact that there have been deaths in both communities as a cycle of
reprisal attacks shows little sign of ending. This could turn the Middle
Belt, much of which voted for Buhari in 2015, into some of the most
crucial swing states next year.

GENERATION GAP

With a
booming young population, Nigeria’s median age is just 18, according to
the United Nations. Many youth see Nigeria’s ageing leaders as out of
touch. Buhari, 75, is the oldest person to helm Nigeria since the
transition to civilian government in 1999. That has sparked “Not Too
Young to Run” campaigns to allow younger people to seek office. 

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Nigeria’s
former military leaders retain a strong influence over politics nearly
two decades after the advent of civilian rule. Buhari himself is a
retired general who was head of state from 1983-1985.
Other military-era
chiefs continue to wield political leverage, including the likes of
Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the country in the 1970s and was president
from 1999-2007, and Ibrahim Babangida, who ruled from 1985-1993.

THE PARTIES

The
two main parties, the ruling APC and opposition PDP, do not have clear
ideological differences. Competition for control of national oil
revenues by elites, patronage and complex rivalries between Nigeria’s
hundreds of ethnic groups have played a much bigger role in elections
than ideology. 
The APC is the latest incarnation of the various
vehicles Buhari used to run in 2003, 2007 and 2011. His eventual victory
in the last race came after assembling a broad coalition across the
north and southwest. Without Buhari, political insiders say, there would
be no APC. 
The PDP was the inheritor of decades of military rule
in 1999, and held power until Jonathan’s defeat in 2015. Because of
that, the party has traditionally appealed to Nigeria’s business
community, which developed during the military regime. 
No clear
candidate for the PDP has emerged. Some members see Atiku Abubakar, who
has signalled he may run, as the best choice. A local tycoon and former
vice president for the PDP under Obasanjo, he has made numerous
unsuccessful bids to become Nigeria’s leader. Abubakar became a key ally
and funder of Buhari during the 2015 campaign, only to once again
switch sides late last year and indicate his desire to contest again. 
It
is also possible that a third major party may form, with rumours
swirling of potential powerful backers including Obasanjo and Babangida. 

ELECTION INTERFERENCE

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica
scandal has hit Nigeria. The government has launched an investigation
into allegations that the firm was hired to interfere with Buhari’s
campaigns in 2011 and 2015, on behalf of the PDP and then-president
Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan, through a spokesman, denied any knowledge
of the alleged interference. Cambridge Analytica has not commented on
the allegations. 
The 2015 contest is the only time Nigeria has
had a handover of power from a defeated incumbent since civilian
government took over in 1999. Even then, independent observers saw
evidence of vote buying, voter intimidation and other forms of
corruption.

TURNOUT AND TIMETABLE

Voter turnout in the
2015 election was 29.4 million, or 44 percent of registered voters,
according to Independent National Electoral Commission data. 
Party
primaries run from Aug. 18 to Oct. 7. Campaigning will be held from
Nov. 18, 2018 to Feb. 14, 2019, and the presidential elections are set
for Feb. 16, 2019. The candidate with the most votes is declared winner
as long as they have at least one-quarter of the vote in two-thirds of
Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital. Otherwise there is a run-off. 
 
 
Paul Carsten is a staff of Reuters.

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