Unpacking the polls: Nigeria edition ( part 1)

Come 16th February, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy will go to the polls again to determine who charts the course of Nigeria’s future over the next four years.

As far as melting pots go, Nigeria reflects the melting pot of Africa. It is a complete picture of everything that is wrong with Africa while providing proof of how resilient the African can be despite the many challenges the lottery of birth poses to one.

No other election in the world captures ethnic battle for power, religious conflict for dominance, moneytocracy and political patronage better than the Nigerian polls. It comes as no surprise that bar the 1999 and 2015 polls, every other Nigerian election has been decided by the supreme court of the country.

While 2015 appeared to be the beacon of hope for a country marred by often inept leadership, corruption, insecurity, and joblessness, the leadership of the” Messiah” has jolted the losing PDP back into the limelight of the Nigerian politics.

The demise of the People’s Democratic Party seems to have been greatly exaggerated as the Muhammadu Buhari led APC have not been close to the change the people hoped for.

Insecurity is on the rise as Boko Haram has now spread its tentacles in many areas across the North, the economic policies have failed to ensure economic growth as Nigeria is now officially the poverty capital of the world and corruption is worse now than ever according to Transparency International’s corruption indices.

For many, the ruling All Progressive Congress have failed woefully as they campaigned on these three pillars; economic growth, high security and fighting corruption.

While this may come across as enough reason to dissipate the electoral fortunes of the APC, the reality on the ground is quite different. The feasible alternative with a national appeal is the PDP, a party that ruled Nigeria on its return to multiparty democracy in 1999 till the Tsunami of 2015 that saw a democratic change of government for the first time in the history of Nigeria.

For sixteen years of PDP’s rule, they bragged about nursing the country out of military rule, liberalizing the economy, spreading education across the country, introducing GSM revolution among many others.

For sixteen years the PDP, having cognizance of federal character, zoned the presidency to an alternating process between the south and the north. Irrespective of these successes, the party was kicked out on the grounds of the massive corruption that was brewed throughout their 16-year rule.

It is for this reason that the message of anti-corruption caught up with the masses when Buhari was voted into power. For the Nigerian, doing away with the corruption and cronyism of the PDP was a must, hence the theme of the election being “Anybody but Jonathan.”

As the polls approach and even staunch supporters of the Buhari regime concede that they have been hoodwinked, will this be a case of returning to the past as Buhari comes against the poster boy of all that seemed wrong with the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar?


Mohammed Abubakar Buhari is no stranger to power. In fact, Nigeria’s political leadership has been a revolving door for a group of persons since 1970.

Obasanjo ruled as a military leader in the 70’s and ruled again as a reformed democrat at the turn of this millennium. Buhari, a military person who overthrew the elected Shagari government in the 80’s was overthrown but still came back as a reformed democrat.

Aside these, Buhari had served as a military governor in the past and still under other military regimes in various capacities such as the Chairman of the Petroleum Development Fund.

Having seized power, he run a system of punishing and jailing the corrupt politicians at the time while waging a public war on indiscipline. He has had a long history of preaching integrity and accountability in the government. This high moral posturing has been his selling point throughout his public life.

Contesting elections since 2003 has also given him the mythical title of the hero of the core Muslim north; a region that has contributed to his electoral fortunes massively since his entrance into democratic politics. 

At age 72, Buhari seemed to many as a man who wanted to right his past wrongs hence the massive support, he rallied in 2015. Nigeria, though for its diverse, is hugely complex in its understanding and appeal.

While Buhari has all the aforementioned qualities, he has also driven the Nigerian economy into recession every time he has been in office.  Foreign direct investment has always been low and he has been questioned on his record of fighting corruption.

For many, what counts against Buhari is his nepotism and disregard for the principles that guides the Federal character of Nigeria. Never in the country’s history has the government been this dominated by persons from the north.

The most recent being the removal of the Chief Justice Onnoghen who hailed from the south-south region, only to be replaced by a kinsman of Buhari. This was not only a display of his bigotry but a daring show of strength by the General Buhari in his disregard for the rule of law.

Though his Vice President Yemi Osibajo is one of the topmost legal brains in the country, he has shown a lot of disregard for the constitution and court orders. He has literally declared, on different occasions, that the rule of law must take the backseat when confronted by his better judgment.

The attempt to use security agents to remove the Senate president from the National Assembly was a great showdown. A showdown Buhari eventually gave up on.

On matters of security, it really is surprising that Buhari has failed. The layman thinking that Boko Haram needed a strong president in order to be defeated has proven to be hogwash as Nigeria is now ranked among the top 10 most insecure countries in the world.

Military men and civilians are now dying in proportions only comparable to the Nigerian civil war and there seems no respite as videos are released on the daily by disgruntled deserters and a fatigued military apparatus.

Nothing signifies the failure of Buhari’s war on corruption than the recent statement of the National Chairman of the ruling APC affirming that “once you join APC, all your sins are forgiven.” It is for this reason that people believe that Buhari is not fighting corruption but rather, is simply waging a war against the opposition.

Babachir Lawal, Godswill Akpabio among the lot are people who have been charged with corruption but once they decamped from the opposition PDP to APC, they have become saints who dine with the president. Even his major opponent has not been spared of this.

Once Atiku left the ruling party to join the PDP, Buhari and his cronies who once called Atiku a gift to Nigeria, now hail him as the biggest criminal in Nigeria’s history.

Obasanjo who tore his PDP party card in 2015 and endorsed Buhari was immediately blacklisted and branded as a corrupt thief immediately he showed Buhari the red card last year. Anyone who refuses to play ball is smashed in the face with the balls of allegation.

Activists are languishing in jail for voicing out against the General and religious leaders such as the Shiite leader Ibrahim Zakzaky is in jail regardless of the court order sanctioning his release. Despite all these, Buhari maintains that he has integrity and is on a mission to take Nigeria to the next level.

His electoral fortunes and permutations have not seen any new dimension. The 2015 election at its core was an ethnic battle for which he became a huge beneficiary.

Following Obasanjo’s two terms in office, the PDP zoned the presidency to the North and Umaru Musa Yaradua won the 2007 election that saw Buhari record his poorest election performance (having recorded 12m in the national vote against a southern Christian 4 years earlier, it came as a surprise when Buhari could only garner 6m votes nationally against a fellow Fulani Muslim)

Unfortunately, Yaradua’s death two years into his tenure demanded that he was replaced by his Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.

Given that, he was eligible to be voted for a fresh term of his own, Jonathan contested in 2011 against advice that the party nominates a northerner to replace Yaradua. He trounced Buhari by a 10 million margin. Having served for 6 years, many were disappointed by Jonathan’s decision to seek a second term as it was considered to be against the zoning practices of the PDP.

This created a huge conflict in the party which eventually led to the defection of major stalwarts in forming the NPDP cynically called the northern PDP. These heavyweights included Bukola Saraki (head of legislature), Atiku Abubakar Raibu Kwankwanso,Aminu Tambuwal among others.

The biggest coalition was quickly formed between these persons, Buhari’s CPC and Bola Tinubu to birth what is now the APC. It is on this wave that Buhari became a president by beating Jonathan with a margin of over 2m.

Going into this election, the coalition has all but broken up with almost all the NPDP stalwarts returning to the PDP. Tinubu, the political strongman of the predominantly Yoruba southwest remains with Buhari for obvious reasons despite his earlier grumble. This means Buhari goes into an election toe to toe with a brother from the North for the second time in his political career with the difference of being an incumbent as his trump card.


If Buhari has always been in the corridors of power, Atiku has always been pushing to make it to the top of ruling Nigeria in a journey that dates as far as back as 1992.

As a younger man, he was picked by the then Shehu Yaradua (elder brother of Umaru Musa Yaradua) to represent his faction of the SDP in preparation for the 1993 elections. During the primaries, following an inability of the late Chief Moshood Abiola to receive an outright majority, Atiku Abubakar agreed to step down and whip votes in line for MKO Abiola with the promise of being his vice president.

Having delivered on his promise, Atiku was disappointed to receive the news that Abiola had gone back on his word and opted for Kingibe due to their mistrust of the Elder Yaradua's influence on Atiku.

However, they moved on and campaigned across the country to see Abiola contest in the ill-fated election of June 12, 1993. As the result kept on trickling in and realizing that it was obvious MKO Abiola would be declared winner of the election, the then military Head of state, Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election results alleging several malpractices and the security concerns.

The history is for another day, but after 6 years, four different Heads of state and the death of Abiola in prison after drinking fatal tea, Nigeria was put on the path back to a democracy. Atiku contested for governor in his home state of Adamawa and won in 1999. For him, this was enough as he believed that he had played a role in Nigeria’s return to democracy.

It therefore came as a surprise to him when he received a phone call from Olusegun Obasanjo with an offer for the vice-presidential ticket. Before this, Obasanjo (a Yoruba who was handpicked by the military generals as a candidate in order to appease the west for the travails of Abiola) had made it clear to everyone who cared that he was only interested in serving one term after which he would step down for a Northerner to take over.

This was not to be as Obasanjo famously went on his knees in a closed-door meeting with his vice president in 2003 pleading with him to allow him run for a second term. Like 1993, Atiku once again acquiesced hoping that his day would come.

2007 was not to be his, as fate would have it and like Oliver Twist, Obasanjo tried to constitutionally manipulate his way into a third term. Atiku then famously said to him, “Mr. President, if it means both of us will have to lose to stop you from defiling the constitution, so be it”

The mudslinging between the two between 2007 and now only ended late 2018 when Atiku paid Obasanjo a visit with Baba finally throwing his weight behind his former vice president. For many, but for Obasanjo, Atiku would have long been president. Instead, OBJ the Ota god, handpicked a half fit Yaradua so he could run the country from behind the scenes.

Like Trump, Atiku comes into this election as a successful businessman ever since he left public service in the ’80s into the private enterprise. He boasts of shipping firms, a university, hospitals, agricultural enterprises, oil firms and a host of other establishments.

Only second to the Federal Government of Nigeria, he is the biggest employer of labour with over 50,000 employees, even outmuscling Aliko Dangote. He is an unrepentant capitalist who believes in liberalizing the economy and cutting taxes for businesses. 

As vice president and chairman of privatizing board, he saw to the sale of all non-profitable state enterprises to ensure private participation in the market because he believes the business of the state is to stay out of business.

Though in the west, this would most likely receive applause, he has been accused of cronyism by his opponents. In 2010, he was cited in a US senate committee report that saw the imprisonment of US senator Jefferson.

As a result of this, the APC alleged that he had been barred from entering the US. Something he debunked a couple of weeks back while having priority meetings with congressmen and staying at the Trump Hotel to spite the APC.

In spite of all this and the apparent failure of Buhari, many still do not see him as the change the country needs. He is still surrounded by many problematic characters.

He has not done enough to dispel the notions of corruption against him though there has been no allegation against him in any court since he left office as Vice president over a decade ago. His appeal in the north is not quite as strong as Buhari’s as he has always positioned himself as a detribalized Nigerian.

As vice president, his refusal to support the endorsement of Sharia law did not go down well very well with the Muslim clerics.

However, later in the series, I will analyse why he still pulls a great showing in his North Eastern and North Central base with the Buhari’s North West proving a hard nut to crack.

This election presents Nigerians with a tough choice. A choice which will determine the political landscape of the next decade. As the polls get closer and Buhari increases in gaffes per rally, Atiku continues to gain momentum. In the next publication, we would look at the factors that would play a role in this election.