In a few days, specifically on the 16th of February, Nigerians will again go to the polls to elect a new president or renew the mandate of the incumbent.
The 2019 presidential election may go down in history as one of the most keenly contested on account of the sheer number of candidates vying for the highest office in the land and the level of competition between the two frontrunners, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
According to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 73 candidates are jostling for the votes of Nigerians to become Nigeria’s president.
This figure is, no doubt, the highest in the history of presidential elections in Nigeria. However, the election promises to be the usual two-horse race presidential elections have become since the return of Nigeria to constitutional democracy in 1999.
The unprecedented number of contestants notwithstanding, practically speaking, the incumbent, President Buhari and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, stand out in the pack of the 73 presidential candidates as those to watch out for. This is on account of their visibility all over the country, the national spread and entrenched structure of their political parties, among other factors.
A look at the numbers
According to official data from INEC, there are 84,004,084 registered voters in the country as of today, the highest ever in the history of the country, nearly 20 million more than the figure INEC gave as number of total registered voters before the 2015 general elections.
The quantum increase in the number of regional voters, thanks partly to increased awareness by the electoral body, may be an indication of the seriousness Nigerians now attach to the need to choose their leaders and have a say in the governance of the country.
However, as of early January, there were about eight million Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), yet to be collected by Nigerians, according to INEC. To bridge the gap, political parties and civil society organisations ramped up mobilisation efforts.
On its part, INEC extended the date for closure of collection of PVCs before the February 16 presidential election from Friday February 8 to Monday February 11, with working hours for its staff also extended.
INEC has promised to publish PVC collection data after February 11. Until then, some useful information can be gleaned from some publicly available comprehensive PVC collection data published in 2018.
Geo-political distribution of PVC collection data
Registered voters by geopolitical zones
A breakdown of the number of registered voters by geopolitical zone, shows Northwest leading with 20,158,100, followed by the Southwest with a total of 16,292,212. Both regions have a total of 36,450,312 registered voters.
So, on paper, the Buhari/Osinbajo pair potentiality have over 36 million votes from their two zones, the highest combination.
The Northeast, where Atiku Abubakar comes from, has a total of 11,289,293 voters, while Southeast, the home geopolitical zone of Peter Obi, Atiku’s running mate, has 10,057,130.
So, technically, the Atiku/Obi ticket potentially has a total of 21,306,234, a deficit of over 13 million votes when compared to that of the Northwest/Southwest combination for Buhari/Osinbajo.
These figures are rightly deemed potential strengths or weaknesses because of the mitigating factors of other internal dynamics like states controlled by each party, local structures and current prevailing sentiments, as would be later shown in the analysis.
Northwest/Southwest versus Northeast/Southeast
In what seems to be a perfect design, the 2019 presidential election is apparently a straight battle between Northwest/Southwest and the Northeast/Southeast.
The incumbent and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, is from Katsina State in the Northwest while his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is from the Southwest.
On the other hand, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar, is from Adamawa State in the Northeast while his running mate, Peter Obi, hails from Anambra State in the Southeast.
The pairing of the candidates and their running mates has made the election a battle between the four regions, though on paper. On paper because the Northwest, Northeast and the Southwest are largely controlled by the APC.
States and the political parties in the saddle
In the Northwest, the APC controls Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi and Zamfara while the PDP controls only Sokoto State. The APC is fully in charge in the Southwest, as the party governs Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti states.
In the Northeast, the APC again has the upper hand, controlling Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi and Yobe, while the PDP controls Taraba and Gombe States.
Out of the five states in the Southeast, the opposition PDP controls Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi States while the APC controls only Imo state. Anambra, though being governed by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), is more a stronghold of the PDP than the APC, largely owing to historical voting pattern (Anambra has always voted the PDP in presidential elections) and the fact that Obi is a former governor of the state under the ruling APGA.
These facts notwithstanding, there is a current dynamic that may alter things. The open support Anambra’s current governor, Willie Obiano, has been giving President Buhari, alongside some of his party members, may cause some notable electoral shifts in the state.
The South-South has five PDP governors as against the one for the APC. This zone has remained the traditional home of the PDP just like the Southeast.
The North Central has always been a battleground and may even become more come February 16. Currently, the PDP controls Kwara and Benue States while the APC controls Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau.
The North-Central, though on paper should be an easy run for the ruling party, recent developments in the zone shows that the party may find it difficult having a similar showing in the zone like in the 2015 general elections where the party won the governorship contest in all the six states and came top in the presidential election.
The violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen that have led to loss of thousands of life especially in Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa states may change the support the zone gave President Buhari in the 2015 election.
Will major defections to the APC in the South-South alter established voting pattern?
For many analysts, it will amount to a miracle for the South-South to alter their established voting pattern in the February 16 presidential election, which has always favoured the PDP by a commanding margin.
The defection of former Governors of Delta and Akwa Ibom States, Emmanuel Uduaghan and Godswill Akpabio, though a major boost for the ruling APC, may not significantly alter the voting pattern in the region.
This is even more so as the defection of former Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State in 2014 to the APC from the PDP, failed to win the state for the party.
Predicting the outcomes
It is safe to predict the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket will receive major lead from the Northwest and the Southwest, while managing an appreciable showing in the Northeast.
A comfortable lead is a risky prediction for the Buhari/Obi ticket in the North Central, as there is a rising disaffection with the ruling party in the zone.
Apart from the farmers/herdsmen crisis that has left the people of the zone frustrated, especially in Benue and Plateau States, the lack lustre performance of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi since his lucky emergence as governor of the state, may hurt the chances of President Buhari.
Also, Kwara will be a major battleground for the presidential election, as Senate President Bukola Saraki, will want to do all that is possible to retain his political hold on the state. Saraki’s resolution notwithstanding, the ‘Otoge’ movement sweeping across the state threatens his grip and bolsters President Buhari’s chances. Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, who hails from the state, has also been working with opposition forces to ensure an APC victory.
The victory of the APC in the House of Representatives by-election, against Saraki’s candidate recently, may well be a sign of things to come.
These developments notwithstanding, some political pundits still believe that Saraki’s political structure may survive defeat, even if narrowly.
All things considered, the North-Central may determine who wins the February 16 election.
Another 2015 looming?
Many believe the 2015 presidential election was largely won, not only because all the 15 million Nigerians who voted for President Muhammadu Buhari believed in him, but many just wanted former President Goodluck Jonathan voted out by all means.
There was widespread discontent with the Jonathan administration and in the words of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, “anybody except Jonathan” would do. This drove many to vote President Buhari, giving him victory in his fourth attempt at the presidency.
The scenario in 2019 seems similar with that of 2015, as there is a growing sense that millions of Nigerians daily complain of hunger, poverty, insecurity and unemployment.
Will Nigerians, in a move reminiscent to the 2015 election, vote out another incumbent over the growing disaffection in the land? Can the widespread sentiment of growing hunger, poverty, insecurity and unemployment in the country lead to a protest vote against President Buhari?
The answers to these questions are not simple. For Nigerians who have been more hit by the growing rate of insecurity, especially in the North-Central, a protest vote against Buhari is a real possibility.
However, the cult-like following the president enjoys in the Northeast, where the Boko Haram insurgency holds sway, and in the core north, may be too strong to change the tide.
Some supporters of the president in the northeast argue that there have been improvements in security in the region since 2015. Others across the core north also commend the president for his investment in agriculture and infrastructure.
Generally, some Nigerians who supported the election of President Buhari in 2015 have backtracked, campaigning for a change of guard at the presidency, while others have dug in. The president has also gained new supporters especially in previously uncharted territories of the Southeast and South-South.
What this portends for Buhari’s chances at the polls is yet to be seen.
How the states will vote
The states in the Northwest geological zone are expected to queue up massively behind President Buhari, if Nigeria’s voting pattern is anything to go by.
To start with, President Buhari is from the zone and has remained popular despite dissatisfaction in some quarters in his administration.
For Kano State, the president is expected to have an edge over the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, but it may not be as his sweeping victory in 2015. This can be attributed to the defection from APC of a former governor of the state, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, who is a major political force in the state.
The Kwankwasiyya movement led by Kwankwaso has become something of a religion among his supporters in Kano and this will no doubt in some degree affect the numbers that will queue behind Buhari on February 16.
Though the incumbent governor, a former deputy to Kwankwaso has been trying to match up to the Kwankwaso challenge, only the cult-like following of the president in the state can give his party an edge.
Jigawa, a twin state to Kano will also go the way of Kano at the Presidential election. A landslide victory is doubtful, as former Governor Sule Lamido may want to redeem his image, after losing the state to the APC in 2015.
But Lamido has all but been sidelined by the Atiku campaign. Recently, he even came out to complain about being sidelined and hinted at the possibility of defection. As things stand, Lamido may play a very limited role in the outcome of the election in the state.
Kaduna State was massively won by APC in 2015 but it may be difficult to have a repeat of that this time around.
The perceived high-handedness of Governor Nasir El-Rufai that has led to growing discontent with his administration may be a major undoing for the APC and cost the party a landslide victory for Buhari at the polls.
Also, the incessant killings of innocent people by marauding ‘unknown gunmen’ in the southern part of the state has a potential rippling effect on the president’s re-election numbers in the state. It is doubtful if the highly traumatised people of Southern Kaduna will be willingly ready to vote for the president.
To make matters worse, El-Rufai picked a muslim as a running mate for the governorship election, further stoking the embers of religious disharmony.
Sokoto State is another state where the numbers will be highly contested. With the winning camp of APC already decimated owing to the defection of Governor Aminu Tambuwal back to the PDP, the votes in the state will certainly be shared between the APC and PDP.
For Kebbi and Katsina states, a resounding victory is expectedly awaiting President Buhari. Kebbi is firmly under the control of APC, while Katsina, the home state of the president will certainly queue behind him.
For Zamfara, a state under the control of the APC, internal party crisis, ban of the party’s state candidates by INEC, and growing bandit-fuelled insecurity may limit the party’s margins.
Borno and Yobe, though most hit by the Boko Haram insurgency, will still give President Buhari notable margins over Atiku Abubakar, while Taraba will very likely go the way of Atiku. Adamawa will be tightly contested but may slightly go for Atiku. Adamawa is the home state of the PDP candidate, though controlled at the state level by APC, with a a strong support base for Buhari. Taraba is under the control of PDP, where Governor Darius Ishaku and General TY Danjuma, vehemently opposed to Buhari’s re-election, hold sway.
The defection of the former Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Alhassan, who has made it clear that Atiku is her political leader will also work in favour of the former Vice Presidential. She is one of the strongest politicians in the state who gave Governor Ishaku a run for his money in the 2015 governorship election in the state.
Gombe, being governed by the PDP, is expected to vote for an Atiku presidency but as was in 2015, Buhari stands a good chance of repeating his victory there. Some notable defections from Atiku’s camp to Buhari’s in recent weeks may well send the signal that the president stands a good chance of claiming victory.
Bauchi is expected to be shared between both leading candidates, though with a slight edge for President Buhari.
All the states in the Southwest are firmly under the grip of the APC and are expected to vote for President Buhari in the February 16 election. However, votes from Lagos, Osun, Ogun and Ekiti are expected to be closely contested.
The cosmopolitan nature of Lagos State and the high number of people from the South-South and Southeast is expected to make the state a battleground for the presidential election. This is even more evident judging by the result of the 2015 presidential election, as the APC could not manage a landslide victory.
The perceived bad treatment given the incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode may also add up to deny the APC the needed wide margin of victory in the state.
But the influence of the APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, cannot be underestimated. His grassroots political structure will greatly bolster Buhari’s chances.
For Ogun State, the post-primary election crisis that engulfed the party may be its undoing in getting a massive lead on February 16, but realistically, this will be more evident in the governorship election than in the presidential election.
Ogun is an interesting case. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is vehemently opposed to Buhari’s re-election, is from the state. Can his muster enough support to counter the APC’s structure in the state? Very doubtful.
Also, he will have to contend with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who also comes from the state.
Oyo State looks set to go to the APC. Among other things, the incumbent governor of the state, Abiola Ajimobi has been able to manage the affairs of the party in the state without a post-primary crisis.
Ondo State, though expected to give Buhari a marginal lead, also contends with internal party crisis and a non-widely popular governor that may whittle down its expected lead in the state.
As earlier stated, the North Central geopolitical zone will be a battleground and may be the decider of who wins the February 16 presidential election.
Benue and Plateau are expected to go the way of Atiku Abubakar while Kogi is too close to call. Kwara is also too close to call . Niger will go Buhari’s way while Nasarawa, a state Buhari has never won, may likely go Atiku’s way, even though the state governor is in APC.
As earlier stated, the Southeast has traditionally been the base of the PDP, and as such votes from Enugu, Abia, Imo and Ebonyi (even though the governor has repeatedly voiced support for Buhari) will go the way of Atiku Abubakar. For Anambra State, where Governor Willie Obiano is rooting for Buhari, the support for a PDP presidential candidate may not change, especially with Peter Obi, a former governor of the state standing election as the running mate of the PDP candidate.
The South South geological zone will go the way of PDP.
Edo State, though governed by the APC, have always thrown their weight behind a PDP presidential candidate. The tradition is expected to continue on February 16.
Akwa Ibom (despite the Akpabio factor), Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Cross River are expected to go to Atiku, but without the 2015 margins of Goodluck Jonathan.
Though expected to be tightly contested, Buhari is expected to edge it.
Abia – Atiku
Akwa Ibom– Atiku
Cross River– Atiku
Taking into account the above, it will be safe to say that the 2019 presidential election will be a keenly contested one. Issues such as ethnicity and religion will play a role especially tied to the Fulani herdsmen-related killings and historical ethno-religious strife, but not as 2015, seeing that the two frontrunners are both Fulanis and Muslims.
Unlike the 2015 election, which virtually polarised the country along ethnic and religious lines, the February 16 presidential election will be largely contested based on perceived capacity to deliver, reputation, record in office and political alignments.
From the above statistics and facts, President Muhammadu Buhari will be up against a fierce opponent that will not be easily subdued. However, victory, though lean, is predicted for him.