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The Nigerian Elections: Can Incumbent Governments Lose Elections in Africa?
By admin March 20, 2019

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President Muhammadu Buhari was elected to a second term, defeating the chief opposition candidate and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, by a margin of 4 million votes. Abubakara’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s own tabulation shows that Atiku won by almost 2 million votes, and are now the PDP is seeking to have the courts overturn INEC’s tabulation but, in the past, all such efforts have failed. This recourse to the courts may not yield any result favoring Atiku. In the meantime, the crisis continues. It is now a common phenomenon in Africa to see incumbent governments and their ruling parties win elections easily keeping the oppositions perpetually in the cold! This has lent credence to the theory that “Incumbent Governments in Africa, cannot lose elections.” They have the whole paraphernalia and apparatus of government mobilized in full force and support of them to hang to power! However, paradoxically, the one major exception to this is Buhari’s election in 2015 when, as the candidate of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC), he defeated the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Nevertheless, as one will see throughout this analysis, a government in power in Africa, has the edge in any elections and, especially where democracy is still nascent, institutions of governance are weak or non-existent, corruption is rampant and the absence of the rule of law is the order of the day. Buhari’s victory in the just concluded elections simply reaffirms the theory that Incumbent African Governments and their Ruling Parties do not lose elections.

From the beginning, the Nigerian Elections was beset with problems.With 73 million able to vote, this could have been Africa’s biggest-ever election – but only a third of the electorate showed up. So, what was billed as a record-breaking election did break the records but for an altogether different reason. The 2019 general election recorded the lowest turnout in Nigeria’s 20-year history as a democracy. Nationwide turnout has been on a steady decline since 2003. The general decline – especially in the south – could indicate a decreasing faith in the political establishment and what it can deliver for the people. Voter apathy appears to have set in. Of the 80 million that registered, only 35% voted. Turnout in the Muslim north exceeded 50%, where an overwhelming number voted in favor of Buhari. In the predominantly-Christian south and east, Atiku was the more popular candidate but with the low turnout of 20% there was no chance of him beating Buhari.

Although regional and identity politics are also important factors in Nigeria’s elections, it is interesting to note that at face value, Buhari and Atiku are much alike. Neither are religious fanatics. Both are from the North; identify as Fulani and Muslim; born before independence; and, are currently in their 70s. Buhari is generally not seen as corrupt, but he is accused of surrounding himself by many who are. Being a former military leader, he has repeatedly had to emphasize that he now ascribes to democratic values. Throughout his campaign, he vowed to fight corruption and fix the economy. On the other hand, Abubakar, who has been accused of personal corruption, comes from a business background and campaigned on a promise to “wrest certain powers away from the federal government.” He is pushing an agenda of privatization and promoting the private sector.

Election Day was originally scheduled on February 16thbut hours before polls were set to open the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) pushed the vote back by a week, blaming a delay in the delivery of voting materials to 120,000 polling places. The postponement gave ground for speculation that this was a strategy to turn the elections in the incumbent’s favor by reducing the electorate and deploying security to intimidate polling stations. When elections finally happened, polling stations opened late triggering allegations of vote buying. The Situation Room, an umbrella of civil society organizations, alleged that security services kept voters away from polls in areas that favor Abubakar. They also reported that security services intimidated INEC workers during voting and ballot counting.

The Campaign Season saw many instances of election-related violence (Nigeria Security Tracker). Social and economic inequalities, ethnic and religious divisions, and structural weaknesses, such as corruption and weak state capacity, were prevalent. Other important contributors have evolved since 2015; this includes changing forms of insecurity and the prominence of disputes within political parties. Grievances or violence arising from local elections also have significant consequences for national elections (USIP, 2018).

The main issues that dominated the election campaign centered around the economy; youth bulge and unemployment; security dominated by Boko Haram; and, the clashes between the Northern Herders and Southern Farmers. During the campaign period, both candidates had similar promises on key issues; both promised to prioritize job creation, infrastructure, and human capital. Atiku had a focus on poverty eradication, and Buhari on entrepreneurship and political inclusion. Development was an under discussed issue but given the country’s heavy reliance on foreign donors, this may be a huge issue for the elected president as they may lose eligibility over some sources over the next two decades. On security, neither have advanced credible ideas for addressing farmer-herder clashes nor Boko Haram, militants and separatism in and around the oil fields.

As Africa’s biggest oil producer and the continent’s largest economy, the Nigerian economy has struggled during Buhari’s tenure. The country slipped into a recession in 2016, and though the economy has rebounded in some areas, poverty and joblessness remain high. Nigeria had the worst-performing stock market in the world last year. Buhari has promised more state-driven reforms and public investment, whereas Atiku has promoted his business acumen and advocated for more private sector initiatives, including privatizing Nigeria’s state-run oil corporation,which could shake up the oil-dependent economy.The median age in Nigeria is 18 years old, there is a huge need for job creation and a good policy environment for creating work for the country’s booming youth population, especially as 99% of employment is expected to come from the private sector. Prioritizing health (i.e. disease surveillance, reducing the maternal mortality rate, expanding sexual and reproductive health access and rights, and securing the national health system) and education is an economic case. If Nigeria can invest in its young people and transition them into a skilled labor force, it could have the largest workforce in the world by 2050.

The Nigeria Election is now behind and Muhammadu Buhari will be sworn in as the 16thPresident of Nigeria in the 4ththe Republic of Nigeria on June 12th, 2019, to start his second four-year term and return to where he left his country, a divided, frustrated and rudderless nation consumed with debating the most appropriate reform, restructuring and transformation to create a sovereign state in which all Nigerians can live in peace, equity, justice and a sense of belonging. The on-going debate on Restructuring has preoccupied and engaged Nigerians totally to the exclusion of any other more burning national issues. To many it is the magic wand that will wish away the country’s deep-seated economic, social, political, security, corruption and demographic problems, but will it? In the coming days and years, the outcomes of the challenges to President Muhammadu Buhari, leading and officiating over the nation’s Restructuring Debate with magnanimity, integrity and Solomonic justice, will decide whether Nigeria, Africa’s leading economy and most populous nation, emerges as an example for the Continent to follow or falters and falls into the dustbin of history!

By: Dr. David S. Bassiouni


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