NIGERIA’S 2019 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: A GAME OF PERMUTATIONS
With the presidential primaries of most parties all but concluded, the focus is gradually shifting to the main election in 2019. Several indices determine the ability of a political party and its aspirant to win an election. Taking the peculiarity of the Nigerian political system into focus, we can see a few rhetorics and the 2019 presidential election may not be any different. The interaction of local and national coalitions, relative party strength and structures, the power of incumbency, popularity of the presidential candidates, historical/political behaviour of specific demography, and some other undefined variables are expected to play a major role in the country’s forthcoming elections.
There are is no doubt that of the 20 political parties so far cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to participate in the 2019 presidential elections, none can match the political influence of the two main parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC). Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the 2019 elections would be a two-horse race and that the other parties would only be hoping to at least to make a mark in the outcome of the elections. With the main opposition PDP, seemingly overcoming its post-2015 internal crisis, to produce a candidate in the person of Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, whom many people believe may give the APC a run for their money, the degree to which the party structure remains united behind Atiku’s candidacy would, however, determine his chances at the poll. The consolidated strength of the Dr. Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwakwanso, and Aminu Tambuwal amongst other losers at the party primaries would no doubt be an added advantage to the PDP.
The ‘incumbency factor’ is one major advantage an incumbent has over his political challengers. These factors include: the power of the purse – access to state fund and the monopoly of force, the submission of visible achievements in office, the fact that he needs no introduction, and, significantly, the fact that he has started something he is yet to complete or even that he can still do something great prior to the election to sway undecided voters for a second term. Dividends of the incumbency factor are however dependent on specific local determinants, such as public perception, electorate sophistication, and the might of the opposition, among others. Whether or not President Buhari would benefit from the power of incumbency is difficult to predict as events continue to unfold.
Closely knit into the Nigerian political fabric are various ethno-religious sentiments. Unlike the 2015 presidential elections which saw a Christian from southern Nigeria face a Muslim from the north, the major contenders in the forthcoming election are both from northern extractions, in fact, both are from the Hausa/Fulani tribe. However, this does not water down the huge impact of the existent ethnic divide in the country, which ultimately cumulates into the choice of a running mate. Candidates would be strategic in their choice of a running mate to compensate these ethnic and religious biases. While the APC ‘seems’ to have settled for current vice president Yemi Osinbajo who is a Christian from the south-west, the PDP is weighing its options with opinions divided on whether the slot of the vice presidency should be zoned to the south-east or the south-west. Little wonder names like Peter Obi, Ike Ekweremadu, Okonjo Iweala (from the south-east), Femi Adesina, Ayo Fayose, and Gbenga Daniel (from the south-west) are being mooted.
Issues pertaining to demography, most especially age and gender could also play a prominent role in the runoff to the 2019 presidential election. Many women advocacy groups have pledged to lobby female folks vying for elective offices, and as at the last count, three of the 20 presidential aspirants are women. However, this may not have too much influence on the outcome of the polls since there appears to be lack of coordinated effort among women despite their huge voting population, sadly. The same fate may befall the ‘youth candidacy’ of the likes of Sowore Omoyele, Fela Durotoye, and Kingsley Moghalu. The over 60 percent youth population bear the brunt of the economic hardship and unemployment in the country and may feel inclined to choose ‘one of their own’ but the band-effect that party politics play in the Nigeria political landscape, coupled with the apparent shallowness in political followership of these lots prove the ambition of the aforementioned candidates may hit a snag.
Further, geopolitics plays an important role in the election permutations. For all his alleged faults, Buhari remains a huge factor in politics, particularly in the north. The APC strongholds of the south-west and the north won them the highest number of registered voters in 2015, but it may not be business as usual in the 2019 polls. Likewise, the south-east and south-south where anti-Buhari sentiments appear to be pretty strong may also not be enough to tilt the polls in favour of the PDP. However, Atiku is perceived to be a cosmopolitan individual, who enjoys acceptability across the country. This nationwide façade if fused with a consolidated backing of influential party chiefs would greatly increase his chances at the polls. The support from Bukola Saraki would significantly reduce the margins in Kwara state, while the growing levels of insecurity in Plateau and Benue state would also sway votes PDP’s way in the North Central.
The North West is the hub of pious Buhari supporters and so an Atiku victory in the region is quite bleak. However, with an almost certain victory in Taraba, Adamawa, his home state, and a likely support from Kwankwaso in Kano and Aminu Tambuwal in Sokoto, a few important points may be scored. If Atiku is strategic with his choice of a running mate, he might stand a chance even in the notoriously ear-marked ‘no-go areas’. There are of course other factors like voter apathy, voter intimidation, and inducement, among others that may swing the pendulum either side but one thing is sure, the 2019 presidential elections would be a keenly contested one.