The drama of the Nigerian Presidential elections have come to an end, yet the myriad of issues that have bedevilled Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation still remain. Can Buhari do better the second time around? Analysis by Lagun Akinloye.
The resounding victory of incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) over his closest challenger Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), means that Buhari has been given a second chance at turning around the fortunes of the country after a lacklustre and relatively forgettable first term.
The elections were marred by a one-week postponement, hours before the polls were set to open, a lower than expected voter turn-out at 36%, allegations of voter suppression by state security agencies in regions not favourable to the President and constituent inflation in his strongholds.
Pockets of violence were also recorded which led to the death of 67 people on the day of voting. Yet the margin of Buhari’s victory was conclusive, with the President polling 15.2m votes against Atiku’s respectable 11.3m.
Atiku and the PDP rejected the election results outright, describing their conduct as a “sham election” and a “throwback to the jackboot era of military dictatorship” whilst vowing to seek recourse in the courts. Election challenges that have followed Africa’s largest democratic exercise are common, but have never succeeded in getting the results overturned.
The onus is now on Buhari to hit the ground running and repay the faith that has led to his re-election. “President Buhari needs to reenergise his sclerotic governing,” says Matthew Page, former US State Department expert on Nigeria and currently a Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development. “Whilst pushing through meaningful institutional reforms that will remake Nigeria’s bloated, inefficient and corruption-prone government structures.”
Free and fair?
The highly anticipated Presidential elections got off to a turbulent start with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral authority, delaying the Presidential and National Assembly elections by one week, five hours before the polls were set to open.
They cited their inability to get ballots and results sheets to all parts of the country as the reason, despite the prompt release of INEC’s election budget by the National Assembly of N189bn ($520m) and previous assurances of the Commission’s preparedness.
The opposition candidate Atiku lamented that the Buhari administration had had “more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections” and accused his opponent of delaying the vote in “hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turnout is low” on the new polling date.
The elections finally took place on 23 February, amid reports of technical difficulties, with the card readers that authenticate voters being unable to scan fingerprints in various polling stations throughout the country; and PDP allegations that the deployment of the army and police force to their strongholds of the South South and the South East regions of the country was aimed at voter intimidation.
The eventual results saw Buhari win 19 of the country’s 36 states, dominating in the north of the country, whilst putting up a strong showing in North Central and the South West, the Yoruba- dominated region which includes the commercial capital Lagos. His overall percentage of 56% to Atiku’s 41% dispelled the notion that the President had lost the magic that brought him to power four years earlier.
But with voter numbers decreasing from 45% in 2015 to 36% in 2019, voter apathy and the disillusionment of many with the political and electoral process in the country was apparent. In their resounding rejection of the results, Atiku and the PDP questioned how states in the Northeast, which have been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency, had generated much higher voter turnouts than peaceful states, declaring, “It is clear that there were manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states which negate the results announced,” before heading to the courts.
Clashes were reported between supporters of the APC and PDP during the polls with the Situation Room, an umbrella organisation of various civil society groups, putting the figures of those killed on election day at 67. “Conduct of the election was acceptable by historical standards, but minimally so. It was disorganised and discombobulated when compared to the 2015 polls,” says Matthew Page, and whilst international observers have not disputed Buhari’s victory, they have stated that the conduct of the elections was widely flawed.
Upon confirmation by INEC of his election victory, Buhari told his supporters at the campaign headquarters of the APC in the capital Abuja, that “the new administration will intensify its efforts in security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption.”
Yet, these were the promises that went unfulfilled in his first term. Under Buhari, Nigeria slipped into recession for the first time in 25 years, the country’s stock market was rated the world’s worst- performing over a four-year period, unemployment rose from 18.2% when he took office to 23.1% as of December 2018, and Nigeria overtook India as the ‘poverty capital of the world’, with an estimated 87m Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day.
“All countries have gone through a recession at one point or another,” says Bashir Ahmad, Personal Assistant to President Buhari on New Media. “But Nigeria is now back to steady levels of growth and areas such as agriculture, rail and road construction are making significant progress.”
The government has pointed to projects such as the completion of the $6bn Lagos-Kano rail project, the rehabilitation of the Eastern railway and Lagos-Calabar railway, and the ongoing construction of the second Niger Bridge as signs that they are making headway. T
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) – the nation’s anti-corruption agency – also touted the effectiveness of the current government by stating they had recovered an estimated N500bn ($1.3bn) from looted funds since the inception of the Buhari administration.
Gains have also been made against the Islamic sect Boko Haram. The army has recaptured large swathes of territory seized by the insurgents, and thousands of displaced people have returned to their homes, though the militancy still remains active in contained pockets.
Sola Tayo, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, believes there is still much to be done. “There are many outdated bits of legislation, hanging over from the past four years that could boost the economy and if the government remains committed, Nigerians may soon see some of what they had hoped for in Buhari’s first term.”
Pushing through legislation and policies in Buhari’s second term should be less cumbersome and combative with the ouster of Bukola Saraki, the former Senate President, who lost his seat in local elections. Saraki dominated and effectively controlled the Senate over the past four years, at first as a member of the APC, eventually decamping to the PDP in September last year.
Bitter disputes with the Presidency saw Saraki often working to frustrate bills, appointments and budgets proposed by Buhari. A more amiable Senate president is likely to be picked from the APC Senate caucus, thereby creating a stronger synergy between the executive and the legislature, thus streamlining government policies and objectives.
“Nigerians re-elected President Buhari because of their belief in his integrity, the need to retire the old PDP politicians who have looted the country dry and his vision for a better nation,” says Ahmed. But after an uninspiring first term, rhetoric must finally translate into tangible action to repay a country that has given the President a second chance.