Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari marked his third year in office as Nigeria celebrated 19 unbroken years of the Fourth Republic. With that, Buhari has one year left of his Presidency unless he is re-elected in 2019.
However, the question is: What are the chances of Buhari being re-elected? To his camp, Buhari’s re-election is a fait accompli, as there is nobody in the Nigerian political terrain that is capable of defeating him. But the facts on the ground do not seem to support that.
In 2003, 2007 and 2011 when Buhari contested under the platforms of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (twice) and the Congress for Progressive Change (once), he could not win the presidential election, because his popularity was restricted to the North-West and North-East.
The map used in 2011 to represent the states won by the three top candidates was very instructive. The Nigerian map was divided into two with the top part painted in blue to depict the states won by Buhari, while the lower but larger part was painted in red to depict the states won by Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Osun State in the South-West, painted in yellow and looking like Lesotho inside the map of South Africa, was won by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria. Buhari won the seven states of the North-West with four of the six states of the North-East as well as Niger State in the North-Central. Jonathan triumphed because he won all but one state of the North-Central as well as two states in the North-East (Adamawa and Taraba). In addition, he had a good outing in the North-West and North-East where Buhari won, garnering a total of 8,351,472 votes in the North as against Buhari’s 11,691,355. Conversely, while Jonathan got 13,890,271 votes in the South, Buhari got a meagre 391,922 votes.
By 2015, Buhari was able to overcome that impediment for the first time by having the upper hand in the North-Central and South-West states, with a good showing in Edo State in the South-South. So his support base got a more national outlook in 2015. The reason was simple: In 2014, Buhari’s CPC merged with the ACN, ANPP and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance to form the All Progressives Congress. That helped to make Buhari attractive in the North-Central and the South-West.
Even though corruption was a big campaign issue in 2015, lack of victory over Boko Haram was the biggest albatross of Jonathan. The more people were killed or abducted, the more Jonathan was seen as incapable of being the President of Nigeria. There was the belief that a retired military general like Buhari would solve the Boko Haram problem better if elected.
Upon Buhari’s assumption of office on May 29, 2015, it seemed as if Boko Haram intensified its killing campaign. But one year after, there was a clear sign that Boko Haram was no longer as dangerous and destructive as it was before 2015. Even though Boko Haram still kills people in Nigeria, the group’s capacity to cause mayhem has been reduced drastically.
However, while Nigerians were heaving a sigh of relief on the milestone recorded against Boko Haram, another monster surfaced. This group is called the killer herdsmen. This group has concentrated its killing spree in the North-Central part of Nigeria, although it still operates in the North-West, North-East and occasionally in the South-West, South-East and South-South. Almost on a daily basis, dozens of people are massacred in their homes or farms or worship places in different villages, towns and states. Their homes are destroyed and set ablaze. Their farms suffer the same fate. It seems the killers are eager to wipe out these ethnic groups.
Surprisingly, in contrast to its hard stance on the Boko Haram, the Buhari administration has treated the herdsmen’s menace as “communal clashes” between peripatetic herdsmen and farmers who are deemed not hospitable and tolerant of their compatriots. There has not been visible anger from the government against these killings. Beyond the platitudes from the Presidency occasionally when these killings occur, there is nothing concrete done to ensure that these killings don’t continue.
In addition to not being able to protect those who have been victims of these killer herdsmen, the security agencies have been accused of disarming the locals and ensuring that they do not have even machetes with which to protect themselves when attacked. Some top retired military officers from the zones under attack, like Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.) have frontally accused the “armed forces” of colluding with the killers to wipe them out. The invasion of a Roman Catholic church in Benue State in April to kill two priests and 17 parishioners helped to solidify the view that the killings had more to do with ethnic cleansing than grazing rights.
The same way Jonathan was seen as weak on the issue of Boko Haram killings is the way Buhari is now seen as weak on the killer herdsmen’s issue. Buhari’s case is even worse because it is seen more as negligence and collusion than weakness.
Gradually, Buhari seems to be returning to the image he had before becoming the torchbearer of the APC in 2015. His approval rating has recently dropped to below 40 per cent. The area known as the Middle Belt (which comprises the North-Central and some parts of the North-West and North-East) is the key victim of these killings. The voters in this zone helped to sway the victory to Buhari in 2015. Today, most of them are not happy with Buhari because of the way he has handled the killings in their zone. The question is if they will vote for Buhari again the way they did in 2015. If they don’t, then Buhari’s re-election bid will be at risk.
The other critical group is the South-West, where Buhari won all the states except Ekiti State. The popularity of Buhari has not nosedived in the South-West but it has dropped significantly. Some of those who worked for Buhari’s victory in 2015 have shifted their support. The House of Assembly by-election held over the weekend in Oyo State, an APC stronghold, but won by the PDP was an indicator that the APC is no longer as popular as it was.
In addition, excluding politicians who move from the PDP to the APC for pecuniary reasons and relevance, it is rare to find an opinion moulder who was against Buhari in 2015 but has become his supporter today. But it is easy to see those who worked vigorously for Buhari’s victory in 2015 lament how he has disappointed them.
Also, some of the top politicians like the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and some former governors who moved from the PDP to the APC and helped to sway votes in their states for Buhari, have become disgruntled with the APC because of the alleged unfair deal they have received.
Buhari’s acts of omission and commission have had a dent on his popularity. Therefore, anybody saying that Buhari’s re-election next year is a done deal is swimming in an ocean of self-deceit.
Whoever the Peoples Democratic Party nominates will have an impact on whether Buhari wins or not. But if Buhari loses in 2019, it will not be so much because the PDP candidate is a wonderful candidate. It will be because Buhari and the APC promised the nation so much, raised the hopes of the people and secured their votes but departed from most of those promises, replacing the promises with an urn of excuses.
Nigeria will be called a genuine democracy when it is capable of voting out a party and voting in another party in a continuous cycle. That way, parties and candidates will learn never to take the people for granted.
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