Nigeria: Next Election Is Buhari’s To Lose

With less than a year to the February 2019 national elections in Nigeria, more people believe that current President Muhammadu Buhari is doing a poor job as president than those who believe he is doing a good job. Buhari’s approval rating stands at just 40% in March of this year, the last time NOI Polls, the country’s leading polling agency, conducted a survey.

His disapproval rating stands at 42% while 18% are undecided on whether Buhari is doing a good or bad job. It is significant to note that the president’s March job approval rating is below that of his immediate predecessor in office, Goodluck Jonathan, who was voted out March 2015 to pave way for Buhari. In March 2014, about a year to the 2015 elections which he lost, Jonathan’s approval rating was standing at 52%, yet he lost the election about a year later.

Buhari’s March approval rating of 40% is slightly better than the 38% approval rating which he had in February but still the president’s approval rating has been below the 50% mark since the beginning of this year. It is something that the president should be concerned about as the February 2019 elections approach. Buhari, had on April 9 announced his intention to seek a second term in office despite the fact that his first term in office has been largely disappointing.

Promises Made, How Many Kept?

Buhari campaigned on three premises; tackle insecurity and corruption as well as fix the economy. The feedback from Nigerians are that the president has performed poorly on all these promises. The March NOI poll shows that only 11% of respondents believe the president has done well in poverty alleviation while only 14% believe he has done well on the economy. The president gets his best approval rating in agriculture and food security, where 39% of respondents believe he has done well, but this is still below the 50% mark. Similarly, 39% of respondents to the poll believe the president has done well in security and only 24% believe he has done well in fighting corruption. The president has performed below expectation on all the key indices which he campaigned on.

President Muhammmadu Buhari

Despite his sub-par performance on all key indices that he campaigned on, the February 2019 election remains Buhari’s to lose. And this is because of the peculiarities of the Nigerian electoral space which prioritizes ethnic and religious affiliations above competence in selecting political leaders. This peculiarity of the Nigerian electoral space is why the two main political parties have decided that their presidential candidates must come from the Northern part of the country.

This is based on a gentleman’s agreement that sees the Nigerian presidency rotate primarily between the North and Southern part of the country. Former president Jonathan largely lost the last election because he violated this agreement which created for him enemies in the Northern part of the country, which incidentally also has the largest voting bloc.

Any presidential candidate with a strong support from the core North has a better chance of winning the Nigerian presidential elections.

That core support Buhari has from voters in the Northern part of the country is the biggest advantage he has going into the 2019 elections. This support is not necessarily based on Buhari’s competence but on ethnic and religious affiliation and on the silent assumption that it is the turn of the North to rule the country. An analysis of the NOI polls president’s job approval rating shows that the president’s northern support base remains unshaken despite low approval rating in other parts of the country.

President Buhari has his highest job approval rating in the North East, where it stands at 66%, followed by his home base, the North West where the president’s job approval rating stands at 64%. Outside these two core zones, the president has his highest approval rating in the South West where it stands at 32%, followed by the North Central where it stands at 27%. It is even lower in the South at 16% and lowest in the South East at a miserly 14%. President’s Buhari’s continuous strong support in the North is the main reason he remains the leading candidate in the 2019 election.

One would have thought that the opposition parties can break this support just by picking their own candidate from the North as they have already indicated that they would do. But for the opposition, this strategy is not likely work because of the president’s cult like following in the core North. The opposition has very little chance of breaking that cult-like following in the North. Their best bet would be to garner as many votes as they can get outside the core North, where the president is weak to counter the president’s strength in the North.

However, there is a bigger challenge. The country’s opposition parties are highly fragmented. Even the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which lost the 2015 election to Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), is a shadow of itself when it was in power. It is struggling to regain its credibility with Nigerians. There are also different coalitions of smaller parties that have emerged on the scene seeking to challenge the incumbent APC for the 2019 elections, but none have shown that they have the financial wherewithal or the national mobilization capacity to successfully push out Buhari from office in 2019.

All Is Not Lost

Talks are now ongoing between the various parties. PDP has a standing committee to explore chances of merging with other parties. Buhari’s APC is also falling apart after a highly contentious party congresses that has created different factions within the party. Many of the party members that lost out in the power game in the party are looking for alternative platforms to pursue their political ambitions. It is therefore possible that the opposition are able to come together before the 2019 elections. If they manage to, they could put an end to Buhari’s second term ambitions, a possibility that many Nigerians in the business community will definitely welcome.

Buhari’s almost legendary inertia on the economic front, his non-friendly disposition to business, has not helped in driving economic and business growth and many people in the business community would like to see his back as soon as possible. He has presided over the country first recession in 25 years. Even though the economy is growing again, it is largely due to recovery in oil prices in the international community that any major economic policy initiative from the president.

Besides, Buhari, who turns 76 this year, is seen as too old to rule a country with one of the youngest average populations in Africa and the world. His age is compounded by the fact that his understanding of modern economic trends and issues are doubtful. His world view is also quite narrow and not suitable for country facing a population explosion and a significant resource challenge.

About Anthony Osae-Brown

Anthony Osae-Brown is Editor, of BuisnessDay, West Africa’s largest business and economic newspaper. He is a financial journalist and communication professional with 15 years’ of experience writing about economic and financial issues in Nigeria, as well as working in the communication departments of leading banks. He has a deep understanding of business and the economy. Osae-Brown is the author of three books, including; “Understanding the Nigerian Financial System for Senior Secondary Schools,” “The Secret of How Dangoma Became a Billionaire,” and “Smart Investment Tips for Retail Investors.” He has won several prestigious journalism awards, including Best Business News, Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards (DABRA) 2011 and Citi Journalistic Excellence Awards in 2011.

Photo Credit: The Guardian Nigeria