With 73 million able to vote and 120,000 polling stations nationwide, Africa’s largest democracy braced itself for what was seen as its biggest election yet. In 1999, Nigeria finally emerged from the oppression of a military regime, allowing democracy to flourish for the first time in 33 years, with 2019 marking 20 years of free and democratic elections in the country. This election was, however, fraught with difficulty, with incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari doing battle with the opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar against the backdrop of widespread fears that the election would become paralysed by the radical insurgent group, Boko Haram.
Whilst there were some 73 candidates running for the presidential premiership, the two frontrunners were Buhari and Abubakar, the former from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the latter being the leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
the two frontrunners were Buhari and Abubakar
Buhari has a long history in Nigerian politics, with his early career, at first glance, not serving him well from a PR perspective. For 20 months between December 1983 and August 1985, he served as the head of state for Nigeria following a military coup. Whilst he maintains that the real power of his time in office came from the orchestrators of the coup, his own role remains disputed and controversial, given the human rights abuses of the regime. Surprisingly, this may have done more to aid his public image, with him gaining the reputation of being strict and incorruptible. Alongside this, he is a self-confessed ‘born-again’ democrat, running on a platform of tackling corruption, reviving the economy and cracking down on the Boko Haram insurgency that continues to ravage parts of north-eastern Nigeria. He was elected president in 2015, after three unsuccessful attempts. This year, however, he was energetic with promises, taking his party’s symbol – a broom – with him on the campaign trail, and promising to take Nigeria to “the next level”. In the eyes of many, however, his approach to the economy has encouraged stagnation.
Abubakar is not without skeletons of his own
His opponent, Abubakar is a veteran candidate and political insider, running for presidential office three times, with no success. He has, however, served two terms as vice-president for PDP administrations and remains a leading businessman in Nigeria, with his expertise stretching from oil all the way to the soft drinks industry. Like his opponent, Abubakar also pledges to root out corruption and revive the economy through economic liberalisation – during both his terms as vice-president, he oversaw privatisations, indicating the same could be on the cards if he won the premiership. Abubakar is not without skeletons of his own, however, with him facing accusations of corruption which have yet to surface in court.
Whilst expectations across the world were high, the election saw the lowest ever voter turnout in Nigeria’s 20-year history of democracy, with only around a third of those able to vote heading to the polls. Political commentators have credited this with voter apathy, rather than the threat posed to voters by Boko Haram.
high voter turnouts were reported in areas under threat from Boko Haram attacks
Boko Haram, the West African branch of the Islamic State, has terrorised Nigeria since 2002, and its attacks remain mainly confined in the north-east of the country. Despite this, high voter turnouts were reported in areas under threat from Boko Haram attacks. Voting provisions were even made for the 400,000 people residing in refugee camps, displaced by the group’s activities in the region. Fears were not unfounded, however, as the national election was delayed by one week just five hours before it was to occur. This was in response to Boko Haram’s vow that they would disrupt the election. A recent attack had also been made by the group on a Nigerian governor’s convoy.
the election was certainly not without violence
To be under no illusions, the election was certainly not without violence, with there being reports of gunfire in some polling areas in south Rivers state. Alongside this, hundreds were forced to evacuate north-eastern Yobe state following attacks by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, a splinter group.
With a result that surprised few, Buhari emerged from the political fray the victor, elected for a second term in office. The vote saw Buhari secure control of voters in the Muslim north of the country, whereas Abubakar’s PDP support came predominantly from the Christian south. Buhari received some 74% of the vote and a margin of 4 million votes, with the level of support he received in the north seeing him being jokily dubbed the “king of the north” in reference to Game of Thrones.
Whilst many celebrated, Abubakar was certainly not among them, labelling the result inaccurate and the election a “sham”. His accusations levied towards the APC included stating that Buhari was preventing people from voting, hence the low voter turnout, even vowing to take the matter to court. Buhari has adamantly denied this.
It is Africa’s leading oil producer but, addled with corruption and a lack of investment of the proceeds, the industry has stagnated.
Nigeria faces an onslaught of problems for the future. It is Africa’s leading oil producer but, addled with corruption and a lack of investment of the proceeds, the industry has stagnated. Nigeria has a large, growing young population, but a slow recovery from economic difficulties in 2016 has meant that unemployment remains high, with 25% of the working population out of work. Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa persist as potent security threats in Nigeria, and corruption remains seemingly ubiquitous. Nigeria is certainly blessed with potential but hampered with difficulties.
With Buhari back in power, one question remains. Will he successfully tackle this many-headed beast and take Nigeria to “the next level”, or will he simply deliver more of the same?