Nigeria’s presidential election, initially planned for 16 February 2019, was dramatically delayed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu five hours prior to polls opening. On February 23, 2019, after the most expensive Nigerian presidential campaigns ever, elections were actually held and incumbent Nigerian President and All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari won. Defeating 72 other presidential candidates including main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar, Buhari is scheduled to be sworn in on June 12, 2019 for his second term.
Despite Buhari’s decisive win of more that 3 million votes over his closest rival, the elections have been marred by allegations of violence, corruption, and cronyism.
Let us take a look at the candidates:
Muhammadu Buhari is a 76-year-old former military general who led the military regime that governed Nigeria for 20 months (the military regime lasted 15 years until 1999). He beat former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, making him the first presidential candidate to be elected over an incumbent. During his first term as president, he had experienced numerous health problems which led to him undergoing medical treatment for an undisclosed illness in London. He has been described as strict and austere.
Atiku Abubakar is a 72-year-old former senior civil servant, former Vice-President under Olusegun Obasanjo, businessman, and philanthropist. His qualification for the presidency is based on his entrepreneurial success predominantly in the oil industry and his position as an experience political insider. Described as charismatic, Abubakar has nonetheless been the subject of many alleged financial scandals.
The election focused heavily on three policies: combating corruption, bolstering the national economy, and addressing security challenges from Boko Haram, ransom kidnappings, and conflict between farmers and nomads. Buhari’s win is not especially surprising, corruption is an ongoing major concern in Nigerian politics, and despite his platform for economic development, many Nigerian voters prioritise fighting corruption as essential for upholding the democratic process and future stability of the country. However, both candidates have faced heavy criticism. ‘Baba Go Slow’ Buhari has been condemned for unacceptably stagnant progress, taking 6 months to even select his first cabinet. His party has also been accused of colluding with INEC to ensure victory. Yet, the African Union has since stated the elections were “largely peaceful and conducive for the conducting of credible elections.” On the other hand, Abubakar, throughout his long and diverse career, has been repeatedly accused of corruption. The accusations include comprising the diversion of public funds ($125m/£95m) towards his business ventures and transferring ($40m/£30.55m) “suspect funds” to the US through his American fourth wife. Regardless, his charitable work and donations established the American University in Adamawa State which has recently awarded scholarships to the “Chibok girls” that survived kidnapping by Boko Haram.
Yet, although Buhari won a greater margin of voters this time around than he did in 2015 (56% up from 44%), the turnout for this election was only 35.6% of more than 84 million registered voters. Voter apathy has reached an all-time high as highlighted by Fisayo Soyombo – winner of the 2017 Nigerian Investigative Journalist of the Year Award – and young people especially have felt disenfranchised by Nigerian politics’ tendency of being determined by “godfathers” who support financially candidates and privileging those in favour with the presidency. For example, the defection of Akwa Ibom State “godfather” Godswill Akpabio, to the APC has been seen as critically important in sealing Buhari’s victory. When it comes to political policy, previous governments including Buhari’s have disproportionately prosecuted opposition members for corruption and fraud. In the aftermath of the 2019 election, notable members of the PDP have been arrested including Abubakar’s spokesman Buba Galadima.
The Nigerian youth are starting to feel they have had enough, with civil society groups on the rise according to the Situation Room. Idayat Hassan, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, noted calls being made for younger candidates, more transparent elections, and institutionalised challenges to corruption. For Hassan, the youth will be Nigeria’s next oil boom, and listening to and investing in them is the key for Nigeria to continue developing as a democratic nation with a massive potential for economic growth and dominance. This election may be the last for an old crony to win – the future of Nigerian politics is in the hands of its young people.