Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari wins a second term as president

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A SMALL CROWD has gathered around a plastic table by a dusty roadside in the eastern Nigerian town of Yola. As an electoral officer announces that Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent president, has won the most votes there, his supporters in the crowd erupt, cheering and dancing. Fans of his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, who cast his ballot at this polling station earlier in the morning, slink away, dejected. “It feels very painful,” says Muhammad Sanusi, one such supporter. “But our candidate will still win.”

Mr Sanusi’s mood has probably not improved. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announces the results of the election, held on February 23rd, separately for each of Nigeria’s 36 states. It reads out the votes received by each of the 72 candidates, leading to an excruciatingly long wait for the final tally. But with results in from most states, it is clear that Mr Buhari has won a second term. His victory this time will not generate the same euphoria it did in 2015. The former general, who ruled briefly as the country’s military dictator after a coup in the 1980s, has struggled to fulfil many of the campaign promises he made four years ago. Mr Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) claims the results were rigged. In a sign of growing voter apathy, turnout, which languished at 44% in 2015, has probably slipped below 40% this time.

For many Nigerians, the election has been tarnished by the sloppiness with which it was run. The vote was originally scheduled for February 16th, but the INEC postponed it just hours before it was meant to begin because it had been unable to get materials, such as ballot papers and voter-card readers, to polling stations on time. When the vote was finally held on February 23rd, observers say most polling stations opened hours late, for the same reason, and that many election officials seemed confused about voting-day procedures. The European Union’s observer mission says that “serious operational shortcomings reduced confidence in the process and put undue burden on voters.”

Voting proceeded peacefully in most parts of the country, but violence broke out in some states. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a group of NGOs monitoring the vote, estimates that at least 39 people were killed over the weekend, most by thugs who attacked polling stations, stealing ballot boxes and intimidating voters. It is not clear on which party’s behalf they were acting. Things were especially ugly in Rivers state, in the poor and restless oil-producing Niger delta region, where 16 people were killed. Some fear post-poll clashes, a staple of past Nigerian elections. About 800 people were killed in 2011. This time, to deter such violence, radio stations in Yola played only songs promoting peace on voting day. “No need to fight-o,” one upbeat pop number urges. “Things gotta change by determination; this election no intimidation.”

Vote-buying was more widespread. Mr Buhari’s All Progressives’ Congress (APC) and the PDP were probably both culpable. In a posh neighbourhood of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, one resident says he saw a man on the street handing out cash on voting day. On the eve of the vote, a journalist in Yola said a politician gave his wife sachets of spices to hand out to voters in her village.

Such problems have also plagued past elections and observers say this vote was not necessarily worse-run. But critics retort that this is not good enough. “There was something to build on in 2015,” says an international observer. “And that just hasn’t happened.” YIAGA AFRICA, an NGO, has carried out a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), a technique for projecting results based on a sample of polling stations in each state. It had threatened to expose the PVT results for any state where they diverged significantly from official results. The fact that it has not yet done so, with results announced for most states, suggests that it did not detect wholesale rigging.

The PDP disagrees. It says the APC plotted to rig the vote with help from the army and INEC. Hours after the first few states announced their tallies, Uche Secondus, the PDP’s chairman, declared that they were “unacceptable to our party”. The PDP alleges that Mr Buhari’s replacement of the Supreme Court’s chief justice in January, ostensibly on corruption charges, was in fact aimed at thwarting a legal challenge to the results. The PDP is almost certain to mount one. The court-appointed election tribunal could take months to issue a verdict. That said, the courts have never overturned a presidential election in Nigeria.

Disillusionment with Mr Buhari has risen, and many will be disappointed to see him remain in power. Broadly, his campaign this time focused on the same three areas as it did in 2015: corruption, the economy and security. Progress on all three was limited in his first term.

Voters’ belief in Mr Buhari’s personal integrity was an important factor in his victory this time, especially against Mr Abubakar, whose reputation is tarnished by accusations of corruption (which he denies). “I was very disappointed with Buhari’s first term,” says Umar, a civil servant in Abuja. “But I had to vote for him in the end,” he adds, because he believed Mr Abubakar was dishonest. Corruption, though, remains ever-present in the lives of most Nigerians, and opponents accuse Mr Buhari of pursuing it selectively. The president should start with his own party, which critics say has welcomed light-fingered defectors from the PDP into its ranks. The APC governor of Kano state, in northern Nigeria, was filmed last year receiving thick stacks of dollars. (He denies receiving the money.)

The economy is still only slowly recovering from a recession in 2016. Some saw it as a chance to diversify the economy, but oil still accounts for over two-thirds of government revenue. Statist policies, such as import bans on rice and cement, have not helped. Manufacturing in the country is crippled by power shortages. One factory boss in Kano, once an industrial hub where factories now lie abandoned, says many manufacturers there are producing at around 10% of capacity. Mr Buhari’s supporters say that, given more time and unencumbered by the prospect of re-election (Nigeria has a two-term limit), he can do a lot better.

Security was one area where Mr Buhari appeared to be making progress. The army has pushed the jihadists of Boko Haram out of major towns in the north-east. But they have not been defeated and, in recent months, have looked resurgent. Even more deadly are clashes between farmers and herders in the country’s “middle belt”. Many in the predominantly Christian south accuse Mr Buhari of favouritism towards the country’s largely Muslim northern half. (Mr Buhari is a northern Muslim.) Dire Atako, a Christian timber trader living outside Yola, says he voted for Mr Abubakar (also a northern Muslim) because he wanted change after his village was attacked by herders. “The present government assured us of security, but I have seen houses here burned down,” he adds.

At Mr Abubakar’s polling station in Yola, Abdul Mutallib, another of his followers, looks on as the APC supporters continue to gloat. “They want us to react, but we are too mature for that,” he says proudly. “We are democrats.” He is stoical about the prospect of defeat. “If our candidate loses, we’ll accept it,” he adds. “Life goes on.” If the rest of the country’s political class shows the same restraint, then Nigeria’s flawed democracy will have made some progress.

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