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Are the Results of Nigeria’s Elections Already Decided?

Prior to the 2015 presidential elections, it was almost a given that the ruling party at the time, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would win the elections, despite its many failed campaign promises to the electorate. However, the outcome of the elections sent shock waves to the rank and file of the party and the entire polity in Nigeria. The people are holding the government accountable since Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) became the first opposition candidate in Nigeria to oust an incumbent president in an election.

When the Buhari administration assumed office in May 2015, Nigerians were full of expectations that the new government would reposition the country politically and economically after 16 years during which the PDP had created a severe economic crisis, with a debt of over $60 billion, and an unemployment rate of approximately 8.2 percent in the second quarter of 2015, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). At that time, corruption was endemic and international perception on the fight against corruption was at an all-time low. President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to tackle corruption in the oil-rich nation during his election campaign last year.

Buhari won the election on economic, security and anti-corruption promises, which were critical areas that needed urgent intervention. At the time, the Boko Haram insurgency had ravaged the northeast of the country. According to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 2 million people had been displaced. While some progress has been made in pushing back the Islamists in the region, several attempts by Islamist fighters to overrun military bases and villages in the northeast have been reported in recent months.

Communal clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria’s largely agricultural Middle-Belt have seen multiple fatalities since 2017. While the region has been historically prone to recurrent outbreaks of clashes and reprisals between Fulani pastoralists and local farming communities due to disputes over land and cattle grazing rights, raids by suspected herders have become the biggest security threat facing Nigeria after the Boko Haram insurgency.

The anti-corruption war of the government has also been criticised in different quarters as being insincere, as the administration has been accused of shielding certain loyal individuals to the administration from indictment and prosecution. Public perceptions of the anti-corruption drive remain poor and as has a witch-hunt to clampdown on the administration’s perceived enemies.

The president who has often blamed the judiciary as been responsible for some lapses in his anti-corruption fight has since suspended Nigeria’s chief justice Walter Onnoghen just three weeks before the general election. As the head of the judiciary, the chief justice plays a critical role in deciding election disputes. However, the charges against the CJN and his subsequent suspension less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to swear in members of election tribunals have been widely criticised as politically motivated.

Buhari’s human rights record in office has also been less than stellar as a number of events that have taken place under his watch during his first tenure show that his government has violated fundamental human rights as entrenched in the country’s constitution. For instance, Buhari has been accused of condoning alleged human rights violations following the Zaria massacre which occurred in mid-December 2015, where the Nigerian army reportedly killed up to 348 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). According to a representative of the Kaduna State government, 347 bodies were handed over by the army for a secret mass burial in Zaria.

On the economic front, there is widespread poverty in the country, and youth unemployment figures stood at 33.1 percent as of the third quarter of 2017. Many Nigerians are saying that the administration has not lived up to its expectations, and is yet to deliver on its campaign promises.

Buhari launched his manifesto on Sunday, 18 November, based on anti-corruption anticipating that his anti-corruption agenda can win him a second term at 16 February polls.

On the other hand, the presidential candidate of the opposition PDP and former vice president Atiku Abubakar is gathering support and momentum across the country. However, Atiku’s presidential aspirations have been plagued with some high profile corruption allegations. A United States Senate report alleged that Atiku through his American wife, Jennifer Douglas, laundered over $40 million, to the United States through suspicious wire transfers between 2000 and 2008. Separately, a United States congressman, William Jefferson, was convicted of receiving $100,000 in a leather briefcase as part payment of a $500,000 bribe demanded by Atiku when the latter was vice president, to facilitate the award of contracts to two American telecommunication firms in Nigeria. The alleged corrupt enrichment of himself in the privatisation of government corporations, while he was vice president, might be a stumbling block in his bid to become president.

However, after former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku’s former principal, endorsed him following a reconciliation meeting in 2018, there might be some glimmer of hope for his candidacy. Furthermore, other political leaders from the northern and eastern parts of Nigeria are seemingly aligning with Atiku’s aspirations. To help Atiku’s presidential aspirations and to wrestle power from the ruling APC, the PDP in July 2018, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 38 other political parties to form a Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP). As of December 2018, the number of political parties endorsing Atiku increased to at least 55.

To be sure, there are other smaller political parties with candidates, including the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Young Progressive Alliance (YPP), the Africa Action Congress (AAC) and the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN). These parties have been referred to as the “third force”; though they do not have the national and grassroots depth like the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP. There have been failed attempts at forming a coalition to defeat the APC. In July 2018, 18 presidential candidates from smaller parties attempted to form the Presidential Aspirants Coming Together (PACT) to produce a consensus candidate but they could not reach a compromise, and the deal fell through.

According to the Chairman of the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahood Yakubu, over 84 million registered voters will participate in the forthcoming general elections, representing a 21% increase in the number of voters since the last election in 2015. Yakubu indicated that 14.5 million Nigerians registered during the Continuous Voter Registration exercise between April 2017 and August 2018, indicating much enthusiasm on the part of voters. INEC figures show that the Northwest geopolitical zone of the country has the highest number of registered voters with a total of 18,505,984, and the Southwest 14,626,800, South-South 11,101,093, North-Central 10,586,965, Northeast 9,929,015, and Southeast 8,293,093.

While there are so many uncertainties as to who wins the election, elections might eventually come down to electorates voting along ethnic, tribal, religious or geopolitical lines. If this eventually happens the February 16th presidential elections in Nigeria might have already been decided.