The results are in: President Buhari is the winner of the 2019 Presidential elections. The Atiku camp has made it clear that the results will be challenged, but election tribunals have flipped Gubernatorial results, never Presidential results. We await to see if this will change.
As part of our work with the Election Data Centre, we have noted down a number of trends that stood out from the 2019 Presidential elections, in the hope of bringing more rigour and analysis to Nigerian elections.
Disclaimer: Notwithstanding the analysis below, we appreciate the overall impact of election manipulation, violence, and vote-buying on the final numbers.
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1. Southern Nigeria welcomes the 3rd force
Despite accounting for a lower portion of all registered voters (46%) and with a much lower voter turnout (27%), the South accounted for 60% of all 3rd force votes, with 38% of these votes coming from the South-West alone. This implies that South-West may be a good region for 3rd force parties to build a base, particularly as we saw as many as three states swing in the South-West this time around.
Insight: According to the zoning norm followed by Nigeria’s main political parties, the next President should come from Southern Nigeria. If the 3rd force strength is harnessed, 2023 could be an opportunity to break the two-party hold on Nigerian politics. The only caveat is that there is an expectation that the 2023 President will come from the South-East of Nigeria.
2. 3rd force battle won by the diaspora
Forget debates, policy documents, and cosying up to godfathers, the best campaign strategy as a 3rd force party is to copy the big boys. Literally. The third most popular party in the 2019 Presidential elections was PCP (People’s Coalition Party), founded by Dr Nicholas Felix, a Nigerian residing abroad.
PCP was right above PDP on the ballot paper, and the party’s green-white-red logo was likely mistaken for PDP’s by thousands of voters. Just by party name and logo alone, Dr Felix won 107,286 votes, about 1% of what PDP received.
Insight: While an impressive trick, this strategy has no potential long term impact.
3. The Miracle of Borno
President Buhari got 90.94% of all votes in Borno State, his highest margin of victory in the 2019 elections, with a 41% voter turnout. This is a state that has been terrorised by Boko Haram for more than half a decade and even experienced bombings on election day.
Insight: The explanation put forward is that voting was made accessible to IDPs inside their camps, making it easy to ensure voters showed up. However, Northern Nigeria’s voting pattern is likely to significantly change in 2023 when the Northern candidate will be at the bottom of the ticket (running as VP). With major parties likely to field a Southern candidate, there is no clear view of how the Northern vote will be split. It is likely that parties will vote according to the strength of state governors.
4. Where were all the Rivers voters?
Only 21% of registered voters turned up in Rivers State, the lowest apart from Lagos (18%) and Abia (19%). Meanwhile, in 2015, over 1.5 million people voted in the Rivers State Presidential elections, and President Buhari got 69,238 votes (4%).
In 2019, 678,167 people voted in the Rivers State Presidential elections, and President Buhari got 150,710 votes (23%). Somehow, fewer people came out to vote in Rivers State but a lot more people came out to vote for President Buhari.
Insight: Some analysts have put down the poor South-South turnout down to the fact that no candidate was a ‘son of the soil’ and did not rally enough support. With a Southern candidate likely to be top of the ticket, this trend is unlikely to be repeated.
5. Near-perfect elections held in Zamfara State
People have correctly flagged the high proportion of cancelled votes in this election—3.3% vs 1% in 2015, but the reverse is equally true. Zamfara State had just 0.3% of its votes cancelled—less than 2,000 votes. The second lowest state is Ekiti State which had 3.2% of votes cancelled (12,577), but Zamfara State had over 250,000 more votes than Ekiti in total. Given the trend of cancelled votes across the country, Zamfara’s ability to conduct nearly pristine elections is odd.
Insight: Cancelled votes, which totalled 1.3 million, are likely to become a more popular issue in future elections. Analysts have pointed out the large proportion of votes cancelled in the states such as Ogun (6.9% of votes) and Enugu (6.7% of votes). However, it is more likely that the Zamfara output is an outlier and will not become the norm.
6. Atiku, the man loved by no one
Atiku secured over 75% of the vote in just two states, Anambra and Enugu, and he likely benefitted from Peter Obi’s popularity in Anambra. In contrast, President Buhari won over 75% of the vote in 7 states. But that isn’t even particularly impressive. In 2015, Goodluck Jonathan got over 75% of the vote in 10 states and President Buhari did the same in 11 states.
Clearly, we can see that the elections were less (regionally) polarised this time and Atiku did better than Goodluck Jonathan in many states. The problem is that he didn’t really shine anywhere. Atiku only won 51% of the vote in Adamawa, his home state, compared to 99% for Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa) in 2015, and 93% and 79% for President Buhari (Katsina) in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
Insight: Atiku’s weakest link appears to be the absence of any base. But this is a problem attributed to him as a candidate. Going into 2023, parties would be wise to select a candidate who can command a region of the country with solid backing and loyal votes.
7. APGA fends off new kids on the block
The true 3rd force party (discounting the likes of PCP and ADC) is APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance), which ranked 5th across the country and was one of six parties to collect over 50,000 votes. Interestingly, 62% of APGA’s votes came from Imo and Anambra alone so they are far from a national party. Nevertheless, their relative success compared to the other 3rd force pretenders could suggest that grassroots politics may be a more fruitful way to grow.
Insight: APGA may not have the reach of a nationwide 3rd party, but it represents the weakness of the two main parties. One strategy could be to use multiple, geographically strong 3rd parties to take votes from the two main parties. However, this raises the risk of too much ethnic tension.
8. Moghalu won the “Debate” elections
After winning the alternative candidate debate in the eyes of many, Kingsley Moghalu proceeded to defeat his rivals at the polls. He may have gotten just 0.0008% (21,886) of the total vote but he beat Fela Durotoye (16,779) and less surprisingly, Oby Ezekwesili, who had already stepped down her candidacy.
However, all of them fell short of Omoyele Sowore, who got 34,003 votes. Furthermore, these four candidates got less than 100,000 votes combined, which undermines the argument that they would have made a big difference by banding together. At the end of it all, would the Red Card Movement count this as success? They may have lifted the standard of presidential candidates in Nigeria, but it did not show up in the numbers.
Insight: If any message is clear to future candidates, it is that grassroots politics is the best way to mobilise voters. In spite of strong TV performances and general positive sentiment across the country, this support has not translated to votes. On the other hand, it is likely that voters simply choose not to vote 3rd parties to avoid wasting votes. This puts the onus on 3rd parties to inspire more confidence.
9. Why Did (Southern) Nigerians not vote?
The low national voter turnout average of 35% hides a huge North (41%) and South (27%) divide. The regional trend has persisted for many years and it is worth exploring again. Arguments that Northerners are more politically active can never fully account for the difference, and other issues like the postponement of the vote and alleged voter suppression can help bridge the gap. At the same time, it could be the little things: like Northern polling units being more willing to circumvent the unreliable card reader process.
Insight: A host of reasons may explain this, one of them being the absence of any top-of-the-ticket candidate with widespread Southern appeal. Other explanations are voter suppression and rigging. Either way, this points to the fact that candidates will do well to avoid regions where voters do not come out. The North may be where it all lies.
10. Ganduje delivers value for money, just.
Governor Ganduje allegedly promised President Buhari 5 million voters in Kano State. He only delivered 1.5 million and the APC share of the vote was down from 89.6% in 2015 to 77.5% in 2019. At the same time, President Buhari was only more popular in four states: Borno, Katsina, Bauchi, and Yobe. If the President chose not to take action over Ganduje’s dollar incident because of the impact on his votes, it definitely paid off.
Insight: The era of godfathers and key players is not yet over. States like Kano and Kaduna will remain influential because they deliver votes. Lagos, despite its large population, is losing influence on a national scale. Perhaps it is time to abandon the focus on registered voters and target areas with high turnout.