All eyes on the North as Atiku puts Buhari’s popularity to the test

ALEXANDER OKERE and TUNDE AJAJA take a look at the antecedent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s phenomenal support base in the North-West and North-East, and highlight some factors that will test his popularity in the zones during the February 16 presidential election.

In the history of presidential elections in Nigeria, the 2019 election which is exactly seven days away will for many reasons be one of the most keenly contested, according to observers and political analysts.

Even though a total of 73 political parties fielded candidates for the election, according to the information released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, observers have pointed out that the contest will mainly be between the candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

Perhaps, one of the reasons the election will be interesting is that the two main contenders are both Muslims with huge following in the North, which according to INEC, is the region with higher number of voters.

While Buhari is from the North-West, precisely Katsina State, Atiku hails from Adamawa State in the North-East.

No doubt, it’s the second time in the current Fourth Republic that two Northerners will be the topmost contenders at a presidential election; the first time was 2007 when Buhari and late President Umaru Yar’Adua met at the poll.

That said, political analysts and a cross-section of the electorate are of the view that the 2019 presidential election will be a true test of Buhari’s reported popularity in the North-West and North-East geopolitical zones.

For example, in the 2003 presidential election, even though a Southerner, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP polled 24,456,140 votes to win the election, Muhammadu Buhari, who was then the All Nigeria Peoples Party’s candidate, came second with 12,710,022 votes, the bulk of which came from the North.

Buhari won six of the seven states in the North-West. Specifically, he polled 6,631,090 votes while the PDP polled 2,764,846 votes.

In Jigawa State, Buhari polled 885,505 votes while Obasanjo got 202,502. In Kano State, he polled 1,627,877 votes while the PDP had 494,751 votes. In Katsina, his home state, Buhari scored 1,259,789, while the PDP scored 380,914. In Kebbi State, he scored 463,153 while PDP scored 228,372. In Sokoto State, he scored 681,153 while the PDP scored 232,258. And in Zamfara State, Buhari scored 843,159, while Obasanjo scored 200,702. In Kaduna State where he lost, he scored 870,454, while the PDP scored 1,025,347.

Also in the North-East, he won four out of the six states. He polled 3,694,367 while the PDP polled 2,941,608.

In Bauchi State, Buhari scored 1,680,542 while Obasanjo scored 617,291. In Borno State, he scored 727,595 while the PDP scored 380,875. In Gombe State, he scored 516,081 while the PDP scored 452,328. In Yobe State, he scored 286,975 while the PDP scored 135,807. Meanwhile, in Adamawa, he scored 285,151 while the PDP led with 660,780. And in Taraba State, he scored 198,023 while the PDP led with 694,527.

In 2007, Buhari ran for the office of the President for the second time on the platform of the ANPP, against the candidate of the PDP, late Umaru Yar’Adua, and 16 others.

He came a distant second with 6,605,299 votes, losing to Yar’Adua who polled 24,638,063. Even though INEC did not release the official figures of the votes received by the two candidates in the 36 states and the FCT, analysts believe that most of the votes Buhari won in the election, which was widely criticised for widespread irregularities, must have been from the northern part of the country.

In the 2011 presidential election, Buhari again contested as the candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change and got a total of 12,214,853 votes (31.98 per cent) but lost with a lower margin of 10,280,334 votes to former President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, who received 22,495,187 votes (58.89 per cent).

However, details of the results from the states showed that the former military head of state defeated the PDP in the North-West and North-East regions. In the North-West, Buhari scored 10,043,188 votes as against Jonathan’s 5,296,167 votes, in spite of the influence of the six of the governors who were of the ruling PDP.

For instance, in Kano, Buhari received 1,624,543 votes as against the 440,666 votes Jonathan got. He polled 1,334,244 votes in Kaduna while Jonathan garnered 1,190,179 votes.

While Buhari won in Jigawa State by securing 663,944 votes, Jonathan got 491,252 votes. The former military leader won in Katsina, his home state, with 1,154,000 votes as against Jonathan’s 424,587 votes. The President got 501,453 votes in Kebbi to defeat his rival, who got 369,198 votes. He also won in Sokoto and Zamfara by polling 540,969 votes and 624,515 votes, respectively, while the PDP candidates received 309,057 and 238,980 votes, respectively.

In the North-East, Buhari edged out the former president in four out of the six states in the region. The states and votes polled are Borno (Buhari, 909,763; Jonathan, 207,075), Gombe (Buhari, 459,898; Jonathan 290,347) Bauchi (Buhari 1,300,000; Jonathan 258,000), Yobe (Buhari, 337,547; Jonathan, 117,128). The President, however, got 334,526 votes in Adamawa while Jonathan got 508,314 votes.  In Taraba, he polled 257,986 votes while Jonathan got 451,354 votes.

Meanwhile, in the 2015 presidential election; his fourth attempt, Buhari, who was the candidate of the APC, polled 15,424,921 votes, while Jonathan, the candidate of the PDP, came second with 12,853,162 votes.

Specifically, Buhari won in all the states in the North-West while he won in five out of the six states in the North-East.

Looking at the North-West; in Jigawa, he scored 885,988 against PDP’s 142,904. In Kaduna, he scored 1,127,760 against PDP’s 484,085. In Kano, he scored 1,903,999 against PDP’s 215,779. In Katsina, his home state, he scored 1,345,441 against PDP’s 98,937. In Kebbi, he scored 567,883 against PDP’s 100,972. In Sokoto, he scored 671,926 against PDP’s 152,199. And in Zamfara, he scored 612,202 against PDP’s 144,833.

In the North-East, he scored 374,701 in Adamawa against PDP’s 251,664. In Bauchi, he scored 931,598 against PDP’s 86,085. In Borno, he scored 473,543 against PDP’s 25,640. In Gombe, he scored 361,245 against 96,873. In Yobe, he scored 446,265 against PDP’s 25,526. However, he lost Taraba, where he scored 261,326 against PDP’s 310,800.

Meanwhile, in its campaign for the 2019 presidential election, the APC had stated that its candidate, Buhari, would again demonstrate his popularity-cum-victory in the North. The PDP had also maintained that it would not be business as usual for the President, while flaunting Atiku’s popularity in the region.

But analysts who spoke to our correspondents pointed out that the bloc votes the President had always enjoyed in the North would be strongly challenged and put to test, given that Buhari and the other topmost contender, Atiku, are from the same region.

A professor of Political Science at the University of Lagos, Prof. Derin Ologbenla, said even though Buhari had for years endeared himself to many from that part of the country and even beyond with his stance in his days as a military ruler, the opposition candidate would give him a run for his money, considering the fact that they are both from the same ethnic background.

He also said religion, which influenced some voters in the past, would play no role in the 2019 elections as the two candidates are Muslims.

Ologbenla said, “As a military administrator, he engrained discipline in the minds and actions of the people, through the War Against Indiscipline at that time. That endeared him to some people among the old.

“Now, the phenomenon of Buhari among the people was largely due to his being a grass roots man. The Talakawas in the North, the poor and the needy throughout the North as well as South-West admired him for those qualities. Buhari is a man that is seen as incorruptible in the sense that he doesn’t think he needs more than he has; he is not greedy for material wealth and I think even the poor and the rich can actually assess and value these qualities in any human being.

“When it comes to religion, Buhari is also pious. He is very religious; he doesn’t drink and you can see that he is also not obsessed with women. So, I think the man has been socially, religiously and, I will say, economically moderate in all that he does. So, one can give him respect for these and I think they are part of his influence in most parts of the North.

“But this election will be keenly contested. It is not going to be easy for Buhari because I think Atiku will give him a good run for his money. Atiku is also popular among the elite; some of the elite are corrupt and they will never like Buhari no matter his good qualities. Some of them hate him with passion and they don’t want him to continue.

“And religion will not play much role now because the two (Buhari and Atiku) are Muslims and they have Christians as their vice-presidential candidates. In all honesty, the assessment of Buhari’s performance and the promises being made by Atiku will provide choices for Nigerians at the polls.”

Also, Dr Kayode Esuola, a political scientist, said the presidential election in the North would not be a walkover for the President given that the two topmost contenders are from the North.

He said, “If we go on that assumption that elections are won on the basis of patronage, what we are likely to get is that the Buhari’s cult following is gradually melting and it’s not going to be a walkover for him this time round, given that the two of them are from the North.

“Followership can be of two types; it can be that which is huge and based on ideology, and it can also be that which is based on what you want to call dogmatic political affiliation.

“Given the fact that the people of the North are becoming increasingly educated, more civilised, politically savvy and liberal beyond what it used to be some years ago and are becoming exposed in all the instrumentality of communication, including the social media, the cult following for any candidate would gradually dissolve and move from dogmatic political affiliation to ideology-based.

“That is why it won’t be the same with what you have between Buhari and Yar’Adua in 2007.”

Esuola explained further that the way the major actors were already accusing each other had given a suspicion that rigging would be part of the exercise.

“You don’t need the wisdom of Solomon to know that and the political party that wins under this kind of situation is the one that can outsmart the other, in terms of rigging,” he added.

Asked about the belief that the South-West would ultimately decide the winner of the election, Esuola said it was important to point out that there is difference between the South-West and South-Westerners.

He said, “In the South-West today, if you take Lagos as a case study and you do the analysis of the population, you are likely to find that about 38 to 40 per cent of the population are non-South-Westerners.

“Out of that percentage, you would see that about 75 per cent of them are South-Easterners and these people, not their regions, are clamouring for different political agenda, like issues of resource control, marginalisation, self-determination and such things that would influence their choice of candidate.

“So, while it is very correct to say the North is dominant and is followed by South-West, the South-West is not going to be rigid as to what you have in the North because the South-West is so liberal that it is sharply divided between South-Westerners and South-Easterners and that should be emphasised.

“Overall, the election we would have in few days’ time is going to be one of the most interesting in the history of Nigeria. It will test the temperament of the opposition, the temperament of the incumbent and it will tell how Nigerians have been able to apply ideas towards political behaviour, whether it is improving or not.

Also, in his assessment, a lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Ehiogie-West Idahosa, explained that Buhari enjoyed the goodwill of the poor, who made up a large chunk of the population in the North, due to his charisma.

Idahosa, however, noted that the President’s charisma might not play a major role in the election owing to the dissatisfaction expressed by some Nigerians about the high level of hardship and unemployment in the country.