President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election on February 23 did not come to me as a surprise. It actually should not amaze any keen observer of political development in Nigeria. The President had a lot going for him. His integrity, power of incumbency and above everything he had built up a lot of social capital ahead of the poll. I am not saying this as an afterthought, those media houses who interviewed me ahead of the election knew I said this long before now.
What did people think President Buhari was doing when he corrected the errors of 25 years by moving Nigeria’s Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 and conferred the highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, on Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election? Not only that, he also conferred the second highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Order of Nigeria, on the renowned human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe. That move was a political masterstroke by the President! It was meant to placate the Yoruba people of the South-West Nigeria. It Recall that most of the pro-democracy activists and indeed the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, lauded the move.
Not only that, like in 2015, the choice of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the President’s running mate is another strategic move. Osinbajo is a legal luminary, academic juggernaut and Pentecostal pastor. He is also a son-in-law to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a former Premier of Western Region. As a Senior Pastor in The Redeemed Christian Church of God and a spiritual son of the General Overseer of the church, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, millions of members of the church are likely to have voted for an illustrious member who is a number two citizen of the country and who has on several occasions served as the acting President. As an acting President while Buhari was away to attend to his failing health in 2017, Osinbajo discharged his duties very well to the admiration of his principal and indeed, many Nigerians.
Buhari had a very good outing in the North-East geopolitical zone because he is seen as having succeeded in considerably weakening the grip of the Boko Haram insurgents on the area. Unlike in 2015 when 17 local governments were under the control of the insurgents, the Nigerian military succeeded in chasing the insurgents to the fringes of Nigerian borders from where they now carry out sporadic attacks. The inhabitants of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa will tell you that many roads hitherto impassable for fear of being attacked by the insurgents have now been freed while many schools shut down have reopened. Even the University of Maiduguri which is at the epicentre of the conflict has remained open for academic activities. Many Internally Displaced Persons have also returned to their ancestral homes. Yes, the war against the insurgents is not over; however, their stranglehold on the zone has slackened.
Not only that, Bauchi State has been extremely lucky under this administration. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Minister of Education, Alhaji Adamu Adamu; Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro; the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed; and the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, are all from Bauchi State. The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, is from Gombe State but married to a man from the neigbouring Bauchi. Above all, the signing into law of the North-East Development Commission in October 2017 resonates with the people of the zone who see the President as their liberator and one who cares about their development. Little wonder then that despite his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, coming from Adamawa State, which is one of the six states in the zone, President Buhari won outright in four of the six states (Borno, Yobe, Bauchi and Gombe) and got over 40 per cent in the other two, i.e. Taraba and Adamawa states.
The North-West zone is the home front for the President. Though from Daura in Katsina State, Buhari lived more in Kaduna State, which is his adopted home. He has always won in the zone right from the time he started competing for the presidency in 2003. In 2007, the votes were split between him and Umaru Yar’Adua as both of them are from Katsina State. It then did not come as a surprise that the President defeated his main challenger hands down in the seven states in the zone including Sokoto, whose governor, Aminu Tambuwal, defected to the Peoples Democratic Party in August 2018.
Pundits had expected the PDP candidate to win in the six states making up the North-Central due to the pervasive herders’ killings and influence of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. Unfortunately, he only managed to win marginally in Plateau and Benue states. The other four, Kwara, Kogi, Niger and Nasarawa were won by the President. The logical explanation to this is that the people of the zone did not want to be in opposition to the Federal Government.
On a general note, other factors that worked in favour of President Buhari include the Social Intervention Programme of his administration. The over N500bn SIP which includes the N-Power graduate employment scheme, where 500,000 youths have been offered two years temporary employment with a modest N30,000 monthly stipend; the Home-Grown school feeding prgramme, where millions of primary school children are being fed once a day; the Conditional Cash Transfer where thousands of poor people are being given a token of N5,000 monthly allowance and the Tradermoni where artisans and traders are being given interest-free and uncollaterised loan of between N10,000 and N50,000 to boost their trade investment, all helped in endearing the president to the Nigerian “proletariat”.
Also, the increase in the salaries of officers and men of the Nigeria Police and the approval of N30,000 minimum wage for federal workers may have also wooed workers to the side of the President. Recall also that in November 2018, the President approved the reduction in the cost of forms for some terminal examinations like the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, the West African Senior Secondary School Examination, as well as the Basic Education Certificate Examination.
Furthermore, on Wednesday, January 23, 2019, Buhari assented to the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018. This bill has been in the works for 18 years with two former presidents refusing to assent to it when passed by the National Assembly. There is an estimated 27 million Persons with Disabilities in Nigeria who may have been gladdened by the noble act of the President and as such rewarded him with their votes on Saturday, February 23, 2019.
Ahead of the elections, the PDP was already a damaged brand with the party itself contemplating a name change at some point. It was branded as the party of looters by the ruling APC. Also, while the plan to restructure Nigeria may have resonated with the people of southern Nigeria, those from the North felt they will lose more if the country is restructured hence their sticking with Buhari. The planned sale of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and other national assets and the promise of Atiku to “enrich his friends and cronies” did not go down well with many Nigerians especially the workers.
Anyway, the election has been won and lost. It is time for the President to honour his electoral promises of fighting corruption, improving the economy and combating insecurity. It behooves him to commence electoral reforms for more credible elections in future early enough to impact positively on the 2023 polls. The Next Level promised by the APC should be that of prosperity and not that of sorrow, tears and blood.
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This article originally appeared in the Punch Newspaper and has been published here with the permission of the author.