Atiku vs Buhari: How the winner will emerge in the 2019 presidential election(Exclusive)

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Nigerians head to the polls on February 16, 2019 to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice. Despite optimistic conversations about choosing from a new crop of politicians, Nigerians realistically have only two major options available. The battle is between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Although both candidates come from the North and are septuagenarians, they are different in almost everything else. Buhari is a socialist-oriented conservative who believes in government frugality while Atiku is a liberal capitalist, who favours free market policies. They also have different support bases. Buhari has his stronghold in the North-West and North-East while Atiku is more popular in the South-South and South-East.

One year ago, it would have been easy to conclude that Buhari would be re-elected for a second term. But the political calculations have shifted a great deal since the businessman-politician from Adamawa emerged the PDP candidate in October 2018.

Current realities indicate that the two contestants are neck to neck in the contest. This makes it probably the most difficult election to predict in the history of Nigeria.

Today’s Echo examines the 10 major factors that will determine who emerges winner after February 16.


1.    Branding

Both candidates have created different themes for their 2019 presidential campaigns. They have also consistently pushed their messages to Nigerians. However, the question remains, which brand has more distinctly communicated its benefits to the Nigerian people?

Buhari’s campaign slogan; ‘Next Level’ resonates well with those who are already supporters of the government. A lot of people believe the government has made significant efforts. Therefore, it is time to step things up to the next level. However, statistics and reality have shown that the economy has been in bad shape for the past three years.

Atiku’s campaign slogan ‘Get Nigerian working again’, depicts that all is not certainly well but he is the person who can fix things. His brand also relates with his unique selling points, which are his business experience and liberal disposition.

Atiku’s branding resonates better with those who are not already supporting a particular candidate for the 2019 election. This opens up the population of Nigerians who are dissatisfied with the current situation but are not sure who to vote. Atiku’s campaign team has been using the Social media to reach this demography, made up majorly of young people. This is probably why his campaign seems to be increasing in momentum.

Verdict: Atiku’s campaign has stronger branding

2.    Popularity

It is very difficult to really gauge how popular the two candidates are, especially outside their strongholds. Both of them have been campaigning across the country with huge crowds at their rallies. We have however, seen a shift in response to campaigns by the PDP in recent times. This can even be observed in certain areas people see as APC strongholds. A good example is the huge crowd at the recent rally in Kano. 

A Buharimeter poll conducted by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in May 2018 reveals that 40 percent of Nigerians approved of the President’s performance. This is a decline of 17 percent from 2017. Nevertheless, some presidents in the United States have won re-election with lower ratings. The opposition has also grown in popularity since May 2018 and several recent online polls in which Atiku has defeated Buhari reflected this. In a presidential poll conducted by Today’s Echo on its website, 38 per cent of respondents say they are voting for Atiku while 28 per cent say they are voting for Buhari. 34 per cent of the respondents say they are voting for the other candidates.

Verdict: From our observation, Atiku is slightly more popular.

3.    State Apparatus

The influence of state institutions is a vital determining factor of elections in Africa. This is clearly an advantage for President Muhammadu Buhari. in the 2019 elections. In Nigeria, past incumbents have won elections partly because they control state institutions, including the military, police, and other law enforcement agencies. This is because of the tendency for people to withdraw in the face of harassment by state forces. Even when the government has not deliberately deployed them to harass the opposition, certain members of these state agencies feel it is their duty to protect the incumbent. How the government uses them will determine the degree to which they decide the course of election . Hopefully, Democracy has grown to the level where state institutions are not deployed to significantly influence elections.

Verdict: Buhari clearly has an edge here.

4.    Party Cohesion

The extent to which a party is cohesive and organized is a vital determining factor of its success in elections. Internal strife within the PDP contributed to Goodluck Jonathan’s loss in the 2015 presidential election.

As at May 2017, it was difficult to believe the PDP would even have a chance to give APC a fight. Things have changed since July 2018 when the party held a national convention and chose Uche Secondus as its National Chairman. The party has been experiencing more cohesion since then.

The opposite has been the case for APC, which has been battling with crises since the emergence of Adams Oshiomole as National Chairman. First was the gale of defections which swept many prominent politicians including Abubakar Atiku, Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Aminu Tambuwal to the PDP. Next was the multitude of crises arising from the chaotic gubernatorial primaries. In 2019, several APC state chapters including Zamfara, Imo, Ogun, and Rivers have been embroiled in bitter internal crises that have jeopardised the chances of the party in the governorship elections. Between the candidates, who benefits from these crises in the APC? Your guess is as good as ours.

Verdict: Atiku!

5.    Money

Money is a vital factor in election because it is used to obtain resources for the mobilization of electorate. It can also be used in vote buying and bribery of election officials. The two candidates seem to be balanced in this.

Being the incumbent, Buhari and the APC have access to state resources but his austere personality may however, create a restraint on the use of those resources. However, he is supported by several APC governors, including in Lagos, which has the largest internally-generated revenue.

Atiku is one of the richest men in the country and can easily mobilize considerable resources. He is also supported by 15 PDP governors, including some from oil-rich states. Money has not been an issue for both parties.

Verdict:  draw

6.    International Community

Key pronouncements from international bodies and Western figures are results of close observations on Nigeria and may influence the outcome of elections. Towards the 2015 presidential elections, many international media agencies correctly predicted the emergence of Buhari.

Although, International institutions and Western countries have explicitly declared their neutrality in the 2019 election, the body language of some Western institutions indicate a careful and quiet condemnation of the government. This does not mean they support the opposition directly but that they are more optimistic about regime change than the continuation of the incumbent.

The international community, including the United Kingdom and the United States, recently expressed concerns over free and fair elections in Nigeria when President Buhari abruptly suspended the Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, who is facing corruption charges after accusations he did not disclose his assets, including several foreign bank accounts.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit(EIU), the research arm of the Economist magazine, a general election on February 16th is expected to yield a change in government, implying that Atiku will win.

International criticisms

In September 2018, before Atiku emerged as a major contender, London-based HSBC released a report, saying Buhari’s second term poses risk to Nigeria’s economic development.

According to HSBC, “a second term for Mr. Buhari raises the risk of limited economic progress and further fiscal deterioration, prolonging the stagnation of his first term, particularly if there is no move towards completing reform of the exchange rate system or fiscal adjustments that diversify government revenues away from oil.”

The ruling party’s want of support from key international entities is reflected in its aggressive reactions to statements emanating from outside the country. Highly inciting utterances from prominent party members, like El-Rufai’s ‘body-bags’ comment are also clear indicators. The ruling has also kicked against the composition of foreign observers, accusing some of them of affinity with Olusegun Obasanjo.

Verdict: Atiku clearly leads here.

7.    Elite Support

 Nigeria’s elites are another crucial factor in determining who carries the day in the 2019 presidential election. Former presidents, religious leaders, retired military generals, academic elite, and business leaders have vested interests in various facets of the country. Both Buhari and Atiku have their fair share of support from the elites.

Former presidents, including former dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan have pitched their tents with Jonathan. Yakubu Gowon, and Abdulsalami Abubakar who heads the Peace Forum have declared their neutrality. For Buhari, a group of retired generals including former Lagos State military administrator, Buba Marwa have endorsed him.

Socio-cultural organizations, made-up of elderly elites from an ethnic group, have also endorsed either Buhari or Atiku. The Afenifere from the South-West have endorsed Atiku, the Ohanaeze from the South-East have also done same. Buhari retains the support of the Northern Arewa Consultative Forum(ACF). Meanwhile, Buhari has not gotten enough support from elites in his Northern base as expected.

Verdict: Atiku has more elites behind him


8.    Corporate Nigeria

Corporate Nigeria is the main provider of employment in the country and the driving force behind Nigeria’s economy. The support of key business figures is therefore, vital in the outcome of elections. Although most companies seem to favour Atiku’s proposed policy of free economy because it is good for business, key business figures are also behind Buhari.

Powerful businessmen who support Buhari for the 2019 election include Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and billionaire founder of Forte Oil, Femi Otedola.

Atedo Peterside, former Chairman of IBTC recently wrote a commentary on a presidential poll conducted by the ANAP foundation, which he founded, for the NOI, West Africa’s first country-specific opinion survey firm.

 According to Peterside, “That PMB actually had an overall lead in our polls is cold comfort for his supporters because further analysis confirms that only approximately one third of the electorate nationwide claimed to be certain to back his candidacy,” he wrote, adding: “Atiku was lagging behind PMB but the fact that the Undecided votes are concentrated outside the two zones where PMB is strongest (NW & NE) must give Atiku cause to believe that PMB’ s lead might not be unassailable after all.”

He also said that contrary to Buhari’s economic ideology, it is not the plugging of Government sector leakages that really jumpstarts economic activity. Rather, it is the institutionalization of an enabling business environment that stimulates all-round business confidence and new investment activity from the private sector that generates economic growth.

Verdict: Corporate Nigeria favours Atiku

9.    Governors

Governors are the lifeblood of political parties. They mobilize people from their territories and provide resources to support political campaigns. Both the PDP and APC have their own governors, although APC has more. However, one dangerous trend with APC is a situation where a governor is supporting his party for the presidential election but throws his weight behind the gubernatorial candidate of another party. Such is the case in Ogun and Imo States. Issues got dramatic recently at the Ogun State APC rally when supporters of the governor, Ibikunle Amosun threw water bottles at the president and the National Chairman of the party.

Verdict: Buhari has more governors

10.  Religious Leaders

Religious leaders are highly respected in Nigeria. They have hordes of followers who take their pronouncements seriously. Both Atiku and Buhari have their own share of support from religious figures for the 2016 presidential election.

Key Muslim figures including the head of the Muslim Rights Concerns(MURIC) have endorsed Buhari. Atiku is also not lacking in endorsement from Muslim figures, with vocal support from prominent leaders like Sheik Gumi.

Christian leaders have also thrown their weights behind each candidate. Christian leaders explicitly supporting Atiku include David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel, Johnson Suleiman of the Omega Fire Ministries and David Ibiyomie of Dunamis. Recently, Tunde Bakare of the latter rain Assembly and a long-time ally of Buhari has castigated his government for its insensitive stance on the Fulani herdsmen attacks. Buhari has his own support base within the Christian community. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo is a pastor from the powerful Redeemed Church but Pastor Adeboye has decided to be silent about politics. However, radical Catholic priest, Father Mbaka has been vocal in his support for the president. Lastly, the Shiites, under the umbrella of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), are no friends of the president, having faced persecution and oppression from his government.

Verdict: Overall, Atiku has more support of leaders from both major religions.



Just like several international media outfits, we think Abubakar Atiku will win this one. Out of 10 factors we have analysed, he clearly leads in 7.



**To be continued





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