By: Sophie Cavalcanti
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, its largest economy, and is considered one of the biggest democracies in the continent. In February, 2019, a lengthy electoral process was conducted in the middle of accusations of public sector corruption. It was supposed to end with President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeating former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and being re-elected for another four-year term.
This 76-year-old retired general, who took part in one of the many coups that Nigeria experienced until the 1990s, had 56% of the votes, against 41% for his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar who was accused of corruption.
This victory corresponds to a lead of nearly 4 million votes, but the election was marked by a low participation rate (about 40%), down from the 2015 presidential election. The demobilization was a result of a week-long election postponement, which discouraged several million people to vote. Low participation could also be explained by an unimpressed ballot that didn’t attract young voters, who were eager for change in their country and were not drawn by politicians that represented the status quo.
However, the electoral process couldn’t be concluded. The opposition denounced a massive election fraud and claimed for the interruption of the proclamation of results. Violence related to the poll has killed hundreds of people since the beginning of the process and after the announcement of the winner.
Different from the 2015 election, which represented the first democratic transition of this former military dictatorship, the vote was not played on purely religious grounds, since the two main candidates were Muslims. The state of Kano, in the north, with 5.5 millions of voters was key to guarantee the victory of Buhari, giving him 1.5 million votes. In this poor and rural region, the level of education is very low and the population voted for the former general, who was perceived as a strong man. His image of a disciplined military dictator that embraced democracy was essential for his victory, even if he lost thousands of supporters since his first election.
Muhammadu Buhari election in 2015 brought great hope to the country. Nigeria was prospering and assuming a leadership position in the African region. But two years later, disillusion replaced hope in Nigeria. The country faced a great recession with the fall of oil prices and the devaluation of the naira, Nigeria’s currency. General Buhari promises to fight corruption, promote economic reforms, and bring security to a country threatened by interethnic conflicts and the presence of the jihadist group Boko Haram in the northeast region were not fulfilled during his first term. According to Human Rights Watch, abductions, suicide bombings, and attacks on civilian targets by Boko Haram persisted. At least 1,200 people died and nearly 200,000 were displaced in the northeast in 2018. In June, at least 84 people were killed in double suicide bomb attacks attributed to Boko Haram at a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State. Uncoordinated and inadequate responses by state and federal authorities deepened mistrust and perception of authorities’ bias and complicity in the violence.
Even with all the disappointment and political problems, Muhammadu Buhari was able to guarantee his reelection, gathering support from the north’s elites. However, the electoral process didn’t end, as his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar, refused the results and challenged Buhari’s victory in a tribunal. After hours of judgment in the capital Abuja, the electoral commission dismissed the case and declared Buhari president.
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