Nigeria: Countdown to February 2019 - a Look Ahead At Nigeria's Elections

President Muhammadu Buhari.
analysis

International engagement will be critical to the success of Nigeria's elections, but its international partners - in particular the US - appear less engaged than they were four years ago.

Summary

In February 2019 Nigerians will vote for their next president, deciding who will lead Africa's largest economy and most populous country into the next decade. They will also elect the governors of 29 of Nigeria's 36 states, and all federal and state legislators. The elections will pit the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) against the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and many smaller parties.

The presidency and the Senate are currently jockeying over the sequence of elections, which is proving to be very disruptive to the process. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released its election timetable (providing for a two-stage election process) in January 2018, but a controversial bill to enable the reordering of the electoral sequence was subsequently approved by the National Assembly. Buhari refused to sign the bill into law, warning that it might undermine INEC's ability to organize, undertake and supervise elections.

Security conditions during the pre- and post-election period will greatly impact INEC's ability to ensure credible and well-executed polls. A number of security crises have intensified across the country: these could be exploited by unscrupulous politicians and their supporters to disrupt pre-election logistics or the voting process itself.

A few key factors will determine whether the APC will repeat its 2015 victory or risk defeat. The first is the degree to which the party either remains united behind Buhari's candidacy or sees additional high-level defections and a widening of existing factional divisions. The second is the president's performance in the last six months of his term, and his party's performance in off-cycle governorship elections.

The opposition PDP currently controls 12 state governorships and the office of deputy president of the Senate, as well as - following large-scale defections from the APC in July 2018 - an apparent majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Looking ahead, the PDP's competitiveness will depend on two main factors: the political pedigree and popular appeal of the party's presidential nominee, and its ability to unify against a well-financed incumbent who retains a strong support base across much of the north.

A number of political groupings are now emerging that are keen to exploit popular disillusionment with the APC and PDP. They are raising awareness of the power that citizens hold, and calling for an end to political impunity by encouraging the electorate to hold political leaders to account.

Nigeria's international partners appear to be somewhat less engaged ahead of the 2019 elections than they were four years ago. US policy towards Nigeria, in particular, has been weakened by a shift in emphasis away from democracy and governance toward counterterrorism and trade. To make up for the lack of interest in Washington, the UK, the EU and their Nigerian civil society partners will need to redouble their efforts to support - but also closely and objectively scrutinize - INEC's performance in the run-up to and during the elections.

Matthew T. Page

Associate Fellow, Africa Programme

Sola Tayo

Associate Fellow, Africa Programme

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