Nigeria Election - Bad Losers, Bad Winners

Nigeria elections.
27 February 2019

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari beat his arch-rival Atiku Abubakar, but is Atiku right to reject the vote outcome? DW's Thomas Mösch thinks Nigeria's politicians should finally tackle the country's problems.

Muhammadu Buhari's victory was clearer than expected. He defeated his main opponent Atiku Abubakar with a margin of about four million votes. In the last election, Buhari was only two and a half million votes ahead of then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. These figures alone make it difficult to understand why Abubakar does not want to recognize the result.

Yes, there were considerable organizational errors and omissions in this election. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not do a convincing job. INEC did not make good use of the time it obtained by postponing the election by a week on short notice. Many polling stations opened hours late or even the following day. In many places, the electronic readers for voter cards did not work at all.

Grievances not decisive for the election

Armed gangs prevented people from voting or devastated the polling stations completely, especially in the economic metropolis of Lagos and in the southeast of the country. On the other hand, there were fewer reports of underage voters or ballot stuffing in the back rooms of local politicians. So there is no reason to believe that the grievances that have come to light in recent days have been so widespread that they could explain Buhari's lead. Atiku Abubakar is, unfortunately, a bad loser - nothing more. He lost because he did not manage to convince enough Nigerians about he was the right person for the top job. The states which Abubakar won were mostly those with, particularly low voter turnout. Nevertheless, the challenger managed a few successes: he managed to win his home state of Adamawa and also achieved good results in southwestern Nigeria, where Buhari succeeded four years ago.

Buhari's star has faded

Muhammadu Buhari, on the other hand, is not such a shining winner as he was four years ago when he kicked the incumbent out of office. The drop in voter tournout to a low 36 percent shows that neither Buhari nor Abubakar were able to inspire Nigerians. However, Buhari benefited from the fact that his supporters in the north of the country still stood by him and turned up in big numbers on voting day. Despite that massive turnout, there's still frustration in the north about the fact that large parts of the country are suffering from bloody conflicts and increasing poverty. Whether Buhari would be able to turn around the situation in the next four years is hard to explain. In this respect, Buhari is a bad election winner for Nigeria, but many voters apparently saw him as the lesser of two evils.

Heroic voters

The voters were the true heroes of this election anyway. Despite fresh attacks by Boko Haram, the people in the northeast were standing defiantly in the queues in front of the polling stations. And there are those in the capital Abuja who refused to vote because the delayed ballot boxes had already been filled with ballots. And there are voters in southwestern Nigeria who did not simply follow some "kingmakers" like the millionaire and former governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu, who once again supported Buhari. Although Buhari's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo comes from their region, many people in the southwest voted for Abubakar who was able to snatch two states from Buhari there.

The heroes are also those voters who simply stayed at home over the weekend, signaling how poor they thought the selection of candidates was. After a largely meaningless election campaign tailored to only two people, the most important message of this election to Nigeria's politicians is: "Put more efforts into the next four years and take care of the country's real problems!

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