President Muhammadu Buhari seemed certain to be re-elected president of Nigeria come 2019 but his re-election prospect is now in doubt due primarily to the entry of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar into the political fray. The former vice president who recently left the ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC), and joined the opposition party, People Democratic Party (PDP) will certainly run in the PDP presidential primary and is likely to win the PDP primary and face President Buhari in the 2019 general election.
Why will President Buhari be vulnerable for re-election? One reason is that the Nigerian economy is still bad. Nigeria is out of recession but people are not yet feeling it or seeing much difference in their daily life.
Secondly, restructuring of the Nigerian federation is now at the forefront of the national discussion. President Buhari’s position on restructuring is not clear but it appears that he is not in support of any meaningful reform that will significantly change the current structure of the country. He is still for centralized control of the political and economic pillars of the nation. Mr. Atiku Abubakar, on the other hand, is more flexible and more politically aware than president Buhari. He is a vocal proponent of restructuring. He may not end up going as far as other proponents of restructuring but at-least he agrees with restructure agenda in principle.
The political landscape and regional voting pattern will diminish president Buhari’s re-election chances. PDP with Atiku Abubakar as the party’s presidential candidate is likely to sweep a significant portion of the Southeast and South-South geopolitical zone’s vote. He is more likely to win a state or two in the northeast geopolitical zone. He is also more likely to win few more states in the north-central geopolitical zone and some states in the Southwest geopolitical zone if he can convince people that he is not hopelessly corrupt.
President Buhari still has a lock on the northwest geopolitical zone’s vote. Re-scramble of the political map by Mr. Abubakar will make it difficult for President Buhari to get re-elected. Former vice president Mr. Atiku Abubakar is the only living Nigerian politician with wide name recognition that can derail President Buhari’s re-election. The restructure of Nigeria which the entire Southern part of Nigeria wants has pushed war on corruption down to number two as one of the issues Nigerians are most concerned about. Mr. Abubakar is generally regarded across Nigeria as more flexible, more politically sophisticated, and more or less a detribalized Nigerian compared to President Buhari. President Buhari’s appointments to federal offices since he won the election have not been equitable which reinforces the narrative that he is a tribal leader who favors Fulani and Hausa more than the Southern part of Nigeria.
If PDP fails to choose Mr. Atiku Abubakar as their presidential candidate, President Buhari will win in a landslide. The problem for Atiku Abubakar is that Nigerians also look at him as one of the corrupt political elites who will rub the Nigerian blind again if he gets the opportunity. I do not know how he can convince Nigerians that he is not corrupt. If he can successfully convince Nigerians that he is not corrupt, he will have a 50 percent chance of winning the 2019 general presidential election.