By Ben Agande, Kaduna
Against all national and international predictions, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress spectacularly defeated the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar to clinch the 2019 presidential elections. It was a victory that defied all rational explanations, when viewed against the background of the performance of the government in the last four years.
President Muhammadu Buhari came into office on the promise of fighting corruption, creating employment and fighting insecurity, especially in the north eastern part of the country where the Boko Haram terrorists had held the people by the jugular.
But when he assumed power, the economy went into recession, the rate of unemployment increased in the country, the security challenge in the country became more widespread with herdsmen dealing more deadly blows to almost all parts of the country while the Boko Haram insurgency which the federal government had claimed was ‘technically defeated’ was making a strong resurgence in its traditional strongholds.
A record number of jobs were lost and Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world; a badge of dishonor that it snatched from India and the economy has continued to struggle. It was with this abysmal statistics that the APC government led by President Muhammadu Buhari went into campaign.
On the political front, the president went into the election with a sleuth of what many people thought were political mishaps, reminiscent of former president Goodluck Jonathan who eventually lost his reelection bid in 2015. For instance, the president lost the senate president, Bukola Saraki, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state and a large number of lawmakers both at the senate and the House of Representatives to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Many observers believed then that the president and the hawks around him mismanaged the political capital that he had gained and that could have devastating consequences on his reelection bid.
With his promise of ‘making Nigeria work again’ former Vice President Atiku Abubakar strongly challenged president Buhari, giving some pundits the impression that with the widespread discontent with the government, Buhari was certainly in for a fight of his life.
But when the Independent National Electoral Commission eventually announced the results, it said president Buhari polled 15,191,847 votes while Atiku Abubakar polled 11,262,978 to finish as runner up. Expectedly, the bulk of the votes that the president got to up his electoral advantage over Atiku Abubakar came largely from the northern parts of the country, especially his traditional stronghold states of Kano, Katsina, Borno Bauchi and Yobe. Even states like Benue, Zamfara and Plateau that had borne the brunt of the deteriorating security situation in the country surprisingly gave the president a large number of votes that are gobscmacking.
But why will people or states that seem to have borne the brunt of the seeming failings of a government turn round to invest their hope in same?
Investigations by SaturdayVanguard reveal that reasons for the actions by the electorate vary from state to state but the central reason appears to be the fact that people in especially the far northern states of the country love the president just for the sake of it. And that’s why he commands almost cult followership in the north.
According to a professor of Political science at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, most of the voters that cast their votes for President Muhammadu Buhari did so without any expectations that they would get anything from him in return but just for the fact that they see him as an ‘honest man’ who has the interest of the masses at heart.
The professor who declined to have his name quoted in order to avoid being seen as ‘anti Buhari’ explained that ‘for many of the fanatical voters of the president, the fact that they think he has opportunity to steal from the public, but has remained Spartan by choice is a huge draw for them. They believe that if he continues in office, perhaps, one day, the goodies of life will cascade down to the least of them in the society.
“These people cannot relate to the fact that Buhari’s main challenger, Atiku Abubakar seem to have so much at his disposal. The narrative is that Atiku is so rich that he alone owns a school as big as the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. These set of people cannot relate to the fact that a single individual could own so much. They would rather stick with Buhari than risk empowering Atiku the more” he said.
Said Amina Sambo, a Fulani woman from Kaduna “the elite may not like him even in the north but the masses do. There’s this charisma that he has that endears him to the lower cadre. They can do anything for him. He is lucky to command such followership because they don’t care whether his government is doing well or not. They just see him as a man of integrity and that works for him.”
But beyond the appeal to the lower class, Buhari is to the vast majority of northern Nigeria, what Donald Trump is to neo-conservative Americans, especially the conservative evangelical Christians. Whatever he does that riles other parts of the country draw him more to the conservative northerners. For instance, though President Buhari has been severely criticized for singling out the north for his appointments, this is one of the greatest things that have drawn him to northern conservatives.
According to a former editor of Abuja based Daily Trust newspapers, an average northern conservative is not comfortable with the liberal disposition of Atiku Abubakar as they see him as a great threat to the northern way of life.
“The northern conservatives who wield tremendous influence amongst the lower class simply told the people that Atiku is not likely going to protect the interest of the north as Buhari would do. The issue is not whether or not the assertion is true but it is a message that easily sits well with the people. The president may have come under serious criticism from other parts of the country about Arewa centric appointments but this is exactly what draws the people to him.
Buhari’s supporters simply tell the people that if you don’t elect him, another person will remove those he has appointed into office and give them to other people from other parts of the country. The Yorubas are in charge of the economy, the Igbos are doing very well in all endeavors. The narrative here is that if we have our own in government, he will appoint others into offices and they will be there beyond the life of the administration. That way, the north will be represented in government even after Buhari has left office” the former editor explained.
Going further memory lane, the editor who also refused to be identified by name said such consciousness began to emerge in 2014, after a review of the governments headed by Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.
“When former President Olusegun Obasanjo came into office in 1999, he retired a lot of senior military officers, majority of who were northerners. He sidelined what people say is the core north and patronized the middle belt. He gave key appointments to the south and abandoned the north. When Jonathan came into office, he was seen to have continued with this trend. The north has vowed that they will never again give power to those who will not treat them well. They have never forgiven former president Olusegun Obasanjo so the more he criticized Buhari, the more they strengthen their resolve to work for him. They believe that anybody Obasanjo supports can only be against the north” he said.
It is this appeal to primordial sentiment that defined how many people in the north voted and caused some of the upsets noticed in many northern states. For instance, while Senator Shehu Sani and Musa Kwankwaso command a sizeable followership in the north, purveyors of the Arewa agenda were able to chip away at some of their support base. In the case senator Kwankwaso who had sufficiently aroused the consciousness of the people to see his arch rival in the state, governor Ganduje as a cog in the wheel of progress in the development of the state, he could not openly work against the interest of president Buhari because if he did so, it would boomerang and affect his preferred candidate for the governor of the state. So rather than sell the Atiku candidacy as he would have actively done, he was more passive in order not to incur the wrath of the people against his governorship candidate.
With the conclusion of the presidential election, the north may soon go back to the work to determine who will take over from Buhari when his tenure ends. Like 2015 and 2019, what may determine who the north may support may not necessarily be the competence of the candidates that may pout themselves up for election. It will be determined by who the northern conservative think is better placed to serve the interest of the region. And for as long as they remain united in pursuing the cause of the north, the voting pattern will continue to confound Nigerians.