macroafricaintel | Nigeria Decides 2019: Void votes & inconclusive state polls – something is not right

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Turnout was abysmally low in the 9th March governorship elections. Militarisation of the process and voter disillusionment on the back of the 23rd February presidential election have been blamed. That is apart from the typical disinterest associated with state elections owing to the overbearing influence of so-called political godfathers on the process.

It is somewhat bizarre how the states in which governorship elections were declared inconclusive, namely Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, and Plateau, either had the main opposition People’s Democractic Party (PDP) candidate in the lead, or the PDP candidate had a fighting chance at winning, or the states were strongholds of the PDP.

And almost consistently, the gubernatorial candidates who expressed satisfaction with now upcoming re-runs, were mostly from the All Progressives Congress (APC) party, while those who were displeased were mostly from the PDP.

In Adamawa, the PDP’s Ahmadu Fintiri, got 367,471 votes, while the APC’s Jibrila Bindow, the incumbent, got 334,995 votes. As the margin of 32,476 votes was less than cancelled votes of 40,988, the Adamawa election was declared inconclusive.

In Bauchi, the APC’s Mohammed Abubakar, the incumbent, garnered 465,453 votes, while the PDP’s Bala Mohammed got 469,512 votes. The poll was also declared inconclusive, as the 4,059 votes margin is lower than the number of cancelled votes.

In Sokoto, the PDP’s Aminu Tambuwal, the incumbent, got 489,558 votes, while the APC’s Ahmed Aliyu got 486,145 votes. With the margin of 3,413 votes between the pair less than cancelled votes of 75,403 votes, the Sokoto poll was also declared inconclusive.

In Benue, incumbent Samuel Ortom of the PDP secured 410,576 votes, while the APC’s Emmanuel Jime got 329,022 votes. Similarly, as the margin of 81,554 votes between the pair was lower than the 121,019 cancelled votes, the poll was declared inconclusive.

In Plateau, incumbent Simon Lalong of the APC got 583,255 votes against 538,326 votes for the PDP’s Jeremiah Useni. With cancelled votes of 49,377 more than the margin between the two of 44,929 votes, the poll was also declared inconclusive.

While the final collation at the state headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in each of the states followed the Commission’s guidelines in ruling as such, it is also noteworthy that the key variable in coming to these decisions is the number of cancelled votes; which is rules-based but discretionary, and typically done at the respective collation centres. And since the basis for cancellations is well-known, political actors could quite easily engineer events to make them happen.

Of course, a rebuttal by those who favour the ‘inconclusive’ decisions is that if the aggrieved parties were really that popular, they would have unassailable leads that void votes would hardly be able to change. As re-runs tend to favour incumbents, however, those who argue that some state interference was involved can hardly be blamed as well.

So while the opposition PDP has made a determination to protest the bizarre trend, it might be more important for it to put in greater resources and efforts towards winning the soon-to-be scheduled re-runs, which must take place within the statutory 21 days from 9th of March. In any case, if it has evidence of wrongdoing, the courts are also at the disposal of its candidates.

What is abundantly clear is that the quality of the 2019 elections would have been greatly enhanced had the amended electoral law been assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari. Now that he has won re-election, Mr Buhari should do the great service of, firstly, signing, before the end of the current legislative term, the amended electoral bill that was forwarded to him ahead of the 2019 polls.

Secondly, the insights garnered from the likely numerous election petition tribunals across the country should be incorporated into a second amendment to the signed amended electoral law, which should be assented to by the president during the upcoming legislative term but before the end of 2019.

In other words, political stakeholders should not now wait again until the 2023 elections are about, before making amendments to what is clearly a flawed electoral process.

The service required of the PDP is to go to the tribunal for all the elections it considers to be below par, with the primary intent of ensuring that the process becomes fairer; and thus only seeing potential wins of mandates for its aggrieved candidates as additional gains.

Jagaban redeems himself in Lagos
In Lagos, the ruling APC pulled its weight this second time around, with its gubernatorial candidate Babajide Sanwo-Olu getting 739,445 votes, beating the main opposition PDP candidate Jimi Agbaje, who garnered 206,141 votes.

In the presidential election, the APC secured 580,825 votes in Lagos, while the PDP got 448,015 votes. Clearly, the APC upped its game in the second vote. More importantly, Mr Agbaje was quick to congratulate Mr Sanwo-Olu for his victory; a good end to a good fight.

Also note how the sum of votes for the APC and PDP in Lagos for the two elections was virtually the same. In the presidential election, both parties’ sum of votes was 1,028,840, while in the governorship, it was 945,586; about 1 million in each case.

So clearly, some of the votes that went to the PDP in the presidential election moved to the APC in the governorship poll.

APC’s poor showing in the presidential poll in Lagos was clearly a wake-up call for the leaders of the party; who were perhaps getting a little complacent. A video recording of one of the post-mortem meetings of the party after the poll which I watched, showed party leader Bola Tinubu (‘Jagaban’) calling out the leaders of each of the key sections of the state, publicly applauding those who came through for the party in their areas of responsibility and deriding those who did not.

Thus, you did not have to be clairvoyant to know it was almost a do-or-die affair for the laggards in the Lagos APC to prove their worth. Thankfully, they did so in a non-violent manner. Because unlike the many reports of wanton violence across the country, there was relatively no violence in Lagos.

And the spirit of sportsmanship was clearly displayed by the main opposition PDP candidate, Jimi Agbaje, who called the victor, as soon as it became clear he had lost; that is, even before the official results were announced.

Game of thrones in Kano
Kano sprung a huge surprise. Or maybe not. For some reason, the PDP woke up from its slumber in the governorship election. The ruling APC candidate Abdullahi Ganduje got 987,819 votes, while the main opposition PDP candidate Abba Kabir-Yusuf got 1,014,474 votes.

The election was declared inconclusive because the 26,655 votes margin was less than the cancelled votes of 128,572. This is a far cry from what happened during the presidential election where the PDP secured 391,593 votes and APC garnered 1,464,768 votes. Note how the sum of the votes for both leading parties in both elections was about 2 million; albeit the tally was lower in the second vote.

So why the very wide margin in the presidential election and tighter one in the gubernatorial election? When the Kwankwasiyya political group led by former Kano state governor Rabiu Kwankwaso turned up en masse for the rally of PDP’s presidential flagbearer Atiku Abubukar on 10th February, some of the assumptions about the strenght of Mr Buhari’s followership in the state began to unravel a little bit.

Or so it seemed. Because Mr Buhari went on to prove the doubters wrong. It was thus logical to suppose the APC governorship candidate would similarly coast to victory quite easily. That has proved not to be quite the case as yet.

An objective interpretation could be that Kano state voters, Mr Kwankwaso’s followers at least, did not quite like Mr Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, but turned up at his rally to honour their benefactor. It could also be that, that was the script sent down by Mr Kwankwaso to his followers in fact.

With likely no such dilemma for the governorship poll, Mr Kwankwaso was likely then able to pull his weight much more forcefully. Still, it could also be that the results were rigged in the presidential election. Proof of this or otherwise should be revealed at the presidential election tribunal, where Mr Abubakar is contesting the results.

Some have attempted to spin the close race in Kano and the clear PDP lead there as Mr Buhari’s doing, suggesting that when the president raised Mr Ganduje’s hand at his rally in Kano, he made a subtle remark in Hausa to suggest he did not wholeheartedly support the governor’s candidacy. That is nonsense.

Buhari, even as he has a cult following in Kano, needed Ganduje’s support. That is, even as he likely also put in place an ‘insurance’ policy in the person of the now widely applauded Kano state commissioner of police, Mohammed Wakil.

I do not agree with the suggestion in some quarters that the Kano police boss got instructions from Abuja to take some of the laudable steps he took recently; like taking into custody the deputy governor of the state, Nasiru Gawuna, for attempting to manipulate the results of the state election.

Instead, what I think happened is what is likely already well-known. If you want to keep a keen eye on a governor (or any public official for that matter), you send an honest cop (or official) to work with him or her. What Abuja was likely counting on, was that the police commissioner would live true to his reputation; and he did.

From the outset, the intuition was that PDP’s Abubakar would have a difficult time winning the hearts of voters in the Northwest. But with Sokoto’s governor Aminu Tambuwal and former Kano state governor Kwankwaso in his camp, some of these assumptions required a re-examination.

And with those sea of red caps of Kwankwasiyya adherents at Mr Abubakar’s February rally in Kano, any objectively minded person would have re-evaluated his or her assumptions. Based on the Kano state governorship results thus far, however, some firm and likely more reliable inferences can now be made.

The issue with Mr Abubakar in Kano and the Northwest at large was a moral one. Left with the choice between Abubakar and Buhari, Kano voters had no dilemma about who to choose. It was also one of the reasons why the APC camp was very jubilant when Mr Abubakar won the PDP presidential primaries.

Against a Tambuwal of Sokoto state, who was a frontrunner for the ticket back then, it might have been a different story. This is because, apart from being young and scandal-free, the argument of a potential eight years for the north in the state house in Abuja would have been hard to beat.

When the fanning of negative tribal sentiments against Mr Abubakar’s running mate, Peter Obi, who hails from the southeastern part of the country, by some northern religious leaders is also considered, it is not surprising the PDP aspirant had a poor showing in the region.

It raises the question then of whether Mr Kwankwaso backed Mr Abubakar wholeheartedly. No one can say for sure. But I doubt very much his followers got orders from him to vote Mr Abubakar no matter what. Because when it came to the elections that likely really mattered more to Mr Kwankwaso, the governorship, that is, his followers clearly delivered.

It is also clear Mr Ganduje has a solid following in Kano. Because despite the bribery scandal hanging around his neck and the formidable Kwankwasiyya opposition he faced, he still managed to compete neck-on-neck with the PDP candidate.

Quietude wins in Ogun
Ogun went to APC in the end. And quite easily; proof that turnount at rallies is not a reliable indicator of popularity. The APC candidate Dapo Abiodun got 241,670 votes, while Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) got 222,153 votes.

The outgoing governor, Ibikunle Amosun, of the APC, who is now a senator-elect, backed the APM candidate. Of course, the APC would be wise to keep Mr Amosun within the fold. Because since the APM has already announced it would be going to the tribunal to contest the results, the APC could ask Mr Amosun to stop the court challenge in exchange for the APC lifting his suspension from the party.

Demystification of Okorocha in Imo
The main opposition PDP candidate, former deputy speaker of the federal House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, won the day in Imo state, garnering 273,404 votes.

From the look of things, Mr Okorocha’s popularity was probably a little exaggerated. The candidate he backed, his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA) got 190,364 votes. Hope Uzodinma, the candidate of the ruling APC, which is officially Mr Okorocha’s political party, got 96,458 votes.

But for the divisions in the APC in Imo state, all 286,822 votes, the sum of the votes garnered by Nwosu and Uzodinma, would have given the ruling APC party a clear win in the state.

And not only did hoodlums burn an INEC office in Imo state, it is alleged Mr Okorocha forced an INEC returning officer to declare him winner of the Imo West senatorship in the 23rd February elections. In response, INEC did not publish his name in the list of senators-elect to be issued certificates of return.

Would there be a re-run? And if there is one, would he be barred from participating? Or would the hitherto 2nd place candidate be declared winner instead? Time will tell.

War of the ‘Generals’ in Rivers
The security situation in Rivers that led to INEC cancelling the electoral process there is deplorable. This is because it was unnecessary and avoidable. With APC not officially on the ballot, it also looks bad for the ruling APC party in Abuja. Because without the military’s involvement, there probably would not have been as much tension as there was. And this is the assessment by most objective observers.

Ordinarily, the incumbent governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP would be expected to carry the day in Rivers; since the APC is not on the ballot owing to court orders. Undaunted, the APC put its weight behind African Action Congress candidate Biokpomabo Awara, who claims to be leading in the 7 of the 23 local government areas of the state for which results are already in the public domain; which reports put at 289,773 votes for Awara and 76,633 votes for the incumbent Wike of the PDP.

The key two actors, Rivers state governor Wike, and former governor Rotimi Amaechi, must accept responsibility for all that has happened. Irrespective of who started what, they are both to blame for the deplorable state of the electoral process in the state. My view.

Besides, the European Union (EU) observer mission’s report on the electoral process in Rivers is very instructive. “Observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers, apparently by military personnel. In Rivers, INEC…suspended until further notice the elections due to violence in polling units and collation centres, staff being taken hostage and election materials, including results sheets, seized or destroyed by unauthorised persons. There is no doubt that the electoral process there was severely compromised.” If this conclusion is also made of the entire 2019 electoral process, one would be justified.

Nigeria Decides 2019: The lesser elections that really matter

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Will people go out to vote on Saturday, 9th March? Maybe that is not the right question. Would more or less people vote in the gubernatorial elections than they did a week ago in the presidential and parliamentary elections?

A lot of Nigerians care a great deal about the presidential and parliamentary polls. For those of states and local governments? Not so much. So, considering how turnout was quite low for the former, there are concerns the potential disinterest might be worse for the latter. Still, it is best to be optimistic.

The big states, like Lagos, Kano, and Rivers, get some attention, though. And deservedly so. But because state politics tend to be in the firm grip of so-called ‘godfathers’, most people do not even bother to make the effort. I reiterate the need for conducting the presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial polls on the same day.

The states I am watching closely are Lagos, Ogun, and Imo.

Kano would have been part of my watchlist. But after the poor showing of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state during the presidential poll, despite its aplomb beforehand, I am not so sure there is a contest there.

The PDP secured 391,593 votes in Kano state during the presidential election, while the APC garnered 1,464,768 votes. So, the incumbent, Abdullahi Ganduje of the All Progressives Congress (APC), would probably secure a second-term in office.

The Lagos gubernatorial poll is one to watch. In the presidential election, the two leading parties, the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP garnered about the same votes. The APC secured 580,825 votes, while the PDP got 448,015 votes. Clearly, the underdog PDP has a fighting chance.

Ogun is perhaps the most interesting one. The outgoing governor, Ibikunle Amosun, of the ruling APC, who has already secured a senatorship, is supporting Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).

True, Mr Akinlade and his supporters were forced to move to the APM after allegedly losing out to the powers that be in the APC. But as party men, it was ordinarily expected Mr Amosun and his protégé would lick their wounds and toe the party line thereafter. Mr Amosun would have none of it and has not hidden the fact that his support is with the APM candidate.

And there is ego at stake as well. Should Amosun prevail in Ogun state, it might be the beginning of serious divisions within the Yoruba political household currently under the leadership of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Amosun’s close relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari also means Mr Tinubu has to exercise tremendous restraint.

Incidentally, there seems to be popular support for Mr Amosun’s choice. On the face of it, at least. But considering how turnout at rallies has been a poor indicator of success at the polls, proof would be in whether Akinlade’s percieved lead translates into the majority of votes on polling day.

Should the Akinlade-Amosun alliance prevail, however, the APC would still need to figure out a way to punish Mr Amosun for his ‘anti-party’ activities on the one hand, having already suspended him, while on the other hand remaining well-positioned to benefit from his political fortunes.

Another state I am watching closely is Imo, where outgoing governor Rochas Okorocha has also been suspended by the APC. Mr Okorocha has also secured a senatorship. And just like Ogun’s Amosun, he is supporting Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA), a candidate from another party, to replace him as governor.

What the APC does after the results are released is up to it. But it clearly cannot afford to lose these states. And it must do its utmost to keep the two senators within the fold. But should the party also tolerate indiscipline? Certainly not.

Still, most would recall how similar infighting within the APC four years ago literally created an opposition bloc within the party, thus making it difficult for Mr Buhari to govern properly. The same mistake should not be made again.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria Decides 2019: Post-election note (2)

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Turnout conundrum
One of the facts that struck me after the release of the 2019 presidential election results in the last week of February was the relatively low turnout. Hitherto, anecdotal evidence suggested turnout was ‘impressive’. On a relative basis, it was not. But it was indeed impressive on an absolute basis; especially in light of the prevailing factors of the one-week delay of the poll, security fears and the logistical challenges of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

29 million registered voters were accredited for the 2019 presidential poll; the same number of voters that participated in the 2015 poll. Relative to the number of registered voters, however, the 36 percent that voted this time around was lower than the 44 percent of 2015. 82 million Nigerians registered to vote in 2019, more than 20 percent higher than the 67 million that registered to vote in 2015.

A well-known public figure made an interesting point about what could be responsible for the relatively low turnout. His view was that the turnout figures for the elections in 1999 (30 million), 2003 (42 million), 2007 (35 million) and 2011 (40 million), which did not use card readers for voter accreditation, were probably bloated. Put simply, they were higher because it was easier to rig elections back then when card readers were not part of the process.

So, the more reliable base to compare the 2019 turnout of 29 million should be the 2015 poll figure of the same amount. Why? Card readers were first used in 2015. In a nutshell, the turnout would be poor or good depending on whether you choose to look at the proverbial ‘glass of water’ as half-full or half-empty. Still, there was indeed significant voter apathy. And it is likely the one-week delay contributed to the disinterest.

Nothing wrong with going to court
I have been asked whether the decision by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar to go to court is good or bad for the economy. My view is that it is good for our political development. Thus, unlike the popular view that Mr Abubakar should choose to be a statesman by conceding defeat, I think he would do a greater service to the nation by going to court.

Since it is highly unlikely Mr Abubakar would prevail in court, his primary object in taking legal action should be the improvement of our democracy. It could be hoped that the process would reveal certain irregularities and mis-steps that could in the aftermath of his legal action be corrected by a better electoral law.

Reform INEC & electoral process
There is clearly a need to unbundle INEC, for instance. While it could never be ‘independent’ in the real sense of the word, it could certainly be made more efficient. I would certainly recommend that the sequencing of the presidential, parliamentary and governorship elections be revised. A suggestion might be for the three to be held on the same day. Because after the presidential and parliamentary polls, which are held on the same day, there is a tendency for most politicians and voters to align with the ‘winning’ party in subsequent polls down the line.

Another reason is already palpable. After winning re-election for its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) almost momentarily suspended Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha and Ogun state governor Ibikunle Amosun for anti-party activities. While the party is justified in doing so, in light of their quite well-known political preferences, it is highly unlikely the party would have made the move before the presidential poll, when their political capital was needed to support President Buhari.

Is the Abdul-Salami Abubakar peace committee wasting its time trying to nudge the opposition PDP’s Abubakar to concede defeat? Not really. But I do not think it is necessary. Mr Abubakar has promised to only go to court. He has not, however, said he would engage in any form of public disturbance. Besides, the court action, which could take up to a year to finalise, may serve the additional purpose of keeping Mr Buhari on his toes. What do I mean? There is a risk of complacency in any second presidential term. An active opposition may help to ensure that Mr Buhari’s administration is more inclusive this time around.

The Kenyan precedence
When Raila Odinga, the main opposition presidential candidate in the 2017 Kenyan presidential election lost to the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, an aggrieved Odinga engaged in protests, and even swore himself in as substantive president. A wise Kenyatta, after initially taking the aggressive route, came to the realisation that both of them actually wanted the same thing.

They both loved their country. They both wanted to fight corruption. They both wanted a more inclusive politics and government. They both wanted Kenyans to have better lives. In what is now termed the ‘Handshake’, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga decided they would work together instead. And today, the fight against corruption in Kenya is gaining momentum. And a referendum towards a more inclusive government is now in the works.

The Nigerian case is not as serious as the Kenyan one, however. Politics in Kenya is almost strictly along tribal lines. Kenyan politics is also dynastic. In Nigeria, some tribal loyalties exist. But Nigerians do vote across tribal lines when they want to. And there is yet to be a political dynasty at the federal level in Nigeria.

A potential legal action by PDP’s Abubakar could also engender continued debate about how we want to move Nigeria forward, how to move our politics to one of ideas and not the pocket. In the aftermath of a possible loss at the courts, Mr Abubakar could go on to organise policy dialogues and debates that could even include the ruling APC officials in government. He would also likely get opportunities to give lectures at think-tanks and universities around the world. In the process, a new set of conservatives (‘Buharists’) and progressives (‘Atikulates’), that are younger, more enthused, detribalised and bound by a patriotic desire to serve Nigeria, might emerge.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria Decides 2019: Post-election note (1)

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

I spent the election weekend power-reading two books about Nigeria’s recent political evolution.

The first, “My transition hours” by former president Goodluck Jonathan, details the author’s version about the events that led to his concession of defeat in 2015 to incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari.

The second, “On a platter of gold – How Jonathan won and lost Nigeria” by former sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, provides a more objective view of the same events during the Jonathan presidency.

I also did a quick recap of two other books; namely: “Against the run of play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria” by former presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi, and “Fighting corruption is dangerous” by former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

I was trying to get a better understandng of the workings in the corridors of power, the State House especially, during an election in which the incumbent is seeking a second term.

True, the circumstances now are very different from those of four years ago. But as far as I know, there has probably not been an administration, with as many books by former insiders, so quickly after its end, as that of Mr Jonathan.

A fifth book, “Political order and political decay” by Francis Fukuyama, which I have to admit, I am yet to finish, has a whole chapter on Nigeria. It makes for sober reading.

The book reflects on the political evolution of different parts of the world. Why is northen Europe (“Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia”) more prosperous than southern Europe (Greece, Italy), for instance? Fukuyama identifies “clientelism” (or patronage) and “corruption” as key reasons why.

Still, these countries, though still troubled, have managed “to provide basic public goods at a level sufficient to turn their societies into wealthy developed countries.”

When we turn to the African country of Nigeria, however, we observe clientelism and corruption of an entirely different order of magnitude and, correspondingly, one of the most tragic development failures in the contemporary world.”

What is abundantly clear is that any candidate seeking to unseat an incumbent president of this country deserves our sincere best wishes. Because he or she would need it.

When you read the accounts of these former government insiders and reflect on the comments of key government officials during this election period, it is unbelievable how much you begin to understand. And how much more you do not.

You certainly know for sure that there is no such thing as an “independent” electoral commission in the Nigerian context, for instance. That is, in the practical sense of the word.

Because judging from the accounts of various schemes around elections during previous administrations, you realise there is a lot people in the executive branch of government can do to determine how “independent” or not an electoral commission would be.

Let us just say when the current insiders also write their books, there is likely a lot we would learn that is likely very different from what they have been telling us.

Was the adminstration totally caught by surprise by the postponement of the polls by one week, for instance? I have a view. But it is irrelevant now.

Still, I thought the consistency in the responses of ‘surprise’ by top officials of the ruling party in and outside of government, when the news broke, to be a little odd.

Regardless, as far as one can objectively assess what happened on election day, the presidential and federal legislative polls on the 23rd of February were likely better than they would have been had they been held a week earlier.

Turnout was impressive. And it was pleasantly surprising how the new accredit-vote-and-go process turned out to be quite effective. It reduced bottlenecks, as people did not have to wait till accreditation was over before voting.

It was also heartening to see governors, those of Kaduna and Ogun for instance, and other gubernatorial aspirants, stand in line with ordinary Nigerians, genuinely waiting to get accredited and cast their ballots.

True, there were some problems here and there. Card readers malfunctioned in some places. Ballot boxes were snatched in a number of places as well. Violence was also reported in at least three states. But by and large, these incidents were not outside the realm of expectations about a typical Nigerian election.

But that is the calm before the potential storm. It is the aftermath of the announcement of results that bears watching. The admonition to all the candidates is that in the event the outcome is not to their satisfaction, kindly do one of these two things: Go to court or go home and rest.

Nigeria Decides 2019: Pre-election note

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Concerns about potential heavy-handedness by the security services have likely been doused by the speech of President Muhammadu Buhari on the eve of the delayed 2019 elections now scheduled for the 23rd of February, a week later than initially planned.

Mr Buhari had remarked that he had ordered the police and the army to be “ruthless” with ballot-box snatchers and the like. There was tremendous outrage in the aftermath.

While he did not exactly say security personnel should shoot-to-kill electoral offenders, it was implied as such. The major concern was that the president might have inadvertently given the police and the army a long leash or no leash at all.

Irrespective of whether that was indeed the president’s intent, it is abundantly clear now he took note of the feedback. How so? His election-eve speech was designed to convey a softening of the pedal of sorts. He did not wear the full traditional attire, for instance, choosing to forgo the robe (similar to not wearing a jacket).

He also started his speech in an endearing manner. Typically, presidential speeches in these parts start with the phrase “Fellow Nigerians”. This time around, the president started his speech with the phrase “Dear Nigerians”. The drafters must have hoped these subtle changes would be noted. And on time, too. Well, they were.

Of course, the president’s true intent cannot be totally deemed to be objective. Since he is seeking re-election, he has little choice but to try to win over as many voters as possible. Still, the move was a welcome one. And it is likely to have the intended effect of putting voters at ease.

I followed the presidential campaigns closely. Based on my observations, the presidential election would likely be close. No one can say for sure which of the two leading candidates, Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would win.

One esteemed analyst I asked says the winner between the pair would likely be determined by the courts in the end. There are those who probably reckon this conclusion has been reached by the leading candidates as well.

Most analysts, the ones I have discussed with, at least, are not particular about which of the two leading candidates wins. They see them as more of the same. And that is true to some extent. But they do care that the process be credible.

So, what is the probability that the elections would be free and fair? I think they will be. The presidential election, at least. The ones that concern one are for a number of states. Ogun state bears watching. Imo state too. Kano state as well.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Views of foreign investors ahead of polls

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Crucial presidential election in February has elicited mixed reactions about the economic and political outlook of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second four-year term. His main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, is the country’s former vice-president.

Mr Buhari’s strong points are his anti-corruption war and the strides his administration is recording in building much-needed infrastructure. Mr Atiku has presented himself as a genial pro-business candidate. Because both candidates have a huge followership and strong political structures, the election is widely expected to be hard-fought and results likely tight.

Concerns grow
Thus, there are concerns that the polls might not be free and fair. These are not unfounded. The opposition complains about harassment and intimidation by the state. This sentiment is probably not unconnected to the corruption charges some of their members are currently fighting in the courts.

Mr Buhari insists there is nothing to be worried about, vowing the elections would be free and fair. And that he would accept the results, even if he does not win. Still, recent actions by his government have heightened fears about whether that would really be the case.

A familial connection has been established between the president and Amina Zakari, a commissioner at the electoral commission, for instance. And in January, Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s chief justice, was slammed with corruption charges. Coming just one month to the polls, especially as the judiciary could determine who is declared winner of the likely tight presidential poll, quite a number of people are wary.

Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, an Abuja-based thinktank, says she has “doubts [about whether the] two dominant political parties involved and [the] security [agencies] are interested in credible elections [as] the political actors are demonstrating unrestrained desperation to win…at all cost.” She believes “there is a high likelihood that the elections will end up in court…as both parties believe they will emerge winners”.

Not worried
In light of these developments, there is the perception that foreign investors are concerned about whether the polls would be free and fair as well. And what that could mean for the country’s markets and economy this year. But instead of assuming, why not simply ask those who should know?

New African asked Charles Robertson, global chief economist and head of macro strategy at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank focused on emerging markets, about what investors were telling him. “They are relaxed about the election,” says Robertson. His feedback is corroborated by Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president at Teneo, a global risk consultancy. “Investor sentiment is somewhat indifferent”, says Liewerscheidt.

These views are surprising. So why is the election not a key concern for foreign investors like would ordinarily be assumed? Teneo’s Liewerscheidt says “overall, few investors expect much to change, regardless of who wins the general election, [hence why] interest in the polls is muted.”

If foreign investors are not worried about the elections, why are they not putting their money where their mouths are then? Some foreign portfolio investors have reportedly been doing some quick trades in the markets as late as January. But flows have not nearly been as much as they used to be.

That is, even before the elections became increasingly imminent. Returns from local equities have not been encouraging, though; albeit this has also been the case globally. In response, Renaissance Capital’s Robertson says “[they] are deterred from investing in Nigeria due to the low oil price and uncertainty on FX [foreign exchange] policy after the election.”

Growth expected to pick up
In its 2019 economic outlook, the African Development Bank (AfDB) says “the slide in oil prices from late 2018 coupled with an output cut imposed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) poses a downside risk to [Nigeria’s] economic outlook.” It also sees the “parliament’s approval of the 8.83 trillion naira 2019 ‘budget of continuity’ [being] delayed due to [the] presidential elections”.

In any case, economic growth projections for the year are quite decent. From the World Bank, International Monetary Fund to the AfDB, the expectation is that Nigeria would grow by at least 2 percent in 2019, from likely lower than that level in the previous year. So, what could be responsible for the improvement?

Mark Bohlund, Africa economist at Bloomberg Economics, tells New African that “Nigeria’s economy will probably accelerate in 1H19 [January-June, 2019], fueled by increased spending connnected to parliamentary and presidential elections in February.” In other words, he sees the upcoming elections driving growth to some extent. However, Bloomberg’s Bohlund sees “that acceleration [likely tapering] off over the year as the new government aims to improve longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in February 2019

macroafricaintel | South Africa: What is Malema’s game?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In November, South Africa’s public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan filed a complaint with the police against Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an ultra-leftist political party increasingly gaining ground amongst poor black South Africans. Shortly afterwards, Mr Malema filed his own charges against Mr Gordhan, calling him corrupt. Hitherto, Mr Malema had largely not been challenged quite so strongly by those at the receiving end of his sharp rhetoric.

That Mr Gordhan chose to go through the legal route could also be interpreted to mean he is confident no skeletons would be found in his cupboard. Mr Malema and his party do not believe that for a second. Still, there are not many cadres of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party that would be willing to take Mr Malema on that determinedly.

The EFF alleges Mr Gordhan has a foreign bank account – which ministers are not allowed to have – with the Royal Bank of Canada, for instance, a claim he denies. An investigation by News24, a South African newpaper, shows the bank account details were probably made up, however. It reports Mr Gordhan does not have Canadian citizenship nor is he in the process of acquiring one. So, he could not have been able to open the said account. It remains to be seen what the legal process would reveal.

Rising stature
But Mr Malema and his EFF party are having other effects on South African politics. Without a doubt, the ANC has tilted more to the left than would ordinarily be the case were the EFF not gaining popularity. For instance, the ANC argues the expropriation of land without compensation being championed by the EFF was ANC policy from the outset.

Most would agree, however, that had the EFF not made it a major issue, the ANC would probably not have been too eager to follow through on it so quickly. In early December, the South African parliament adopted the report of its constitutional review committee that recommended the amendment of the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. A clear win for the EFF.

The EFF could also rightly claim credit for now free tertiary education. Although former president Jacob Zuma probably did it self-servedly, having little else to show for a legacy, he was nudged along by the EFF’s rhetoric. And there have been quite a number of other political wins for the EFF. Mr Malema did mention before the fact that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was not as honest as was perceived; on the extent of his association with notorious acolytes of Mr Zuma, the Guptas, for instance.

Truth is, Mr Malema has been proved right more times than he has been proved wrong. Lately, however, he has been going off script. If his accusations against Mr Gordhan are proved to be wrong and malicious, it would hurt his credibility greatly. Maybe on Mr Gordhan, he is simply shaking the tree in the hope a fruit would fall down.

Not so different
Evidence is beginning to emerge that Mr Malema enjoys an expensive lifestyle. His residence in a posh area of Johannesburg is believed to have been acquired via the patronage of a wealthy cigarrete tycoon. His increasingly vociferous verbal attacks and not so subtle threats against some journalists are also disturbing. There is also the issue of the failed VBS Bank which allegedly implicates EFF’s deputy president Floyd Shivambu and the party itself.

More disturbingly, Mr Malema’s rhetoric has recently begun to border on the violent. True, he often qualifies his remarks afterwards to suggest he did not mean that at all. Still, those at the receiving end are no longer taking his attacks lying down. His public spat with a female journalist of Indian descent is well-known, for instance.

Amid all these, it begs the question about whether the EFF can be taken seriously. And whether Mr Malema, should he get the chance, would make a good president for South Africa. To his credit, were he not of stronger stuff, he would long have been in oblivion by now, after Mr Zuma kicked him out of the ANC. So, he is certainly presidential material. But for a complex country like South Africa, is his makeup complicated enough to manage the many nuances of the job? More importantly, what is the EFF’s strategy? New African sought the views of Darias Jonker, director for Southern Africa at Eurasia Group, a global political risk consultancy.

“The strategy of the EFF is to come to power as soon as possible, and to merge with the ANC in the medium- to long-term to consolidate power and rule the country for as long as possible. Given this objective, their tactics change regularly as the political situation – and particularly the situation in the ANC – changes.”

Since Mr Zuma’s departure, the EFF has been struggling to find a new narrative. And since the ANC has been pre-empting it on some of its trademark policies, and even joining it to champion some, there is increasingly little difference between them.

Eurasia’s Jonker provides some background: “The party was created following Zuma’s ANC kicking them out, and thus an anti-Zuma narrative was pushed due in equal parts resentment towards Zuma and political opportunism that benefitted from voter dissatisfaction with Zuma.”

The EFF initially sought to work with Cyril Ramaphosa, Mr Zuma’s successor. So they did not boo him in parliament like they did Mr Zuma and largely went along with his policies. And until recently, there has not been much the EFF could whip the ANC president with. The Marikana massacre no longer has as much bite since Mr Ramaphosa promised he would visit the widows there with none other than Mr Malema himself; having been accused of insensitivity for not doing so hitherto.

A recent revelation that the president’s son donated a huge sum of money towards his father’s campaign for the ANC presidency and Mr Ramaphosa’s less than convincing forgetfulness in his explanation to parliament about the matter, suggests there might be something to fight him with at last. That is, if he continues on his dogged anti-corruption path.

On the defensive
“Although the EFF is willing to work with Ramaphosa if that brings them to power, they are being threatened by Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption campaign and overall reform agenda”, opines Eurasia’s Jonker. “In particular, two issues are at stake here: investigations by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) into Malema’s tax affairs and investigations by the South African Reserve Bank and law enforcement agencies into the collapse of VBS Bank. With VBS, the EFF allegedly benefited when funds went to companies linked to close relatives of Malema and Shivambu, and then were used to pay for services procured by the EFF or by properties occupied by Malema and his family.”

“Malema’s tax affairs have been a persistent problem for him: initially SARS was scrutinizing benefits he received from companies that won tenders in Limpopo province while he had lots of influence there as leader of the ANC Youth League, but then SARS also started looking at the illegal cigarette industry and in particular Adriano Mazzotti – an alleged manufacturer of illegal cigarettes and patron to both the EFF and Malema.” Consequently, Jonker believes “the EFF has been doing whatever it can to deflect these issues. Thus the attack on Gordhan, Treasury and the SARB [South African Reserve Bank]. They have also moulded these attacks into propaganda that feeds into resentment towards White Monopoly Capital.”

“Ironically, the EFF now has a shared interest with the Zuma faction in weakening and removing Ramaphosa. The two sides are thus working towards the same objective and are likely to be sharing and leaking information that could incriminate Ramaphosa and his allies. We saw this with the leak of information concerning Nhlanhla Nene’s meetings with the Guptas, and probably also Ramaphosa and his son’s links to Bosasa and the Watson family. These dirty tricks will continue, and indeed the fightback against Ramaphosa will continue, for as long as the Malema and Shivambu are threatened with potential legal action. Thus, we expect this to continue through to the 2024 election.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in January 2019