2023: Would Nigerians Repeat History Or Would Play The Game Differently This Time Around?

A historical review of presidential elections in Nigeria from 1979 to date...

The popular saying: "history always repeats itself" or "people always repeat history" is a saying that tells about the importance of history in shaping the present and the future. Meanwhile, a positive history can be leveraged to make a similar occurrence. Similarly, a negative history can also be leveraged to learn lessons from it and make conscious efforts to avert its occurrence and negative consequences. The Nigerian political arena is full of historical records that would help the citizens and even political parties to strategize to ensure that their preferred candidate(s), whom they believe has the capacity and competency to deliver to the people, emerge victorious; and also strategize to avert the emergence of corrupt and selfish politicians to leadership positions.

In this article, I will be reviewing some of the major political histories of presidential elections that took place in Nigeria and compare them with the current task ahead of Nigerians: the 2023 general election; in order to help them decide and strategize to ensure that they bring into power the most competent individuals who have the masses at heart, and possess the capacity to deliver good governance to the people.

Firstly, because of Nigeria's multi-cultural and religious diversity nature, Nigerian electoral law is designed in such a way that a presidential candidate's ethnic group alone cannot make him/her become the country's president. He/She must have the support of other ethnic groups. 

For a presidential candidate to be declared the winner of an election, such a candidate must:

1. obtained the highest number of votes cast in the election.

2. obtained at least 25% of the total votes cast in at least 2/3 of the states each. (i.e., a candidate must secure 25% of the total votes cast in at least 24 states out of the 36 states each). 

In a situation where no single candidate satisfies the threshold requirements, a second-round election would be conducted between the top two candidates that closely satisfy the threshold requirements. Now, I will begin the review of the records of the presidential election with the second republic presidential election (i.e., the 1979 presidential election). It was an election conducted by the military government of Major General Olusegun Obasanjo to return power to the civilians. The election was contested heavily between five major political parties. The political parties and their fielded candidates are as follows:

1. Shehu Shagari of NPN (National Party of Nigeria

2. Obafemi Awolowo of UPN (Unity Party of Nigeria)

3. Nnamdi Azikiwe of NPP (Nigerian People's Party 

4. Aminu Kano of PRP (People's Redemption Party)

5. Waziri Ibrahim of GNPP (Great Nigerian People's Party)

Shehu Shagari and his running mate Alex Ekwueme were declared the winner with 33.77% of the total votes cast, and he won in nine (9) states out of the 19 states at the time. The states include Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Gongola, Kaduna, Kwara, Niger, Rivers, and Sokoto states. He also secured 25% in three (3) other states, which include: Bendel, Borno, and Plateau states.  

His closest rival chief Obafemi Awolowo of UPN, and his running mate Philip Umeadi won in 5 states with a total of 29.18%; and the five states are Bendel, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, and Oyo states. He also got 25% in Kwara state.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and his running mate Ishaya Audu came 3rd with 16.75% of the total votes cast. He won in three (3) states, namely: Anambra, Imo, and Plateau states. He didn't secure 25% in any other state. While Mallam Aminu Kano of PRP (the only candidate that picked a female running mate- Bola Ogunboh ) won his home state of Kano. He polled 10.28% of the total votes cast and also obtained 25% in Kaduna state. Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri of GNPP won in his home state of Borno, where he polled 10.01% of the total votes cast and also secured 25% in Gongola, and Sokoto states each.

A dispute ensued when Awolowo challenged that Shehu Shagari did not meet the 25% requirement in 2/3 of the states of the federation, which in the exact figure is 12.66 states. He claimed that the 12.66 should be approximated to 13 states and requested that a second-round election be conducted. However, Shehu Shagari claimed that he already met the minimum requirements, having obtained 25% in 12 states each; and that the 19.9% he obtained in Kano state equates to the remaining 0.66%. The Supreme Court finally settled the dispute after her ruling in favor of Shehu Shagari.

6th August 1983 presidential election: 

It was the first presidential election conducted under a civilian government. The election, which was characterized by massive irregularities, gave the incumbent president Alhaji Shehu Shagari a win over his top two rivals in the 1979 election, i.e., Chief Obafemi Awolowo of UPN and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NPP. Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the election with over 12 million votes which constituted 47.51% of the total votes. He also secured 25% in 16 out of the 19 states of the federation at the time.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who came second, polled about 8 million votes, which constituted 31.09% of the total votes cast. He secured 25% of the votes in 7 states. At the same time, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NPP polled 13.99% of the total votes, which is about 3.6 million votes. He won in 2 states. The other three minor political parties shared the remaining votes.

However, Shehu Shagari's second tenure was short-lived by the 31st December 1983 military coup that made Major General Muhammadu Buhari the military head of state; on allegations of corruption and mismanagement by the civilian government.

12th June 1993 Presidential election:

About ten years later, after the termination of civilian government in 1983 by the military, another presidential election was conducted on 12th June 1993 by the then military head of state General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. The 12th June 1993 presidential election was heavily contested between two political parties that were formed by the military government of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida: the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC).

Social Democratic Party (SDP) fielded M.K.O Abiola after winning the party's primary election, and he picked Babagana Kingibe from Borno State, who came second in the party's primary election as his running mate. However, the military government of Babangida recommended two names for Abiola -Pascal Bafyau and Maitama Sule, but Abiola went ahead for Kingibe; some analysts believed that the choice of Kingibe against Babbangida's recommendation was one of the major reasons for the annulment; as Babangida was trying to avert jeopardizing the country into crisis on account of religion inequity. Some attested to the fact that prior to the election, Babangida dissolved and banned all political parties from participating in the elections, which he accused of being built on regional sentiments that were detrimental to national unity; he formed and financed two political parties- the SDP and NRC.

Similarly, National Republican Convention (NRC) fielded Bashir Tofa as its flagbearer, who later picked Sylvester Ugoh from the southeast as his running mate. The election results were annulled by the Babangida military government before the final declaration of the winner on the grounds of vote-buying and other electoral irregularities. However, international observers described the election as free and fair and the most peaceful election in Nigeria's history. Unofficial results show that M.K.O Abiola won the election after securing 18 out of 30 states and the FCT with 58.36% of the total votes. The states are Kwara, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno, Plateau, Taraba, Benue, Edo, Delta, Cross River, Anambra, and FCT.

While Bashir Tofa won in 12 states with 41.64% of the total votes cast. The states are Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Bauchi, Adamawa, Kogi, Imo, Rivers, Enugu, Akwa Ibom and Abia states. 

The annulment of the election was followed by a violent protest across the Southwest, which disrupted economic activities and subsequently the resignation of Babangida from office. He formed an interim government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was later overthrown by General Sani Abacha in a palace coup less than three months after the formation. M.K.O. Abiola declared himself president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which led to his arrest and detention by the military government of Sani Abacha.

27th February 1999 Presidential election:

The election that ushered the 4th republic was conducted under the military head of state- General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to return power yet again to the civilian government, about six years after the annulment of the 1993 election. The election was contested between Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Chief Samuel Olufemi Falae of the joint alliance of AD and APP (Alliance for Democracy and All People's Party, respectively).

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of PDP, who picked Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as his running mate, was declared the winner after he won in 28 out of 36 states and the FCT with 62.78% of the total votes. While Chief Olu Falae of the AD-APP, who picked Umaru Shinkafi as his running mate, won in nine(9) states with 37.22% of the total votes; the states are Sokoto, Zamfara, Yobe, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Ekiti states. All other states were won by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was sworn in on 29th May 1999.

19th April 2003 Presidential election:

The 2003 general election has opened the door for more political parties to participate. About 20 political parties participated in the election. However, the battle for the seat of the president was fierce between the incumbent president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of PDP, and Muhammadu Buhari of ANPP. The incumbent president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was declared the winner after he obtained about 62% of the total votes cast, while his closest rival Muhammadu Buhari picked Chuba Okadigbo as running mate, polled 32% of the votes. Chukwuemaka Odumegwu Ojukwu of APGA came third with 3% of the total votes. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo won in 25 states and FCT, while Muhammadu Buhari won in 11 states. The states won by Buhari are Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Gombe, Yobe, and Borno states. All the 17 southern states, all the six North Central states, and two north eastern states (Adamawa and Taraba) were won by Obasanjo.

21st April 2007 presidential election:

The election, which was described by many as the most controversial election in Nigeria's history, was contested by over 20 political parties. However, the top three political parties and their fielded candidates are: 

PDP- Fielded Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as his running mate.

ANPP- fielded Muhammadu Buhari and Edwin Ume-Ezeoke as his running mate.

AC- fielded Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the party's flagbearer.

Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua was declared the winner amidst controversy. There were reports of election irregularities such as voters' disfranchisement, theft of ballot boxes, and violence by international observers, which Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua, after taking the oath of office, also acknowledged and promised to reform the electoral system.

The INEC chairman Professor Maurice Ewu declared that Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua won the election with about 70% of the total votes, while Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar came second and third with 18.66% and 7.45% of the total votes respectively. In addition, the results released by the INEC chairman Professor Maurice Ewu didn't disclose the votes scored by each presidential candidate across the states of the federation (the first in Nigeria's history)- which many accused the INEC chairman Ewu of fabricating the results. 

Umaru Musa Yar'adua died in office as a result of ill health, and his vice Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as president on 6th May 2010; He later picked Namadi Sambo to serve as the vice president.

16th April 2011 Presidential elections:

Over 20 political parties contested the election. However, the battle for the position of the number one citizen was more fierce between the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of CPC. The election was conducted amidst controversy that swept across the country as to whether power should shift to the North or the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan -who was a Southerner should contest, which, in the end, he contested.

Good luck. Jonathan was declared the winner by INEC after he won with about 59% of the total votes. His closest rival Muhammadu Buhari who picked Tunde Bakare as running mate, polled about 32% of the votes, while Nuhu Ribadu of ACN, who picked Fola Adeola as his running mate, came the third position with 5.44% of the total votes.

Good luck. Jonathan won in all the 17 southern states except Osun state, which was won by Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN. Goodluck Jonathan also won in the North-Central states of Kwara, Kogi, Benue, FCT, Nasarawa, and Plateau, as well as Taraba state in the North-East geopolitical zone. At the same time, Muhammadu Buhari of CPC won in all the North-western and North-eastern states except Taraba state. He also won Niger state- a North Central or middle belt state.

The election was declared by international observers as relatively orderly, peaceful, free, and fair. However, violence erupted across the Northern states after the declaration of Goodluck Jonathan as the winner, which resulted in the loss of lives and properties, including serving youth corps members.

28th -29th March 2015 presidential elections:

The election was heavily contested between the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of PDP- who seeks reelection, and his 2011 chief rival Muhammadu Buhari of APC (a new political party formed by the coalition of four political parties, namely: CPC, ANPP, ACN, and a section of APGA).

Good luck. Jonathan lost to the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, and conceded defeat even before the final announcement of the results -the first time in Nigeria's history that an incumbent president lost reelection and transferred power peacefully.

Muhammadu Buhari, who picked Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as their running mate, was declared the winner after he won 16 out of the 19 northern states and all south-Western States except Ekiti, which was won by the incumbent president. Good luck. Jonathan also won all the 11 South-south and southeastern states; he also won in Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa state, and FCT. Muhammadu Buhari polled about 54% of the total votes, while Goodluck Jonathan polled about 45% of the votes.

The declaration of Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the election was followed by massive celebrations across the country, particularly in Northern states; as a result, some people were reported to have lost their lives, and many others sustained various degrees of injury. He was sworn in on 29th May 2015.

2019 presidential elections:

Over 70 political parties fielded candidates for the election. However, the battle for the seat of the president was more fierce between the incumbent President- Muhammadu Buhari, who was seeking reelection, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. The incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari was declared the winner after winning in 19 out of the 36 states and the FCT, while his closest rival Atiku Abubakar won in 17 states and the FCT. While both Buhari and Atiku have obtained the minimum 25% of votes in at least 24 out of the 36 states and FCT, Muhammadu Buhari had a higher number of votes than Atiku. He had nearly four(4) million votes ahead of Atiku. In the percentage figure, Buhari secured 55.6% of the votes cast, whereas Atiku polled 41% of the votes.

Muhammadu Buhari won in all the northern states except Adamawa (the home state of Atiku Abubakar), Taraba, Plateau, Benue, and FCT, which were won by Atiku Abubakar. Buhari also won in all the south Western States except Ondo and Oyo, won by Atiku. Atiku Abubakar, who picked Peter Obi as running mate, also won in all the South-south and south eastern states.

2023 presidential election:

The 2023 presidential election, which is scheduled to hold on 25th February 2023, seems to be unique in nature since the return of democracy in 1999, as about four (4) top politicians are vying for the seat of the president under various political parties among other contenders. The top four candidates and their political parties are:

Bola Ahmed Tinubu - All progressive Congress (APC)

Atiku Abubakar- People's democratic party (PDP) 

Peter Obi- Labour party (LP)

Rabiu Musa Kwankwoso -New Nigeria People's Party (NNPP)

The battle for the 2023 presidential elections seems to resemble the 1979 presidential election in one way and the 1993 annulled presidential election in another way.

In the 1979 presidential election, as can be seen above, out of the four (4) top contenders, two were Northerners, namely: Alhaji Shehu Shagari ( who hailed from Sokoto state) and Mallam Aminu Kano (who hailed from Kano state)- a similitude of Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Musa Kwankwoso; whereas Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe hailed from Southwest and southeast respectively- a similitude of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Peter Obi who also hail from Southwest and southeast respectively.

It also resembles the 1993 annulled election where M.K.O Abiola, who was a Muslim from the Southwest, picked a Northern Muslim as his running mate- a similitude to Bola Tinubu, who is a western Muslim considering picking a Northern Muslim as his running mate.

Moreover, it seems the 2023 election would surprise many people as there is the likelihood of one of the underrated political parties(either LP or NNPP) to be among the top 2 contenders in the election if not winning as currently, talks are going on between Rabiu Musa Kwankwoso of NNPP and Peter Obi of LP for possible merging. However, even if the merging fails, the election could go for a second round between the top two political parties.

The merging between Kwankwoso and Peter Obi is facing hitches as each one wants to be the presidential candidate. However, in a political merging, the candidate that seems to have the highest number of states/votes usually goes for the position of the president while the second one takes the VP position, as happened in 2014 when CPC, ACN, ANPP, and APGA merged to form APC. CPC, which has the highest influence/ command of votes, gets the presidential position, while ACN, which is second in influence, gets the position of the VP.

In OBI/Kwankwoso's possible merging, Obi seems to have greater influence and command of votes than Kwankwoso; as such, he should be the presidential candidate while Kwankwoso should be his running mate. One can arguably say that in the 2019 presidential election, most of the states won by Atiku Abubakar were as a result of his running mate Peter Obi; Atiku Abubakar, who is a Northerner, was able to win only 4 out of 19 Northern states ( including his home state of Adamawa which he narrowly won), whereas he won all the 11 South-south and southeast states largely because of his running mate Peter Obi. 

Similarly, one can arguably say that Peter Obi as a presidential candidate can win more southern states than Kwankwoso would win Northern states as a presidential candidate because he is facing more rivalry with other northern candidates, particularly Atiku Abubakar, and the Tinubu's Muslim-Muslim ticket that would greatly reduce his chances of securing higher votes in the North.

In conclusion, history is meant to teach lessons, which I hope well-meaning Nigerians would maximize this piece to learn and also strategize to ensure that competent and trustworthy individuals are elected into political positions. 

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