Revealed: How Bola Tinubu beat Obi, Abubakar

Nigeria’s President-elect Bola Tinubu (centre) displays his certificate during the presentation of the certificate of return to the President-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission in Abuja on March 1, 2023. 

Photo credit: AFP

For a ruling party that had virtually failed to run Africa’s biggest democracy, the election victory of All Progressive Congress (APC) in Nigeria’s presidential election last week came as a surprise to many.

Throughout the reign of President Muhammadu Buhari, APC had not only failed to address the challenges it inherited from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015 but also presided over the country’s economic and political downward spiral.

It was during Buhari’s reign, for instance, that Boko Haram terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals took control of large swathes of the country’s northeast; youth unemployment jumped to historical highs; energy and fuel crises hit the economy hard; and the cost of living— driven by runaway inflation— shot through the roof.

And in the run-up to the February 25 General Election, the APC government added salt to voters’ festering injuries by forcing and bungling the phasing out of old Naira notes.

With national uproar and discontentment reaching fever pitch weeks to the election, APC’s goose appeared cooked, with rivals, political analysts and observers writing political obituary for the party and its candidate Bola Tinubu.

So how did the ruling party surmount the odds, and how did Buhari manage to successfully choreograph his own succession, a rare feat in Africa?

According to political analysts, scholars, party strategists and observers, a plethora of factors worked in APC’s and Tinubu’s favour— including a fragmented opposition, APC’s cult-like following in some states, strong party structures and candidates in other races, and a well-oiled campaign machine riding on trappings of incumbency.

Nigeria vote count

 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials count votes during the counting process at a polling station in Egbeda, Lagos, on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria's presidential and General Election.

Photo credit: AFP

Dr Sylvestor Okoh of the Centre for Democratic Studies says a divided and disjointed opposition handed APC an easy and early victory.

“Forget about all the noises going around. The split in the opposition PDP in the form of PDP, Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) contributed to the success of APC in the election.’’ 

Before the emergence of LP and NNPP, the country had virtually been running on a two-party system— PDP and APC.

“APC remained intact but PDP was divided into three – LP, PDP and NNPP,” said Dr Peter Danjuma, an activist.

“In 2015 and 2019 elections, PDP as a single party could not defeat APC and now that PDP has been fragmented into three, none of them was able to rival APC. They only managed to divide their votes.”

The internal problems that rocked PDP, the main challenger to APC’s quest, was another plus to APC. Five of PDP governors openly rebelled against the party, with some supporting APC and LP.

“This was another big advantage to APC. The party garnered votes from these governors to cover where they lost to PDP and LP,’’ Adams Bello, a member of Action Congress party, told Nation.Africa.

On the flipside, APC maintained a tight grip on its governors in more than 22 states.

“The APC governors campaigned and used their resources to ensure victory for the party,’’ he said, adding “do not think that the challenges facing the country were enough to upturn the election against the party.’’ 

APC’s majority members in the two chambers of Parliament, he said, threw their weight behind the campaign efforts of the party, which clinched 50 and 120 seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively.

The candidates, Bello said, were instrumental in selling the party’s manifesto and popularisation of Tinubu at the grassroots, including far-flung areas where the national campaign machine could not reach.

Franklin Adesida, Director of Movement for Democracy, believes gubernatorial, senatorial and other candidates campaigned on the ruling party’s tickets to win, and this boosted the fortunes of APC because the presidential election was held on the same day with that of national assembly. 

Even amidst the uproar of shambolic phasing-out of Naira that sparked protests across towns and cities, analysts had predicted that although APC had blundered at a critical juncture, it would still win the election as the party enjoyed a cult-like following, especially in the North where there are large numbers of voters. 

Additionally, Tinubu’s choice of a Muslim running mate from the northeast endeared him towards northern and Muslim voting blocs. 

While the nomination of former Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima as the vice presidential candidate presented a slippery political decision for the critics of the Muslim-Muslim ticket, it was part of APC’s victory strategy, said Gboyega Akinsanmi, an activist with the Centre for Good Governance.

He explains that Tinubu’s choice of Shettima was largely for political expediency rather than religious consideration that had for long defined such critical political decisions. 

The gamble paid off, given the large number of votes the party garnered in northeast Borno, Shettima’s home turf.  

Obviously, for Tinubu, the same-faith ticket was a strategy to garner majority votes in the north, where most people believe Christians are a minority. 

APC’s large spread across the six political zones of Nigeria and its massive electioneering campaign also worked in the party’s favour.

“The candidate of APC travelled all over the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) canvassing for votes. He visited some states two or three times building bridges,’’ Sadya Hameed, an APC analyst, says.

Labour Party’s Obi, PDP’s Abubakar and NNPP’s Kwankwaso could not afford the financial muscle to traverse the vast country.

“While the APC candidate, Mr Bola Tinubu, was riding on private jet permanently attached to him, the other candidates were hiring when the need arose. So they could not penetrate the whole of Nigeria as much as they would have done if they had resources,” Dr Yaro Abdullahi of the University of Abuja explains. 

“NNPC candidate (Kwankwaso) restricted his campaign to the North where he had followers; Peter Obi of LP did the best he could within his limits; and Atiku Abubakar of PDP at some point stopped campaigning,’’ he explained.  

For Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment in Buhari government, APC’s strategies worked well. 

“If you take the baseline for projection for 2015 and 2019 elections, you will discover that in terms of demographic setup of Nigeria and the voting pattern in the last two elections, the APC had an upper hand.

“Demographically, APC is extremely strong. APC is the only party without concentration of support from only one part of the country,” he said. 

Overall, all the parties that took part in 2015 and 2019 elections, lost ground. In the February 25, 2023 election, APC polled 8,805,420 votes, about 6 million votes short of what the party had 2019 election. 

Tinubu protests

Supporters of Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Party candidate, Atiku Abubakar, protest at Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headquarters, over the results of Nigeria’s 2023 presidential and general election in Abuja on March 6, 2023

Photo credit: AFP

PDP came second with 6,984,290 votes, falling short of the 11 million it garnered in 2019 while Labour Party, a relatively unknown party, came third with 6,093,962 votes.  

First-timer Kwankwaso of NNPP polled 1,496,671 votes and took Kano State. 

PC won in Rivers, Borno, Jigawa, Zamfara, Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and Ogun states while PDP won in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Kaduna, Gombe, Yobe, Bauchi, Adamawa and Taraba, Osun, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa. 

LP bagged FCT, Edo, Cross River, Delta, Imo, Anambra, Abia and Enugu from PDP as it snatched Lagos, Plateau,  Ebonyi, and Nasarawa from APC. 

Tinubu, the President-elect, has since extended an olive branch to his rivals and promised to immediately address the myriad of problems bedeviling Nigeria, especially unemployment and tanking economy.

But Labour’s Obi and PDP’s Abubakar have rejected his victory and are preparing to challenge it in court.