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2019: The politics of numbers in the North West (Part 2)


2019: The politics of numbers in the North West (Part 2)

by Ose Anenih

How to win a Nigerian election

“In God we trust, all others must bring data.” – W. Edwards Deming  

In the first part of this three-part series, the historical importance of the Nigeria’s North West region to the outcome of presidential elections in modern-day Nigeria was established. How then should a serious opposition party weaponise this information, and use it to its advantage?

Thankfully, this second article is an easy to follow, data-backed playbook on how to hack a Nigerian Presidential election in 2019. It will attempt to present largely unbiased, strategic advice, and easier to swallow alternatives, where possible.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has – at the last count – 9 seasoned aspirants vying for the Party’s ticket. In no particular order, they are: Atiku Abubakar (former Vice President of Nigeria), Bukola Saraki (current President of the Senate), Rabiu Kwankwaso (former Governor of Kano), Sule Lamido (former Governor of Jigawa), Ahmed Makarfi (former Governor of Kaduna, former Chairman of PDP), David Mark (Former President of the Senate, serving Senator), Ibrahim Dankwambo (Governor of Gombe), Aminu Tambuwal (Governor of Sokoto), and Jonah Jang (former Governor of Plateau).

While this might be taken as a testament to the opportunity for democratic expression the PDP provides. In contrast, the All Progressives Congress, has only one main presidential aspirant – Muhammadu Buhari (it has a few other fringe aspirants. The wider PDP field presents the challenge of managing the fallout of party primaries that can only produce one winner.  

A subjective assessment of competence is beyond the remit of this article, which deliberately focuses very narrowly on polling numbers. The advantage of this narrow focus is that it provides a clarity that lays the foundation for the objective advice that follows.


  1. If the goal is to defeat Buhari in the 2019 election, then this first step is a no-brainer: Pick a candidate from the North-West. Period. Any pontification over this suggestion is hypocritical. The sad reality is that unfortunately Nigeria still practices identity politics (which is why the next President of Nigeria will be a Northerner). There is therefore no logical argument against micro-zoning the party ticket to the North-West, considering all the current aspirants are already beneficiaries of the PDP’s decision to zone its presidential ticket to the North. This is not the only way to defeat the incumbent in 2019, but it is definitely the most obvious course of action for the PDP. Micro-zoning would narrow the field down to four aspirants: Makarfi (Kaduna), Kwankwaso (Kano), Lamido (Jigawa) and Tambuwal (Sokoto). Failing this appeal to logic, the PDP must make sure it elects a candidate who can clearly show how he intends to secure 30% of the votes in that region. 
  2. Pass an electoral amendment act that guarantees only voters accredited with the card reader can vote. The reason is simple – it will reduce the impact of the North-West votes on the outcome of the election by reducing incidents of unaccredited voting (see Article 1 of 3: How To Lose A Nigerian Election for an illustration of the impact of this on the outcome of the 2015 presidential election). There is no suggestion that Buhari would agree to do this, given that it would place him at a potentially fatal disadvantage. So, failing the amendment of the electoral act, the PDP must elect a candidate with a fierce North-West ground game that will ensure his supporters are not intimidated by the ruling party and that the use (or disuse) of the card reader is equally enforced across the North-West.
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of your three South-South Kings – Wike, Okowa, and Udom. Especially Governor Wike. He is literally the jewel in the opposition’s crown. Keep him happy. Defend him. If he falls, all is lost.
  4. Actively go after Governors Ganduje, El Rufai and Masari. Make them uncomfortable. Their states have huge voting populations who actively come out to vote. Especially Ganduje of Kano. In the highly unlikely event that PDP gets Kano…then the battle is as good as won. But remember, you do not even need to win Kano or the North-West. You just need 30% of cast votes.
  5. Realize you are the opposition. Assume that INEC is neither independent nor impartial. Assume that the security forces will work against you. Recognise that poverty has been weaponized and that voters will be induced with money. Work around this with data and volunteers and the youth and strategists and messaging that resonates with Nigerians and their suffering. If a consensus North-West candidate is not selected, party delegates must (in this order of priority) look for a candidate with (i) the least baggage and/or (ii) the greatest ‘national’ appeal and/or (iii) the deepest pockets.
  6. Take coalitions seriously. The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) could guarantee a win for the opposition. Several recent Nigerian elections at the state and federal level have shown that the combined opposition votes are usually larger than the ruling party’s. The Third Force is not a joke. It is an opportunity, and a threat. Take them seriously (this is explored in my next article The Devil’s Alternative).
  7. Court South-East voters aggressively. Talk to Ohanaeze. Talk to APGA. Offer the South-East the Vice Presidency in 2019 and a crack at the top job in 2023 or 2027. Focus on the numbers. The aim here is to double or triple historically low South-East voter turn-out numbers. Keep an eye on the secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB, recently branded a terrorist organisation by the Federal Government). It commands a significant amount of influence in the South-East. IPOB recently shut down the South-East when it ordered a sit-at-home recently. The group can probably make people come out to vote.
  8. Borrow a leaf from the APC’s 2015 scrapbook and find allies beyond politics (in the local business community) and beyond the shores of Nigeria. Everyone realises that the APC experiment has failed. Give them a reason to gamble on you, this time. Frustratingly, we are still suckling at the breast of the West (and increasingly that of the East, these days). Their voices, and purse-strings, matter.
  9. Accommodate the interests of all your aspirants within your party, especially in the aftermath of the party primaries. If all the aspirants (especially the North-West aspirants) work with the candidate, then victory is almost assured (see points 1-8 above).
  10. And finally, be humble. It is Nigerians that elect Presidents. Not candidates, not parties, not flowery manifestos. Be humble. Beg Nigerians for their trust. Convince them that you can help make their lives a little bit easier; their children a little bit more secure; their futures a little bit brighter.


The argument has been made showing why the PDP is best served if it picks a North-West candidate, but yet some of you will resist this. That’s human nature; it is not logical, and only accepts information that supports already established biases and positions. At the end of the day, people ignore the obvious and look for ways to get around inconvenient truths, don’t they? Which aspirant is willing to sacrifice his ambition for the greater good? None, most probably.

The irony of democratic systems is that they give no guarantees that the right candidate will emerge, in the short term. Perhaps that is the price one must be willing to pay, in the hope that in the long term, greater benefits accrue to societies that stay committed to the democratic cause. I do not have the data to back this up, but perhaps human nature provides us with an inexhaustible supply of hope. I guess blind optimism and faith explain why politics is as much religion as it is science.

Do you risk sacrificing an electoral victory against Buhari on the altar of quasi-democratic primaries? That is a question the PDP will have to answer.

But away from philosophising, if you want to see what an Opposition PDP/CUPP victory looks like in data-form with a modest 30% share of the North-West vote (despite conceding 10% in the SS and 10% in the SE to the APC), enjoy the chart below, as you pray that politicians finally choose enlightened self-interest over personal ambition.

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