Analysis: 2015 election – Why the odds favour Buhari

by Eronmonsele Elens-Eigbokhan and Tobi Oluwatola

Buhari smiles

Campaigns are run on resources: money, people, and media. What therefore tends to happen in poor democracies from India to Uganda or Nigeria is a vicious cycle where corrupt politicians capture power, extort resources and use it to overwhelm the opposition in elections.

In elections, as in poker, there is a lot of uncertainty. But there is a reason why the same five guys make it to the World Series of Poker final table year in & year out – it’s not all about luck. A few months ago we calculated some probabilities in a piece, placing a bet on President Goodluck Jonathan (GEJ) being the frontrunner in Nigeria’s upcoming election. Thanks to Kenny Rogers, most of us know the first rule of poker is to “know when to fold” (give up). What good poker players do better than the rest of us is calculate the probability of their opponent having a better hand and read their reactions throughout the game, to know if new cards dealt improve the said opponent’s chances or they are just bluffing. With more cards now on the table, this article is us folding on our previous bet.

Here’s why:

A lot has changed in the political space since our last analysis. Both General Buhari (GMB) and GEJ have clinched their respective party’s nominations and we have seen both campaigns find their strides. GMB has run for the presidency three times and in 2011 and 2003 he received approximately 32% of the vote. In our last analysis we were confident that GMB would exceed 40% of the total votes with his ceiling being 46%. Our current analysis suggests that if the election were held today, GMB would most likely clinch up to 50% of the vote to GEJ’s 49% – a statistical dead heat. There are three broad factors in the political climate responsible for this change: shrinking asymmetry of resources, expected voter participation, and new political alignments.

Asymmetry of Resources: Why an Aggrieved People’s Congress is not such a Bad Idea

Campaigns are run on resources: money, people, and media. What therefore tends to happen in poor democracies from India to Uganda or Nigeria is a vicious cycle where corrupt politicians capture power, extort resources and use it to overwhelm the opposition in elections. This has been the case for the last 16 years of democracy in Nigeria where the ruling party has perpetuated itself in power regardless of the competence or health of its candidates or lack thereof. But this is changing with the alliance of major opposition parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a wave of big ticket defections from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC which led former Governor of the Central Bank, Charles Soludo to describe it as the Aggrieved People’s Congress.

Many expected the “Noah’s Ark” that is the APC to sink under the weight of the big egos and the weak glue of shared grievance used to build it, in the face of the test of presidential primaries. They have however proven the pundits wrong by conducting a seamless and successful primary which allowed GMB to emerge as a near unanimous candidate. They have since proceeded to pull their biggest names and resources together into a top-heavy yet effective campaign organization, led by Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state. Thereby shrinking what was a significant asymmetry of campaign resources in previous elections.

In 2011, GMB campaigned very aggressively in the North and made very few campaign stops in the South leaving GEJ to win 87% of the vote in the South (98.3% in the Southeast (SE), 97% in the South South (SS), and 60% in the Southwest (SW)). In our last piece we noted that for GMB to win he would have to change that equation. First, he must win the Southwest commandingly which he now appears poised to do. Second, he must shrink GEJ’s margin of victory in the North Central (NC) and secure the votes of northern Christians who supported GEJ in 2011. Third, he must shrink GEJ’s margin of victory in the Southeast and the South South. Fourth, he must perform just as well as he performed in the Northwest and Northeast in 2011 (preferably better) and he must ensure high voter turnout in the Northeast despite the threat of Boko Haram.

This time around, thanks to a fundraising machine driven by the Lagos state Governor, Babatunde Fashola, the campaign’s wheels seem better oiled to travel the length and breadth of the country. This is the single biggest reason why this year’s election is competitive, but there are other factors.

Voter Participation: Introduction of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and Boko Haram

The introduction of the permanent voter’s card (PVC) and the shadow of violence are expected to have a significant impact on voter participation and hence the outcome of the election relative to 2011’s. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has claimed that the PVC system will help check the occurrence of multiple voting or ballot stuffing, a phenomenon many allege to have accounted for the unprecedented voter participation numbers especially in the Southeast in 2011. This is likely to be curtailed albeit moderately. Based on reporting by Thisday and INEC’s published numbers for voter registration, 38% of registered voters are yet to collect their permanent voters’ cards as shown in Table 1 below. If INEC stays true to its commitment not to allow voting without the cards, this factor alone is likely to account for a significant reduction in turnout.

Table 1

2015 Voter Register and % of PVCs Collected
Region # of Reg. Voters # of PVC Collected % Collected
Northwest                 17,620,436                 12,784,88073%
Northeast                     9,107,861                   6,669,14873%
North Central                 10,648,883                   6,319,47559%
Total North                 37,377,180                  25,773,503 69%
Southwest                 13,731,090                   6,403,53047%
Southeast                     7,665,859                   4,378,32957%
South South                 10,059,347                   6,214,97762%
Total South                 31,456,296                  16,996,836 54%
National Tally                 68,833,476                  42,770,339 62%


Using collection of PVCs as a proxy for expected voter participation, it is possible to deduce from the numbers represented in the table, that enthusiasm for the election seems high in the Northwest and Northeast, Buhari’s firewall, while only modest in the South. This seems to be the case even in the Northeast where the threat of violence looms on account of Boko Haram’s activities. This led us to revise our projections for change in voter turnout relative to 2011 which is shown in Table 2.

Table 2

Change in Voter Participation vs. 2011
Geo-Political Regions & StatesMinLikeliestMax
Northeast exc. Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa-5.0%0.0%5.0%
Borno, Yobe, & Adamawa-30.0%-25.0%-20.0%
North Central-5.0%0.0%5.0%
South South excluding Edo-20.0%-15.0%-10.0%


A less than enthusiastic turnout in the Southeast and South South is likely to be bad for GEJ. Given the activities of Boko Haram, one would expect suppressed voter turnout in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states where APC’s predecessor parties netted over 67% of the vote in 2011. However, the reverse is also possible where voter turnout is high because of Boko Haram, a scenario that is not likely to bode well for the incumbent. The PVC collection data seems to suggest the latter.

Political Alignments, Party Support, and Osinbajo

In 2011, the Action Congress of Nigeria, the largest predecessor party of the APC showed at best tepid support for their Presidential candidate and in the final week of elections, the opposition was further weakened with failed alliance talks. Consequently, President Jonathan was able to secure a decisive 60% victory in the Southwest. While GMB appears to have momentum in this region, he needs to win it conclusively with over 60%; anything within the 70% range would be very bad for President Jonathan. With the support of the APC governors and former President Obasanjo – ACN’s biggest nemesis in the Southwest – this seems like a possible outcome.

Additionally, there is a strong likelihood that the race in the North Central would be more competitive. In 2011, GEJ won 61% of the vote there (67.47% if you exclude Niger State). With the support of influential politicians in the region such as Bukola Saraki in Kwara, General Babangida in Niger, Tanko Al-Makura in Nasarawa, and Audu Ogbe in Benue, GMB would have a good chance of making the race in this region a stalemate.

Also, unlike in 2011, there appears to be more dissenting voices in the South South and Southeast this time around. The defection and commitment of Governors Rotimi Amaechi and Rochas Okorocha could help reduce the uniformity of the votes for President Jonathan in addition to moderating voter turnout – not to mention Edo state, a long standing APC state.

The choice of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while not doing much for the opposition in GEJ’s firewall in the Southeast and South South, apparently is effective in chipping away at GEJ’s popularity with Christian fundamentalists. The Redeemed Christian Church of God is one of the most ubiquitous brands in Nigeria, with its General Overseer, Pastor Adeboye, enjoying wide reaching influence well beyond the membership of the church. GEJ was able to capitalize on the “implied” support of Adeboye in 2011 when a picture of him being prayed for by the popular man of God went viral. This year, it is the opposition that has the Adeboye-optics in its favor.

In addition to the tacit support of the largest Christian denomination, Prof. Osinbajo also represents a credible and competent fresh face in politics around whom youth movements can crystalize. The GMB campaign has been able to garner the support of an impressive host of major and minor power brokers from religious leaders like Father Mbaka in the Southeast to celebrities and social media overlords like Gbenga Sesan in the Southwest many of whom, stayed neutral in 2011.

These new breed of supporters, in addition to securing the youth vote, are able to help build citizen driven movements such as the iHaveDecided movement which have the ability to tap into latent non-pecuniary motivations of young people to not only vote but more importantly canvass, donate and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) on the crucial day. The availability of such volunteer hands also reduces the financial burden on the campaign which becomes onerous in a final lap against an incumbent with a seemingly bottomless pocket.

It is safe to assume that President Jonathan would win the SE and SS while General Buhari would win the NW, NE, and SW. The winner of the election would be determined by whether GEJ wins the North Central decisively and if he gets a near unanimous vote in the Southeast and South South. While it is unrealistic to expect GMB to win the Southeast and South South, he needs to shrink the President’s margin of victory. Excluding the Southeast and South South in the 2011 results, we find the President’s vote tally is well below 50% (he is in fact at 43%). Hence, it is self-evident that the near unanimous vote he received in the Southeast (98%) and South South (97%) helped him cross the finish line and get 59% of the total votes.

Table 3

Adjusted 2011 Election Result
Total South12%87%1%
Total North60%39%2%
National Tally40%59%1%
Election Result Excluding SE and SS56%43%2%

*APC stands for ANPP + CPC + ACN

Therefore, while we think there is a realistic path to victory for GMB even if he fails to get 25% in both the Southeast and the South South, we are of the firm opinion that failing to hit that threshold will make his probability of winning very shaky. Below is a detailed breakdown of our updated analysis in the most likely scenario:

Table 4

Geo-Political RegionsGMB 2015 Updated ForecastGEJ 2015 Updated Forecast
North Central49%45%51%51%48%54%
Total North62%59%64%37%35%40%
South South17%13%20%83%79%87%
Total South32%28%35%68%64%71%
Nationwide Total50%48%52%49%47%51%
Election Result Exc. SE & SS62%60%64%37%35%39%


This election by all accounts is going to be close. General Buhari seems to have the momentum right now, a crucial advantage in the final couple weeks of campaigns.

With roughly two weeks left in the campaign, the debate could have been a game changing moment especially if one of the candidates had a knockout performance. However, with GMB pulling out, it is yet to be determined if the blowback from that decision would flip the momentum in GEJ’s favor. Admittedly, there are many Nigerians who could care less what either candidate says in the debate. For example, if all GEJ is able to coherently say is “I am young and he is old” and if GMB can respond by saying, “I will stop Boko Haram and use a broom to sweep out corruption,” it will likely not change the votes of the committed, of which there are many. That notwithstanding, this election will be decided by the many millions who at the moment would rather be on Facebook in the safety of their homes (some for fear of a Boko Haram attack) than in the polling booth on Election Day, to vote for either candidate in whom they have little confidence.

Reading Charles Soludo’s recent analysis of the campaigns so far, it would appear that neither party has made a decisive case for why they are the better. Or at the very least, GEJ has not demonstrated a case for reelection nor has the opposition provided any evidence that it has thought through the practicality of its promises. The debate would have provided both candidates a lot of leeway to do that and move the needle. In the end however, elections are like poker, they are uncertain and you never know what fortune may befall you on Election Day. At the moment, the president’s body language suggests he is not confident of his hand.




Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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