Many factors played to the advantage of Atiku in Northern Nigeria including the internal crises in many APC states.
Despite being in control of only four of the 19 states in northern Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) pulled a major upset in the 25 February presidential election, winning more states than the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) flagbearer, Bola Tinubu, in the region.
Mr Tinubu scored 8,794,726 votes to be declared the president-elect, ahead of Atiku Abubakar of the PDP who scored 6,984,520, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) who scored 6,101,533 and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) who scored 1,496,687 votes.
However, the ruling party performed below expectations in the North, which was considered its stronghold.
Though Mr Tinubu scored the required 25 per cent in almost all the states, his performance, especially in the North-west region, was unimpressive. He only managed to win Jigawa and Zamfara states, losing Kano to Mr Kwankwaso and Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto states to Atiku.
In the North-east, Atiku won Adamawa, Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe and Taraba while Mr Tinubu won only Borno State.
In the North-central, Mr Tinubu won Benue, Kwara, Kogi and Niger states while Mr Obi snatched Plateau and Nasarawa states.
Statistically, the president-elect did not, like Mr Buhari, secure overwhelming victories in the states he won in the region. In Zamfara State he got 59 per cent, in Borno he got 54 per cent, in Kwara he scored 56 per cent, in Kogi he scored 53 per cent, in Benue he scored 40 per cent, he scored 46 per cent in Jigawa and 48 per cent in Niger State.
The presidential election result from Northern Nigeria came as a surprise to many political watchers as the APC had overwhelmingly won the last two general elections in the region. In the 2015 presidential poll, the APC got 12,228,491 while the PDP got 3,560,620 votes in the 19 northern states. In 2019, the ruling party polled 11,448,806 votes while PDP scored 5,299,594 votes in the northern states. In the 2023 election, the APC also won more total votes than the APC although it won in fewer states. The ruling party got a total of 5,507,784 votes while the PDP got 5,159,541 votes.
Ethnic sentiment played a key role in determining who won the region. To be fair to Nigerians in the North, they gave Mr Tinubu enough votes to enable him to get the needed 25 per cent in most states in the region. But they also queued behind “their son” who they believe would do more for the region than a southerner.
Also, Atiku contested as the strongest northerner (ahead of Mr Kwankwaso) in the election. In the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari (who has a cult following in the North), who has contested in every presidential election since 2003, many northerners voted for the person they considered the next strongest contestant from the region.
In the build-up to the election, a group, Na Ka Sai Naka, loosely translated as “Your own is your own,” campaigned vigorously in the North for Atiku, asking the people to vote for their “own”.
Even Atiku played on the sentiment.
“What the average Northerner needs is somebody who’s from the North and also understands that part of the country and has been able to build bridges across the country. This is what the Northerner needs, it doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate, I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin,” he said during a meeting with some northern leaders.
The only state Atiku lost in the North-east was Borno. His firm grip on the sub-region showed that residents of the area decided to throw their weight behind their “son” instead of a second in command: APC’s vice president-elect, Kashim Shettima.
Yobe had voted APC in previous elections. But it is obvious that the people of the state decided to support someone from their region, especially with the belief that it was time for the region to produce a democratically elected president.
Border opening and economy
Atiku’s campaign style no doubt helped him in gaining ground where the APC held sway. In most of the northern states he visited for his campaign, Atiku used the issues at hand to campaign for himself.
“When you look at how clever Atiku was throughout his campaign rallies in the North, you will agree with me that the states where he promised to open borders, revive the economy and help fight insecurity no doubt helped him,” AbdulRahman Jani, a political reporter in Katsina State, said.
Mr Buhari had shut land borders in the country to help revive the local economy and fight transborder crimes. But the local economy has instead suffered greatly due to the measures.
In Yobe, Katsina and Kebbi states, Atiku promised to reopen the borders.
According to him, reopening the borders would foster trade and investment between Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
“I promise you that I will open the borders that have been closed. I am more knowledgeable on border issues than all the other presidential candidates,” he said, apparently referencing his career as a customs officer.
In Kaduna, Kano and Zamfara states, he promised to revive the economy and rebuild moribund manufacturing industries just as he promised to tackle insecurity in most of the northern states.
“Remember that Bola Tinubu and his campaign council even went to Abuja to ask people not to vote for a candidate that would reopen borders. It gave Mr Atiku an edge over Tinubu here in the North,” Mr Jani said.
Banditry and insecurity
Judging from the result of the election, northerners had more faith in the ability of Atiku to solve the growing insecurity in the region. Of the six states mostly affected by banditry, Atiku won four – Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, and Kebbi – while Mr Tinubu won Niger and Zamfara. Even in Zamfara where he won, Mr Tinubu lost in local governments like Bungudu and Gusau.
In Katsina State, for instance, all the local government areas (with the exception of two – Danmusa and Faskari) witnessing insecurity voted for Atiku. Batsari, Kurfi, Dutsin Ma, Bakori, Kankara, Batagarawa, Jibia and Safana all went to the former vice president with some of them recording a margin of over 8,000 between the two.
“I was not surprised with the outcome of the result,” a political analyst, Saifullahi Kuraye, told PREMIUM TIMES. “When you look at the results, you know that these people (vulnerable communities) are really angry with APC. During the campaigns, nothing of banditry attacks happened. So, most of them felt the government could tackle this insecurity issue. It is not as if Atiku Abubakar is better. But you know APC has been in power for eight years and bandits are still killing people. Those in the areas felt that a new leader from a different party can do the magic.”
In Kaduna State, the troubled areas were all won by Atiku with the exception of Birnin Gwari. Atiku won in Kauru, Giwa, Lere, Kubau, Soba, Kudan and Igabi.
Aggrieved APC members
In several states where Atiku won, some top members of the APC openly campaigned for him. In Katsina State, two commissioners, two permanent secretaries, and some top special advisers were sacked for allegedly working for PDP. Several permanent secretaries and a commissioner have also been redeployed to ministries and offices considered “dead zones” for the same reason
Another factor that helped Atiku against the APC presidential candidate in Northern Nigeria was the widespread decamping of top politicians from the APC to the PDP immediately after the former’s primary elections last year. While some left for the NNPP, most joined the PDP.
Many people were surprised Atiku won Katsina, President Buhari’s home state. But the state chapter of the APC has been witnessing a series of setbacks since the gubernatorial, national and state assemblies’ primary elections.
Mustapha Inuwa, the immediate former Secretary to the State Government; the senator representing Katsina North district, Ahmad Babba-Kaita; House of Representatives members, Hamza Dalhatu, Salisu Iro, Ahmad Dayyabu; as well as other top politicians in the party joined the PDP.In Sokoto, several top APC members joined the PDP. Those who switched sides include a former minister of transportation, Yusuf Sulaiman; the member representing Gudu/Tangaza, Yusuf Kurdula; a former Minister of Culture, Bello Jibrin and the lawmaker representing Gwadabawa/Illela, Abdullahi Salame.
In Kebbi, two senators, Adamu Aliero and Yahaya Abdullahi left the APC for the PDP and vowed to deliver the state to Atiku. They were swiftly followed by several members of the House of Representatives and members of the state’s House of Assembly.
In Kaduna, rival groups within the party were brought together through the efforts of former vice president, Namadi Sambo, and former governors Ahmad Makarfi and Ramalan Yero, which kept the opposition largely united before the election.
Also, some Southern Kaduna politicians, who felt threatened by the APC’s Muslim-Muslim tickets in the presidential and gubernatorial elections, decamped and pitched their tent with either Atiku or Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
Despite the disagreement between the Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, and some bigwigs of the party, they all worked for Atiku. In fact, the disagreement was largely due to the support the former vice president got from every group trying to outshine one another in providing support to Atiku. Bauchi, known to be one of President Buhari’s most supportive states, was also won by the PDP.