Report: Nigeria’s Presidential Election Too Close to Call

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•APC, PDP dismiss comments as hatchet job

Obinna Chima

With less than 40 days to Nigeria’s presidential election, a report has predicted a very close or inconclusive poll.
The 28-page report titled: “Top Risks 2019,” by the Eurasia Group, was obtained by THISDAY yesterday.

The New York-based organisation pointed out that the country faces its most fiercely contested election since the transition to democracy in 1999.
It described the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari as an elderly, infirm leader, “who lacks the energy, creativity, or political savvy to move the needle on Nigeria’s most intractable problems.”

It explained, “Buhari is the frontrunner. A second term for him would mean the country at best muddles through the next four years, with little progress on critical policy priorities like tax reform or a restructuring of the energy sector.”

Furthermore, the advisory firm said of the political risk of reelecting the president, “Buhari would be a lame duck from day one, with powerbrokers in his own party quickly shifting their focus to the next electoral cycle in 2023.

“And if Buhari’s health problems continue or worsen, the situation will get worse. The president’s continual medical leaves abroad impaired governance in his first term.
“A repetition would again remove him from decision-making and the public eye for months at a time, leaving investors to wonder who is calling the shots and whether they’re qualified for the job.”

Continuing, the group in the report, held the view that a Buhari re-election also carries “tail risks,” stating that a politically weak president, for health or other reasons, would open the “floodgates for political infighting, increasing the chances that his ruling All Progressives Congress implodes.”

According to it, “That would turn a policy slowdown into paralysis. The risk of attacks on oil infrastructure would also rise, because the absence of strong leadership in Abuja would make it harder to negotiate with the Niger Delta’s various militant groups.”

In their assessment of Buhari’s closest rival, who is the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, they stated that a win for Atiku, would create a brief, superficial boost to the country’s image—largely “because of his better health and keener intellect.”

However, it held the view that “Atiku Abubakar would avoid the difficult and politically unpopular tasks necessary for reform.”
It stated, “But it would also pose the risk of a return to an even more rent-seeking governing style.
“Atiku’s policy priorities are unclear and untested: He had previously promised to deregulate the oil and gas sector but recently pledged to reduce gasoline prices by 50 per cent from already below-market levels.

“That would swell subsidy costs and endanger long-term debt sustainability. He’s also unlikely to champion a tax reform that’s critical to Nigeria’s fiscal sustainability.
“Atiku would face significant infighting within his People’s Democratic Party as well, as leaders try to hold him to his promise to serve only one term (a pledge he’s likely to retract).”

Furthermore, the report added, “There’s a dangerous wildcard outcome. The election will be close, and a challenged or inconclusive result is possible.
“That, in turn, could trigger a political crisis in which neither candidate has a legitimate claim to power. If the vote is close enough to trigger a run-off, Nigeria’s constitution requires the second round of voting to occur within seven days of the first, a tough timeline to meet given the complexity of organising national elections in the country.
“This could be a recipe for severe uncertainty in Africa’s most important market.”

Some other economies and areas which the report also focused on included the US-China trade war, European populism, Mexico, Ukraine, and Brexit.
For the United States, it anticipated a chaotic year for US domestic politics.
According to the Eurasia Group, while the odds of Donald Trump being impeached and removed from office remains low, political volatility would be exceptionally high in the country.

According to the report, with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, the president faces adversarial congressional oversight for the first time.
It stated that Democrats would use their control of House committees and subpoena power to force the release of Trump’s tax returns, investigate his financial dealings and those of his family.

APC, PDP Dismiss Report as Hatchet Job

Interestingly, both APC and PDP dismissed the report as a hatchet job with their spokesmen accusing each other as its sponsor.
The Director of Communication of Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, said in as much as the report hinged its conclusion on perceived ill-health of Buhari; it would lack merit if it failed to attach a report of the president’s state of health duly authenticated by an appropriate medical board.

“If they did not get a report from a doctor, it destroys the credibility of their report,” he told THISDAY last night.
He pointedly accused the PDP of being behind the report, “We are aware that the PDP, as an organisation, has paid all kinds of funny and phony groups in the US to be publishing all manners of discredited reports, trying to paint the president and the ruling party in bad light.

“We have investigated and found this to be true and Nigerians would be shocked when we bring out the details about the relationship between the leadership of the PDP and these compromised groups in the US.”
According to the APC campaign spokesman, “The theory the PDP is working on is the old but abandoned mentality of Nigerians that once any report has a badge of the US or UK group, Nigerians would think that God Almighty has spoken.

“But Nigerians are now wiser.”
He said the latest report was nothing but one of the failed Dubai strategy of the PDP.
“If that group does not publish an authenticated medical report along with their report, they should hide their head in shame,” Keyamo said.

In his response, the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, was equally ruthless in his put down of the report, thrashing it as one of the antics of the APC to discredit Atiku.

He waved aside the claim that his presidential candidate would be self-serving, saying, “Atiku has come to work in the interest of all Nigerians, not a few.”
He added, “His focus is to make life better for the ordinary Nigerians through the creation of jobs and massive overhaul of the economy.”
Ologbondiyan said the PDP campaign would not be distracted by the campaign of calumny by the APC against Atiku.

“Nigerians have seen that more than three years of Buhari did not fight corruption; did not secure Nigeria; and did not revive the economy.
“Rather, if anything, it has made life worse for the average Nigerian, who has been ravaged by excruciating hunger,” the PDP presidential campaign mouthpiece told THISDAY last night.