May 23, 2024
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Is it true that no presidential candidate wins if he does not receive overwhelming votes from the Muslim-North?


By Daniel Adaji

In the next few weeks, we shall make recourse to data to examine 10 myths about contemporary politics in Nigeria, especially in the context of the ongoing fears, tension, and hysteria over same-faith tickets in the race to change the baton of leadership in the next year’s elections. The data we shall use to test the myths and assumptions are derived from previous election results, as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), no matter how imperfect they may have been.

Myth No.1 – No presidential candidate can win an election, except if he receives overwhelming votes from Muslim-North

Though the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the 2023 presidential election, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu,  did not expressly expose his doubts about the Muslim-North voting for him in the forthcoming election, his choice of a former Governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima, was an offshoot of the fear that voters in the North-West and parts of the North-East may not cast their votes for him if his running mate turned out to be a northern Christian. As a result of the religious sensitivity in Nigeria, especially the outcry by northern Christians over marginalization by Northern Muslim political leaders, Tinubu’s choice was perceived as an elongation of their predicament in northern Nigeria. They interpret Tinubu’s choice of a running mate as a golden opportunity for a northern Christian to deputize for a Southern Christian being snatched from the Christian community and handed over to the domineering northern Muslim. Not unaware of this situation, Tinubu has used diverse media platforms to explain the reason for his ‘insensitive’ decision, but to no avail.

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari

But is it a fact that only presidential candidates that receive overwhelming votes from Muslim-North win presidential elections in Nigeria? What do data from previous elections say? Perhaps, the data that would provide clear indicators in this respect are those from the 2003 and 2011 presidential elections. In the 2003 election, former President Olusegun Obasanjo contested on the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against President Muhammadu Buhari, one politician with beehive-like support in the Muslim-North, under the ticket of the All Peoples Party (APP).  In that election, the results were as follows:

Source:  Nigeria. Presidential Election 2003 – Electoral Geography 2.0


The above results from the 2003 presidential election show that the Muslim-North voted overwhelmingly for Buhari, but that did not translate to electoral victory for him. Obasanjo performed poorly in many of the states, except in Kaduna State, where, perhaps, the fact that there is a huge Christian population may have contributed to Obasanjo’s triumph over Buhari in that election. That goes further to stress the argument that the Christian population in several northern states has electoral value in presidential elections.

Nigeria’s Former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

Apart from the 2003 election, another keenly contested presidential election was that in  2011, where former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South-South, contested against President Muhammadu Buhari, then a very popular candidate from the North-West.  As a result of his popularity in the North, Buhari quit the All Peoples Party (APP) and registered a new political party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) which fielded him as a presidential candidate.  At that point, it was assumed that the APP survived on the aura and glory of Buhari, so the former military head of state could, on his popularity in the Muslim North, win the presidential election. The INEC result of that election goes thus:


Source: Nigeria. Presidential Election 2011 – Electoral Geography 2.0

To appreciate the overwhelming support Buhari received from the northern half of the country, it is necessary to examine the visualization of the results in the map below:

A file photo of the map of Nigeria

The green colour shows where the votes for Buhari scaled over 50 per cent of the total votes cast in the states, while the red shows the areas where Jonathan garnered votes to the tune of 50 percent and above.  From the above result, the Muslim-North states (in green colour) voted overwhelmingly for Muhammadu Buhari, but in the 2011 election, the national result showed that Goodluck Jonathan won. If religion were the primary factor considered by voters when they decide who to vote for,  it is then important to take a look at the outcome of the election in Sokoto in the North-West and Gombe in the North-East state. In these states, there are indigenous Christian population. In Gombe, it is believed that Christians constitute over 40 per cent of the total population. Here, Jonathan pulled as much as 37 per cent of the total votes.  In Sokoto, Jonathan got 33 per cent of the votes. It then follows that, perhaps,  the votes of the indigenous Christian population and those of Christians who were not indigenous to the states were of political value.

Secondly, if religion were the sole consideration by the people in Muslim North when they vote during elections, then both Obasanjo and Jonathan may never have secured more than one digit percentage in the 2003 and 2011 elections respectively. A testimony to this is the fact hundreds of Christians were killed in several northern states because they were believed to have been instrumental to Jonathan’s victory in the 2011 presidential election. In Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Plateau, Kano, and the like, Christians were killed and their properties destroyed, to the point that the Jonathan administration had to set up a panel of inquiry into the mayhem, and compensation had to be paid to victims.

From the country’s political experience, major political parties have influential political figures in each state, Muslim-North among them. This factor may also be responsible for the votes Christian presidential candidates harvested in the core North, making it difficult for Muslim presidential candidates to sweep 100 per cent of the votes.  In the light of the above, it is a fact that voters in Muslim-North supported Buhari every time he contested against candidates from the Christian South, but Buhari needed much more than loyalty from his Muslim followers to win the election in the 2015 presidential race. In that election, Buhari got votes from the South-West and North-Central to fulfil his 12-year ambition to become Nigeria’s president in 2015.

Keep a date with The Insight, as we shall soon examine another myth as follows:

The religious affiliation of leaders determines  social and economic development of Nigeria, at both federal and state levels.

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