Nigeria’s president Buhari re-election bid is being framed as a “clamour” for his return

Image: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
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To no one’s surprise, Nigeria’s president Buhari has formally declared he will seek a second term in office during next year’s elections.

Until now, rumors of his re-election interests had been met with silence from the presidency despite moves like appointing key campaign officials ahead of the polls.

Buhari says his re-election bid is a response “to the clamour by Nigerians to re-contest in 2019″ even though his tenure is broadly seen as underwhelming. Arguably, his performance may have opened the door to another major shift in Nigerian politics only three years after an incumbent president was voted out for the first time. Economic growth has slowed and his government has been slow to deal with a widening insecurity threat that’s become more fatal than Boko Haram. His team’s framing of his re-election bid as a response to Nigerians clamoring for his return has been criticized by several opposition and independent watchers as misguided.

Buhari is likely to play up his anti-corruption mantra which proved very effective in 2015. But with high ranking officials in his administration embroiled in corruption scandals, that message has likely weakened. Opposition groups have also claimed the anti-corruption campaign is one-sided. And while there has been plenty of noise about the scandals of key individuals in the previous government there are still no major convictions.

It’s not been all downhill however. Nigerians in the northeast will be particularly grateful for the government’s stronger handling of Boko Haram terrorists who have now been sacked from swathes of land they had captured as part of their “caliphate”. The most recent World Bank Doing Business report also shows a 24-spot rise for Nigeria—the result of some of the administration’s reforms.

Unlike 2015 however, Buhari cannot count on popular goodwill with public opinion having turned against him in his three years in office. In a January open letter, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a staunch Buhari supporter in 2015, branded the government as a failure and asked the president not to seek re-election. Campaign rhetoric will likely go a notch higher with Buhari’s announcement as opposition candidates jockey for talking points and Buhari’s health continues to provide a timely one after the president spent more than 150 days in London receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment.