Nigeria’s Buhari wins second term as president

28 February 2019

Muhammadu Buhari won a second term as president of Africa’s most populous country in an election marred by delays, accusations of vote-rigging and outbreaks of violence. With ballots from all 36 states counted, Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) garnered 15.2 million votes compared with 11.3 million for Atiku Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party.

The election, originally scheduled for 16 February 2019, threatened to descend into farce with a last-minute decision to postpone voting to the following week. The week-long delay likely depressed voter turn-out, which was 35.6 per cent compared with 44 per cent in the 2015 presidential election.

What has happened?

Buhari fought the election on an anti-corruption ticket, an issue that has dominated Nigerian politics and proved a major point of contention in Africa’s largest democracy. A former army general with a clean record, Buhari’s reputation as a strongman also likely bolstered his support in the northern states beset by Boko Haram. By contrast, main rival Abubakar was viewed by many voters as symptomatic of Nigeria’s problems. A business tycoon who successfully made the transition into politics, but one whose record is stained with allegations of government graft.

Nevertheless, the election result was tightly contested, with both men experienced campaigners and importantly, both Muslims from northern states. There was no significant flare-up of north-south, Christian-Muslim tensions on the campaign trail. The election instead centred on the issues of economic development and domestic security, after three years of economic recession and a rising number of terrorist attacks.

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What are the implications?

The new administration has pledged to intensify its efforts in security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption. Buhari faces the challenge of stimulating non-oil growth whilst the economy remains highly susceptible to volatile global oil prices and production disruption via renewed militant attacks on key hydrocarbon infrastructure.


  • On security, progress has been disappointing and must improve. Since Buhari came to office in 2015, approximately 10,000 people have died as a result of Boko Haram-backed violence. Buhari is likely to step up efforts to reclaim territory from Boko Haram in his second term.
  • Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers is a major national security concern, killing more than 1,300 people since January 2018. President Buhari has announced conciliatory plans to set aside land for herders but these have yet to be implemented and the likelihood of improvement in the next four years are slim.
  • Insurrectionist violence in the oil-producing Delta state continues to present a high risk to multinationals based in the region. Buhari has weaker political capital in the southern states and will struggle to significantly improve the security situation in his second term.
  • Buhari’s absence from Nigeria for long periods due to ill-health during his first presidential term did not inspire confidence and poses long-term succession risks.


  • Buhari has shown little appetite for major economic reform and a second term is unlikely to change his policy stance.
  • He may continue to resist the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), which would otherwise be a major step toward improving governance and efficiency in Nigeria’s oil sector.
  • He is ideologically resistant to currency devaluation, potentially exposing the Naira to another terms of trade shock should oil prices decline.
  • In the second term, Buhari is expected to prioritise investment in major cross-country infrastructure projects including the Second Niger Bridge and Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway.
  • Growth is expected to gradually recover and grow by 2.0% in 2019 but Buhari must prioritise a long-term restructuring of the economy in order to stabilise the Naira.


  • There is optimism that Buhari’s anti-corruption drive will continue and create a more transparent business environment. In his first term, Buhari investigated and suspended his secretary and long-time ally, Lawal Babachir and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke.
  • If Buhari was to give assent to the Petroleum Governance Industry Bill, it would signal that he is open to creating a transparent business environment in the oil industry and increase foreign direct investment.
  • Without major inclusive economic reforms and a corruption crackdown, Nigeria is on a troubling path. If the country cannot create employment for the more than 100 million Nigerians who will be born within the next 30 years, then domestic insecurity will intensify and deter foreign direct investment.

For further information please contact Eleanor Smith, Senior Political Risk Analyst on +44 (0)121 626 7837