31 Mar 2015

Did Boko Haram win Nigeria’s election for Muhammadu Buhari?

New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in part owes his election victory to Boko Haram, a group that tried to assassinate him, Channel 4 News analysis shows.

Mr Buhari, who previously ruled Nigeria for 20 months after seizing power in a military coup in 1983, has beaten presidential incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by 2.5m votes.

Mr Buhari polled 15.4m votes compared to Mr Jonathan’s 12.9m. On Tuesday the incumbent president called Mr Buhari to concede. It is the first time in Nigerian electoral history that the incumbent president has been ousted in a democratic vote.

This success has largely been down to major support in Nigeria’s north eastern states – where Boko Haram has been waging a campaign of terror including suicide bombings, kidnappings and raiding villages, slaughtering civilians and burning homes.

Security has been the major issue of the election campaign. According to NOI Polls, security topped the list of issues Nigerians wanted the president to address in 2015.

Below: the issues Nigerians want the president to address in 2015, polled in January 2015.

Buhari, the former military ruler, has been seen as a strong leader who could tackle Boko Haram. He has previously vowed to defeat Boko Haram and made security a key plank of his election campaign.

Responding to a question from Channel 4 News Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Miller last month on Boko Haram, Buhari responded defiantly, saying: “What is Boko Haram?”

By contrast Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for failing to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed around 8,000 people since the start of 2014 as well as kidnapping hundreds.

President Jonathan’s national approval rating has fluctuated in line with Boko Haram attacks:

  • In February 2014 around 400 people were killed in various Boko Haram attacks in the north east – in March his approval rating in the north east fell by 11 percentage points.
  • The deadliest month for Boko Haram attacks, May, in which more than 900 soldiers and civilians died, was followed by an 18 point drop in the president’s north-east approval rating.
  • In November gunman, suspected to be Boko Haram, attacked a prison in Kogi state freeing around 144 prisoners. Two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked the mosque of one of Nigeria’s most prominent Muslim leaders in Kano, killing around 200. The following month Mr Jonathan’s approval rating fell by 20 points in the north-east, and by five points nationally.

Nigerians polled on Mr Jonathan’s approval rating were also regularly asked about how they rated his performance in terms of a range of areas. Every month since February the president has been rated “very poor”. He also scored badly for supplying power to Nigerian households, and on job creation.

Below: Goodluck Jonathan’s monthly approval rating across 2014, compared with the number of civilian and military deaths, and deaths of Boko haram insurgents.

It is the north and north eastern states most hit by Boko Haram violence who have voted most strongly for a change of president.

Borno is the state where Boko Haram is most active and where the group’s worst atrocities have been carried out. The 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped last April by Boko Haram were taken from a Borno village.

Up to 2,000 people were slaughtered in the town of Baga in January – again this was in Borno.

In Borno, more than 233,000 people voted for Buhari, compared to 14,000 voting for Jonathan.

Boko Haram has also regularly attacked villages in the north-eastern state of Yobe, including suicide attacks on schools and burning down villages. Almost half a million Yobe civilians voted for Buhari compared with 25,000 for Jonathan.

And in Kano, targeted in various suicide attacks including one at the Kano’s Grand Mosque – an attempt to assassinate Buhari that led to the deaths of 82, voters again overwhelmingly voted for the new president – by 1.9m votes to 216,000 for Mr Jonathan.

Nine out of Nigeria’s 37 states have suffered more than 100 deaths at the hands of Boko Haram since the start of 2014.

Voters in these nine states made up less than a quarter of all of Nigerians who went to the polls, but they accounted for more than a third of Buhari’s votes.

Below: the percentage of the vote secured by Muhammadu Buhari. The darker the region, the higher the percentage. Click on the state’s to see his percentage of the vote.

Boko Haram, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, sought to disrupt Nigeria’s elections. In the first three months of the year the group has killed an estimated 3,000 people in Nigeria compared to at least 4,700 across the whole of 2014.

In response to the escalation in violence, Nigeria’s elections, originally scheduled for 14 February, were postponed until the end of March and the Nigerian military, alongside soldiers from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, have seized dozens of towns and villages back from the group.

Mr Buhari has said greater cooperation between countries will be a part of his strategy to tackle Boko Haram. However, Boko Haram has maintained its campaign of violence.

Between 14 February and 19 March the group killed a further 597 people.

Despite the military crackdown, it has not been enough to save Goodluck Jonathan – and Boko Haram are in part responsible for his departure. It remains to be seen if the man who replaces him will be the one to finally defeat the jihadist movement.