Peter Obi: Optimism and Pessimism in 5 Graphs

By virtue of his breakout presidential campaign, Peter Obi has already earned himself a page in the Nigerian political history books. But can he rout the current PDP-APC duopoly to take the presidency? And how firmly have the two largest parties held onto power across the states? State-level data** from the 2011, 2015, and 2019 elections give an indication of the size of the task before Peter Obi and the Labour Party.

There is no shortage of online analysis on Mr. Obi’s popularity, or that of Messrs. Tinubu and Abubakar. But winning the most votes is only half of the goal. Per section 134 of the Constitution, a successful presidential candidate (in either the first or second round) requires the highest number of votes and at least 25% of votes in 2/3 of the 36 states + federal capital territory (FCT). In short, success at the state-level is integral to becoming president.

First, let’s look at the percentage of votes awarded to parties that were not the PDP or APC/CPC. The comparison is not perfect, given that the ACN—a relatively successful 3rd party—eventually merged with the CPC (among others) in 2013 to form the APC. States are ordered in descending order of non-PDP/CPC vote share in 2011.

Graph 1:

There are two key take-aways from this graph: 3rd party candidates have historically been notable contenders in presidential elections in select states, such as in 2011. However, since the agglomeration that led to the APC, no 3rd party candidate since has won a single state. Even before the merger, the ACN was only able to win one state in 2011—Osun.

Given the complexities of the APC agglomeration, let’s take a closer look at the fortunes of 3rd party candidates in 2015 and 2019, which are more clear-cut comparisons to 2023. The below graphs show the five states in each election where parties outside the APC-PDP duopoly gained the highest proportion of votes:

Graph 2:         

Graph 3:

Comparing graphs 2 and 3, we see that 3rd party candidates were able to garner a greater share of the vote in select states in 2019 vs 2015. If this is indeed a trend, it could be a cause for optimism for Mr. Obi. But the gains do not return to the highs we saw in 2011 in the pre-APC era, where 3rd party candidates gained less than the all-important 25% of the vote in Osun, Ekiti, Ogun, Oyo, and Yobe (see graph 1). This adds a tinge of pessimism to the picture.

Maybe the focus on 3rd parties is too narrow. Having run on the PDP ticket in 2019, Mr. Obi could claim sufficient status and recognition to transcend the outsider ‘3rd party’ label. So let’s look at which states across the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections were ‘swing states.’

Graph 4:

Graph 4 lists the 15 instances in 2015 and 2019 when a party ceased to win a plurality of votes (x-axis). It also lists the relative share of vote increase for the party that gained a plurality. Let’s consider the left-most bar.  In 2011, the Buhari-led CPC won only 1.36% of the vote in Osun. However, after the ACN merged with the CPC (and others) to form the APC, Buhari increased his relative share of the vote by 58.74%, to win 60.1% in 2015.

There are two key take-aways from this graph:

1. The biggest swings were in 2015 (left side of the graph). These big swings cannot be solely attributed to the formation of the APC—in 2011, parties other than the PDP won 35.32% in Kwara. But in 2015, the APC won 69% of the vote, meaning that it was not just a product of party agglomeration. In the past 10 years, big swings have been possible. This should offer the Obi camp optimism.

2. However, Nigerian states have not swung like pendulums—a cause for pessimism for the Obi team. Only Adamawa, Benue, Ondo, and Oyo have witnessed a swing back and forth between different parties in recent years (and all following the pattern of 2011 PDP, 2015 APC, 2019 PDP).

Finally, one last sobering graph to show the break-down of votes along party lines at the national level in 2019.

Graph 5:

While winning 1/4 of the vote in at least 2/3 of the states is a constitutional requirement, so too is taking the greatest number of votes to become president. Graph 5 is a Rorschach test of sorts. Some will see pessimism, given the task ahead of Mr. Obi. Others will see optimism, given the scale of the success they expect of Mr. Obi.

What do I see? The need for more data analysis, and concerning all parties. Let me know if you agree.

**A note on the data: I focus on presidential elections over the past ~10 years because a) Peter Obi is running a presidential campaign, and b) governor, senate, and national assembly races usually involve candidates based within a given state, which introduces a different set of dynamics. For example, the success of a local Labour Party candidate in Kano doesn’t necessarily tell us about the prospects of Peter Obi (of Anambra state) in Kano. Voter share refers to the share of valid votes cast in each state. 2019 and 2015 data are from ‘Democracy in Africa’ and INEC, and 2011 from Gberie (2011).

Author’s note: This blog is a non-partisan, non-commercial endeavor. I make no endorsements of parties or candidates, as outlined on the blog home page since its inception. Any part of the blog can be reproduced freely. However, if you choose to attribute my writing, I kindly ask that you: a) spell my name correctly, and b) list my institutional affiliation correctly. I am currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. If in doubt, please check my home page or contact me.