In a presidential contest, every candidate has to fight for every vote in every state. But a party that doesn’t recognise that some states are more important than others cannot be a serious contender for the presidency. Just as crucial as the campaigns is the acknowledging that some states are winnable than others. It is why President Muhammadu Buhari could not afford to turn his back on the governor of Kano. Buhari had a choice to make: to sustain the political structure that can get him reelected or fight corruption to a standstill against the governor.

The latter would be fighting those on his own team and even the hands that feed him.
If the 2019 presidential election were a chess game, Kano and the sitting governor in the state would be APC’s queen on the board. Governor Ganduje is the pillar of Buhari’s campaign and if he had been successfully taken out of the game, PDP would have stood a chance of winning the state, the states around it and the presidential poll. But the party seems to have conceded the entire northwest to APC.

Strongman of the opposition PDP in Kano and former governor of the state, Rabiu Musa Kwakwaso, has played his part but PDP at the national headquarters has strategically failed to back him up. This is evident in the party’s campaign rally in the state. Yes, they could not have hoped for a larger crowd and it was credit to Kwankwaso’s organisational skills, but the rally was more about the former governor’s ego than it was about the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar.

Senate president, Bukola Saraki, has said the numbers don’t exist to support a Buhari victory. On the contrary, it is Atiku that will find it hard to make up the needed numbers to coast to victory. This is no longer about a state-by-state count, some states matter more than others. In Nigeria’s electoral map, 10 states are of strategic importance in winning the presidential election. Those 10 states account for close to 14 million of the 29 million votes cast in 2015. Seven of those states are today, still seen as APC strongholds. But five of the 10 states – Lagos, Rivers, Kano, Kaduna and Katsina – are gold mines for votes.

Back then, President Goodluck Jonathan recognised that he had Rivers in the bag. The three northern states were out of his reach. That left Lagos, which was his one and only realistic path to retaining the presidency. That was why in the last days of the campaign, he fought tooth and nail, devoting most of his energy and resources to the southwest and Lagos in particular. In 2019, it is Kano that has that privileged position and it would take only a delusion to think PDP can put up a fight there.
But why assume any of these states will vote for Buhari again?

There is a class of voters whose support President Buhari can be certain of getting on February 16, 2019, and these particular set of voters cut across region, tribe or religion. Whether they can actually go out and vote is another matter. These are the seniors in society who have reached retirement age. For many of them, since 1999, their lives have followed a pattern. Every month, they would come out from their homes demanding what is rightfully theirs, asking to be given what they had spent all of their lives working for. For them, change came in 2015. When was the last time anyone saw a pensioner roaming the streets, begging for handouts or protesting a delay in payment of his pension? Consistently, and almost without fail, pensioners now get paid on time and the exact amount due to them.

The farmers/herdsmen clashes in Benue have been a setback to Buhari’s government, along with the frequent kidnappings and killings in Zamfara which are yet to be contained. But people in the northeast are in the best position to judge whether the government’s claim that Boko Haram has significantly been degraded and whether or not Buhari has delivered on his promise to secure the region. Nobody has suggested that Buhari will lose in either Borno or Yobe because voters there are disappointed with his performance. It is a mark of Buhari’s achievement that bombs are no longer going off in places like Abuja, Suleja, Kaduna or even Kano.

On the economy, it is important to understand that majority of farmers today are still in rural areas and make up majority of those of voting age. Programmes of the APC have opened up opportunities for many of them in agriculture.

Virtually every policy of the Buhari government has been geared towards uplifting the lives of the most vulnerable, who have always been neglected by successive governments. The ban on the importation of rice and the subsequent Anchor Borrowers Scheme has no doubt, changed the fortunes of farmers in the country. Even the subsidy that has supposedly been made on fertilizer has for some time, been a scam, an avenue for a few people to enrich themselves. On that too, change has come. There will be very few farmers willing to go back to PDP’s management style.

Then there are the social intervention programmes. Every year, in last three budget cycles, the government has budgeted roughly N500bn on these programmes. Even the TraderMoni which is designed more as a trade promoting venture, targets those that are just managing to get by. Nothing could be more offensive than suggestions from the hard-hearted that the scheme is idiotic. Vote buying or not, it has opened doors for millions of people who normally would not be the focus of government initiatives. And for them, that is change as promised and delivered.

Shuaib, a former editor of LEADERSHIP, writes from Abuja