An effective, definite and proactive crisis management of public perception will be key in the Middle Belt in order to forestall a backlash. President Buhari’s letter to the Senate was a good step but it is not nearly enough. His refusal to visit the victims is unfeeling and sacrilegious.

Is the Fulani herdsmen issue a trigger that could tilt the electoral cart in 2019? From psephological data, within the Middle-Belt, the swing between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 presidential election was eight percent to twenty eight percent. The North-Central zone has always been the battleground where the winner of presidential elections in Nigeria is determined. More than ever before, 2019 will prove it yet again. This time, the decisive factor could be the Fulani herdsmen issue. In 2015, candidate Muhammadu Buhari battled Goodluck Jonathan for votes in the region and they were both competitive. It was obvious that the North-East, North-West and South-west would go for Buhari, as the South-South and South-East was anticipated to go to Goodluck Jonathan. Given the way the Fulani herdsmen crisis has been handled so far, the presidential election could be thrown wide open if the voters perceive the government as irresponsive to their plight or complicit in the crisis. A look at the 2015 presidential and gubernatorial election results show Buhari’s vulnerability in the North-Central States.

Benue State, the smoking cauldron and hotbed of the herdsmen/farmers clash has reliably voted conservative from the days of Aper Aku in the Second Republic to George Akume and Gabriel Suswam, until the APC tsunami swept Samuel Ortom to power in 2015. With a swing of ten percent to Buhari, the State is clearly in play for 2019. Apart from the crisis roiling the state, beneath the surface of the Benue State electoral character is a perennial religious undercurrent. When the 14 percent guber election result swing and a disgruntled governor are added to the mix, it is not difficult to see how Benue can become an electoral battleground and Buhari could lose the State. It will take a lot of work and political maneuvering for APC to win Benue. With a year to go, feelings of insecurity, memories of the dead, and lost properties and livelihoods will linger. Surely, it will affect the electoral fortunes of Buhari.

With a year to go, feelings of insecurity, memories of the dead, and lost properties and livelihoods will linger. Surely, it will affect the electoral fortunes of Buhari.

Plateau went to Buhari with a higher margin of 16 percent, but the State could prove dicey in the event of a backlash. Why? In the governorship election, Simon Lalong won by four percent. What this means is that candidate Buhari was ahead of his party at the height of his popularity. It can be argued that the APC governor rode on Buhari’s popularity to win the election. Given the cascade of events and disatisfaction with the presidency and a strong governorship candidate, the State may revert to its PDP roots.

Kogi went to Buhari by a wide margin because of the hard work of the late Governor Abubakar Audu. With a state divided into political blocs and factions within the APC and a governor who is unconcerned with optics and totally beholden to his makers in Abuja, Kogi is not as sure as it could have been. Taraba and Nasarawa went to PDP. There are no concrete plans on the ground to win these states in 2019. Buhari and his cabal have no coherent strategy to win over the restive Middle Belt population.

Electoral fortunes and calculations built on the absence of a credible, alternative opposition figure is not a winning strategy. For an old man, even a flu can throw spanner in the works and the nation will rally behind another candidate.

Is it fair to shift the blame of the ineffective management of the herdsmen/farmers crisis on the federal government? Well, there goes the labyrinthine structure of this federal arrangement. The federal government controls all the security apparatuses, and once there is a breakdown of law and order, the states can barely act to save the situation. If the states are proactive in reporting and the federal government is tardy in protecting the citizens, very little can be achieved. The options open to the states are engagement and containment before the fact. They are helpless after the fact, save for relief measures to the surivors, the displaced and dispossessed. For a nomadic, amorphous hard to track group, unknown by resident local Fulanis, the government needs a robust anti-terror strategy to protect the people and restore confidence. An effective, definite and proactive crisis management of public perception will be key in the Middle Belt in order to forestall a backlash. President Buhari’s letter to the Senate was a good step but it is not nearly enough. His refusal to visit the victims is unfeeling and sacrilegious. His insensitive parley with governors shows an uncaring and indifferent attitude to those who have lost loved ones to this murderous rampage, and it is tantamount to dancing on the graves of the dead.

Buhari’s personal authority, if he decides to take a stand, is enough to straighten things out. The president should inaugurate a military task force that can get deep in the weed to tackle this ballooning threat to the safety of lives, property and national security. There is serious threat to the nation’s food security as people are now afraid to go to their farms. Electoral fortunes and calculations built on the absence of a credible, alternative opposition figure is not a winning strategy. For an old man, even a flu can throw spanner in the works and the nation will rally behind another candidate. A year is a long time but the seeds of a win or a loss is being sown presently.

2015 Presidential Election Results

STATE APC PDP MARGINAL PERCENTAGE DIFFERENCE
Benue Buhari (APC)

55%

Jonathan (PDP) 45% + 10% to APC
Plateau Buhari (APC)

58%

Jonathan (PDP) 42% + 16% to APC
Nassarawa Buhari (APC)

46%

Jonathan (PDP) 54% – 8% to APC
Taraba Buhari (APC)

46%

Jonathan (PDP) 54% – 8% to APC
Kogi Buhari (APC)

64%

Jonathan (PDP) 36% + 28% to APC 

2015 Gubernatorial Election Results

Benue State

APC PDP (MARGINAL) DIFFERENCE IN %
57% 43% + 14% TO APC

Plateau State

APC PDP (MARGINAL) DIFFERENCE IN %
52% 48% + 4% TO APC

 Taraba State

APC PDP (MARGINAL) DIFFERENCE IN %
44% 56% – 12% TO APC

Kogi State

APC PDP (MARGINAL) DIFFERENCE IN %
51% 49% + 2% TO APC

Nasarawa State

APC PDP APGA (MARGINAL) DIFFERENCE IN %
51% 20% 29% APC > PDP BY 31%

APC > APGA BY 22%

 

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo