Analysis of the Electoral Data in Nigeria's 2015 Presidential Elections

04/14/2015 04:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

The Nigerian elections that took place this year was historic. For the first time since the formation of the Fourth Republic of Nigeria, in 1999, after another phase of military rule, Nigeria not only voted out an incumbent president but the People's Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP has been in power since 1999, and they have been described by most as not simply a political party but an institution in the country. Nigeria, until this year's historic elections, effectively had a one-party system.

While, in principle, there were other political parties in the political landscape -- in fact, this year alone 14 political parties had candidates in the presidential race -- no political party has been able to defeat PDP, until now. However, this year, in the face of political fragmentation, growing economic inequality and an economic crisis, deepening social inequality and security concerns posed by the insurgent group Boko Haram, the All Progressive Congress (APC) was able to defeat the PDP, forever altering the political landscape in Nigeria, for the better.

Now, I am neither a fan of Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's current president and the presidential candidate for the PDP, nor am I am fan of Muhammadu Buhari, the current president elect of Nigeria and the presidential candidate for the APC. I have been very vocal about my dislike for both politicians. However, this election was not about them, rather this election was about democracy. For the first time since the inception of Nigeria's fourth republic, Nigerians had a choice. But more than that, their choices expressed in their electoral votes, actually mattered. In this election, Nigerians and the world were able to see genuine electoral accountability and transparency at play in the country's political process.

Now, going out and voting does not yet make us a democracy as there are other substantive factors such as economic progress, social equality, human rights development, that are needed before Nigeria can fully become a democracy. But, electoral accountability is an important part of the democratic process and so it was very important to see that it was not simply a possible aspect of Nigeria's political reality, but an inevitable aspect as well.

If political commentators want to understand the underlying realities that shape the electoral process in Nigeria, the 2015 Nigerian elections would be the ideal election to study. As such, I did just that. I studied the electoral data from the Nigerian election in order to understand the factors that best shape our electoral realities and our political landscape. I was very much influenced by the work of American statistician Nate Silver, who uses a complex statistical algorithm to predict the electoral results for American elections. However, unlike Nate Silver I am not a statistician and I have no conceptual understanding of statistical algorithms and their applications. But, I am an individual with a keen understanding of Nigerian politics, and based on my years of research, I have found that one factor that largely influences Nigeria's politics is ethnicity and religion.

I do not mean for my analysis to be a reductive one, not in the least. I am not trying to argue that ethnicity and religion are the only drivers or even the main drivers of Nigerian politics. My argument is a little bit more conservative than that. I am simply arguing that ethnicity and religion are one of the main drivers of Nigerian politics. I approached the data analysis of the Nigerian election by looking at the 36 states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), and tried to figure out how each state would vote if ethnicity and religion were the only determining factors of the Nigerian election. Now, of course, there were other determining factors, such as political, economic, security, and social instability as I previously mentioned, but I approached the electoral data as though the factors were non-determining. I also did not take into account the other 12 political parties that ran this election not because they are not an important part of Nigeria's democratic process, but because the PDP and the APC were the frontrunners in this elections and taking into account the other political parties would make the analysis more complicated than it needed to be.

If ethnicity and religion are assumed to be the only determining factors in Nigeria's election then it stands to reason that the Northern states are more likely to vote for Muhammadu Buhari (APC) while the South-Central, South-Eastern, and the Eastern states were more likely to vote for Goodluck Jonathan (PDP). The decades of complex historical dynamics and political alliances in Nigeria, which I would be unable to get into in this article, tells us this. It also means that middle-belt states such as Plateau State, Kogi State, Kwara State, Nasarwa state, Adamawa State, and Taraba State, amongst others ought to be considered swing state. But, Northern middle-belt states were more likely to vote for the APC while Southern middle-belt states were more likely to vote for the PDP. However, middle-belt states with a larger Muslim population were more likely to vote for the APC while middle-belt states with a larger Christian population were more likely to vote for the PDP.

Thus, even though Plateau State is technically a Northern middle-belt state because it is on the Northern side of the border it has a larger Christian population, which notoriously has an ongoing, feud with its Muslim population, and as such Plateau State is more likely to vote the PDP. It also means that Kogi State and Kwara State, even though they are technically Southern middle-belt states are more likely to vote for the APC. Now, this was the framework I worked out, and it only follows if ethnicity and religion are assumed to be the only drivers of the Nigerian electoral process. It is also very difficult to separate ethnicity and religion because they often go hand in hand in the Nigerian electoral process, and it is hard to say which of the two factors have a more powerful influence in Nigeria's political reality. For example, it is hard to say if a Christian from the North would be more likely to vote for the APC or the PDP or if a Muslim from the East is more likely to vote for the APC or the PDP.

These dynamics seem inextricable, but this is not to say that their complexity is reduced or negated when the factors are taken together. From my framework, we can only ever estimate or approximate the electoral results if these factors are assumed. Also, I know I have already said this but I think it deserves further repeating, I am simply assuming that ethnicity and religion are the only drivers in the Nigerian electoral process for the purposes of this analysis. However, I am not asserting that they are the only factors in Nigeria's electoral process or its political landscape. Neither am I asserting that they are the only nor the main aspect of an individual's identity in Nigeria.

Now, if my original thesis is to hold, it also means that Southwestern states and Western states in Nigeria are more likely to vote for the APC due to the hostilities between Western Nigeria and Eastern Nigeria that has remained an ever present political reality in the county since its three-year civil war. However, even if Southwestern and Western States are more likely to vote for the APC, they are still to be considered Swing states in this election and so are the middle-belt states in Nigeria.

One last factor to take into account is that even though the Federal Capital territory (FCT) is technically in the North of Nigeria, it would be very hard on any given day to say which way the tide would swing in Abuja because, the capital is always a contentious political landscape. Nevertheless, I went into the election with the assumption that the FCT would be more likely to vote for the APC given its geopolitical position. However, one must always remember that it is a swing state and ought to be treated like one in future analysis. This framework that I came up with as I was trying to decipher and predict Nigeria's electoral results is not a quantitative statistical model, but it a qualitative model to take into account when trying to figure out the political direction of Nigeria's electoral results given the importance of ethnicity and religion in the country's electoral and political landscape.

I applied my newly derived framework when I was analyzing Nigeria's 2015 electoral results to the 36 states in Nigeria plus the FCT, in order to figure out what political party each state is more likely to vote for if ethnicity and religion are assumed to be the only driving forces in Nigeria's election. The results, to me, were astounding. Out of the 37 states in Nigeria, when my qualitative framework was applied to the electoral data, and I was able to correctly predict the presidential candidate that would win in 34 out of the 37 states in Nigeria. From the result of my analysis, I was able to deduce some very important findings.

Firstly, my framework still needs to be analyzed closely so that myself and other Nigerian political commentators that want to take on this fascinating project can perfect it or completely rebuild it. Some of the results, such as the electoral results from Benue State in the Southern middle-belt were very surprising to me, as the APC won in that state. Thus, my model still needs some reforming, if not a complete re-thinking and overturning of the framework.

Secondly, it was also the case that a lot of the electoral results were a lot closer together than predicted. This suggests to me that the other political factors at play in Nigeria's political landscape, which I put aside for the purposes of this analysis, are obviously at play, they are also very powerful factors, and further years of political advocacy and anticipated social equality would allow for these factors to even out or even override the factors of ethnicity and religion in Nigeria's political landscape though I never expect these other factors to fully outplay or undermine the importance of ethnicity and religion in Nigeria's political landscape.

Finally, ethnicity and religion, as my thesis suggests, are very important drivers and determining factors in Nigeria's electoral process and its political landscape. Future political actors could play on this dynamic when figuring out their political strategy for future elections. Also, and more importantly, Nigerian political commentators would do well to try and understand the dynamic that ethnicity and religion bring to Nigeria's political landscape, its history, and its importance in predicting future Nigerian elections. However, said commentators and political researchers would also do well in trying to build a model that further and slowly incorporates the other factors that influence Nigeria's political landscape because, as predicted, these factors are only going to get more powerful in future Nigerian elections.