On Friday 0ctober 26, the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation released a statement claiming the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in next February’s presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, was endorsed by the influential London-based Economist magazine.
In the statement titled: “The Economist Vindicates Atiku Abubakar,” his campaign organisation said the ‘endorsement’ by the Economist, “puts to lies the recent ridiculous claims made by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that the international media is askance of the candidature of Mr. Abubakar.”
The statement was referring to a claim by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, that during his recent engagement with journalists from international media organisations such as Reuters, Aljazeera, and the Economist, he was asked why the PDP candidate emerged despite the government’s claim to fighting corruption.
“They asked me: How can you claim to have succeeded in waging war against corruption when one of the major contestants in the 2019 general elections is actually a man with stupendous wealth but cannot explain the source of his wealth?
“That baffled me a lot, because it means that we are still being perceived as a country where corruption thrives,” Mr. Mohammed said.
The Atiku campaign claimed ‘the latest endorsement by the Economist’, ‘the second in two months’, is an endorsement of its candidate’s superior policies.
“An endorsement based on the clarity of vision and the detailed policies of the PDP’s candidate when compared to the vague and empty promises of the incumbent All Progressives Congress’ administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“As the Economist rightly states, the issues in 2019 are ‘popular frustration over the rise in joblessness and poverty (two of the biggest voter concerns) on Mr. Buhari’s watch, as well as growing insecurity in central Nigeria,” the Atiku Campaign Organisation wrote.
When contacted, Paul Ibe, a spokesperson for Mr. Abubakar, reiterated the claim of the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation.
“It is all a matter of language, he told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone.
“The Economist endorsed us,” he said. “That is not the only endorsement we have received. The Atiku candidacy is getting more and more viable every day. I just told you. I am restating it. That’s an endorsement.”
But did the Economist magazine endorse Mr. Abubakar as claimed by his campaign organisation?
Here are the facts:
First, contrary to the claim of the Atiku Campaign Organisation, the reports it cited as containing the endorsements were not written by the Economist Magazine. Rather they were written by a sister company of the newspaper, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The EIU is the research and analysis division of the Economist Group, the parent company of the Economist magazine.
Both divisions are independent of each other. While the Economist magazine specialises in international business and world affairs news, the EIU provides forecasting and advisory services through research and analysis.
The EIU publishes monthly country economic forecast, risk services and industrial reports. It was the EIU reports on Nigeria in July and October that the Atiku Campaign organisation was referring to and not a report written by the Economist magazine, as it wrongly claimed.
As part of its editorial policy, the Economist endorses candidates and political parties ahead of major elections. The magazine, which was first published in September 1843 originally declined to take sides in elections on the ground that “a journal that is jealous of its reputation for independence would, in any event, be foolish to compromise it by openly taking sides in a general election.”
But in the run-up to the 1955 United Kingdom’s parliamentary election, it dropped its neutrality in election matters and endorsed Conservative candidate, Eden Anthony, arguing that “[I]n the election of 1955 an elector who tries to reach his conclusion by reason based on observation has no choice. He may not like voting Tory. But there is nothing else he can do.”
The magazine has since endorsed several prime ministerial candidates in the UK, American presidential candidates and candidates in other elections elsewhere.
Perhaps the magazine’s endorsement that many Nigerians will quickly remember was its February 2015 endorsement of Muhammadu Buhari, then the candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
After condemning the then incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, and Mr Buhari in almost equal measure, the newspaper grudgingly endorsed the latter for president saying: “We are relieved not to have a vote in this election. But were we offered one we would—with a heavy heart—choose Mr Buhari.”
And that was clearly what it did in its July and October country reports on Nigeria. In its October report on Nigeria, which the Atiku Campaign organisation cited as evidence of endorsement, the EIU clearly drew a parallel between the rising insecurity and what it termed “economic difficulty” and the outcome of next year’s presidential election.
“The Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts ongoing severe outbreaks of instability, given slow progress on tackling numerous security and societal challenges at a time of economic difficulty,” the report said. “With tight national elections expected in 2019, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will be focused on intra-party politics and security concerns will be sidelined. The election period itself will be a time of high risk; as a recent by-election in Osun state demonstrated, small-scale violence at the polls is highly likely, as is disputation of the results.”
The EIU therefore predicted that Mr Atiku would win the coming election. But this is not an endorsement. It is a prediction that flowed from the internal analysis by EIU personnel.
“Our baseline forecast is that the president, Muhammadu Buhari, will lose power, and that the next government will be led by Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP, the main opposition party), but instability will remain an insoluble challenge.”
The organisation then explained that in the event of Mr Atiku’s victory not all newly defected members of the PDP will be reward with appointments.
The EIU explained that the reason it predicted victory for Mr. Atiku and the PDP are believed to be more popular in the south of the country while the vote from the north would be split between Mr. Buhari and Mr. Atiku because both top contenders are from the north of the country.
“Mr Abubakar’s pledge is to reinvigorate the economy with pro-market reforms. Both candidates are from northern Nigeria, where Mr. Buhari’s support base lies, presaging a fierce contest there. With the vote likely to be split in the north, Mr Abubakar will find it easier to garner support from the country’s south, which has traditionally been a safe haven for the PDP. This gives Mr Abubakar an edge, as does popular frustration over the rise in joblessness and poverty (two of the biggest voter concerns) on Mr Buhari’s watch, as well as growing insecurity in central Nigeria.
“Nonetheless, strong incumbency advantages in Nigeria imply that it will be a very tight race. If Mr Abubakar loses–a distinct downside risk to our forecast–there may be a rejection of the result by the PDP, which is convinced the election will be rigged. In this scenario, a state of national paralysis could arise with severe national security implications,” the EIU wrote.
So, did the Economist Magazine endorse Mr Atiku for President as claimed by his campaign organisation?
VERDICT: The claim is false