Prof. Mahmood Yakubu — Chairman of INEC
Prof. Mahmood Yakubu — Chairman of INEC

Stakes high as Nigeria prepares for election

All eyes are on Nigeria as it prepares for its general elections which will be held on February 25, 2023, to elect the President and Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Presidential election is the seventh since the current wave of liberal democracy formally started in Nigeria in 1999.

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The vote in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, comes as the country faces widespread insecurity, with the electoral commission itself being a target of recent violence.

18 presidential candidates

Eighteen candidates, including a woman, will be vying for Nigeria’s presidency as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with early polls showing Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the most likely contenders in a country long dominated by the two parties. Peter Obi, a candidate for the Labour Party who has focused on combating corruption in his campaign, is also considered a frontrunner.

Senatorial candidates

The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, announced that it had also cleared 1,101 candidates for the 109 Senatorial seats and 3,122 candidates for the 360 seats in the House of Representatives and declared over 93.5 million Nigerians as eligible to participate in the exercise as voters.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu also noted that 12.29 million Nigerians successfully completed their registrations as new voters in the just concluded Continuous Voter Registration CVR. Yakubu added that after a rigorous clean up of the data using the Automated Biometric Identification System ABIS, over 2.78 million were identified and removed as ineligible registrants.

Election rigging

Accusations of election rigging have long plagued Nigeria’s elections, although officials have vowed that 2023 will be different. They have pinned that pledge to new technology meant to prevent repeated voting, as well as measures aimed at stifling vote buying.

“We are committed to ensuring that the 2023 general election is transparent and credible, reflecting the will of the Nigerian people”, INEC Chairman stated.

The new Nigerian president will immediately confront an exhausting array of challenges, from multiple, complex security crises, chronic unemployment and a worsening economic outlook.

Electoral system

The President of Nigeria is elected using a modified two-round system. To be elected in the first round, a candidate must receive a majority of the vote and over 25 per cent of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 states. If no candidate passes this threshold, a second round will be held between the top candidate and the next candidate to have received a plurality of votes in the highest number of states.

The 109 members of the Senate are elected from 109 single-seat constituencies (three in each state and one for the Federal Capital Territory) by first-past-the-post voting while the 360 members of the House of Representatives are also elected by first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies.

Upcoming polls

There are some reasons for optimism that the upcoming polls will be an improvement on the 2019 election. First, President Buhari has strongly signalled that he wants a credible, transparent electoral process to be an important part of his legacy.

Legal reforms enabled earlier planning to deploy new technology to improve voter accreditation and the transmission of results. A surge of new voter registrations, especially among young people, suggests that Nigerians believe the 2023 elections are a process worth their time and energy.

Ethnicity and regionalism

Four of the 18 presidential candidates in the election, regarded as the front runners, come from the three dominant ethnic groups in the country: Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.

From the north are Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president of the country (1999-2007) and the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party; and Rabi'u Musa Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State and the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a Yoruba from the south-west, is the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress. Peter Obi, an Igbo from the south-east and former governor of Anambra State, is the presidential candidate of the Labour Party.

Unwritten convention

Since the 1999 election, there has been an unwritten convention that presidential power will rotate every eight years between the northern and southern parts of the country. That’s why many individuals and groups from both the north and the south insist that President Muhammadu Buhari must be succeeded by someone from the south.

Some individuals and groups from the south-east further argue that because the zone has not yet produced a president, it should get its turn in 2023.

Some from the north-east, where Atiku comes from, equally argue that it should be their turn since the zone has not produced a national head since Tafawa Balewa, the country’s first and only prime minister, in the 1960s.

Religion

Just like ethnicity and regionalism, religion has always been an important tool of mobilisation and discord in Nigeria. Since 1999, there has also been a careful balancing act to ensure that the president and the vice-president do not share the same religion. While the north is predominantly Muslim, the south is predominantly Christian.

This balance was upset when Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba Muslim, chose Kashim Shettima, a Kanuri Muslim and former governor of Borno State, as his running mate. Many Nigerians and groups, including the Christian Association of Nigeria, strongly condemned the ticket.

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Until 2015, Nigeria’s political landscape was dominated by one party – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It was the only party strong enough to win presidential elections.

Coalition of opposition parties

However, this changed in 2015 when the All Progressives Congress, a coalition of opposition parties, defeated the sitting President, Goodluck Jonathan. This heralded an era of a two-party dominant state. The emergence of the Labour Party and the New Nigeria People’s Party seems to have changed the electoral dynamics.

Nigeria has been internally focused for over a decade, unable and unwilling to wield the kind of decisive regional influence that it did years ago. But Nigeria is inescapably important to the future of the continent.

The sheer size of its economy and population, alongside the power and reach of its cultural and creative industries, means that even with a desultory foreign policy, Nigeria’s trajectory will affect societies far beyond its borders.

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