Nigeria will vote to elect a new President today to take over from Muhammadu Buhari in a contest pitting the old guards against a third-party candidate seeking to upset the established political order.
Aside from the presidential vote, the public will also be choosing their representatives for Parliament – the National Assembly- and there are 469 legislators, made up of 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
The presidential and parliamentary elections are seen as the most wide open since Africa’s most populous nation switched from military rule to democracy in 1999 with more than 93.5 million people who have registered to vote.
There will be about 176,600 polling stations across the country, including in camps for people displaced by conflict between Islamist insurgents and federal troops in the northeast.
Close electoral contest
Saturday, February 25 vote could be Nigeria’s most credible and close electoral contest since military rule ended nearly a quarter of a century ago and the first in which a presidential candidate is not from one of the two main parties stands a chance.
Although there are 18 candidates on the ballot including a woman, only three are considered the top contenders.
Former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) faces Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi, a wild-card candidate who defected from the PDP to the smaller Labour Party and now leads in at least five opinion polls.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Tinubu is the flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress, a party he helped form with Buhari in 2013.
A Lagos governor between 1999-2007, the 70-year-old is an influential figure in the southwest, earning him the nickname “Godfather of Lagos.” Over the years, the wealthy businessman has been followed by allegations of corruption, which he rejects.
He forged his political career opposing military rule in the early 1990s. This is Tinubu’s first presidential election run, which comes after years of forming political, ethnic and religious alliances across Nigeria. He is an ethnic Yoruba and a Muslim.
He aims to continue the Buhari-era policies such as building public infrastructure and greater central bank intervention in the economy and also end a costly fuel subsidy and channel the money into agricultural and social welfare programmes while expanding the military.
Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima, is a Muslim from northeastern Borno state where he was governor at the height of an Islamist insurgency. The choice of Shettima was a departure from the established norm where presidential candidates choose a running mate from another religion.
Atiku is running on the ticket of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, the party of Olusegun Obasanjo which was ousted from power in 2015.
The 76-year-old former vice president is running for the third time after his loss to Buhari in 2019. Atiku, like Tinubu, has been dogged by allegations of corruption, which he has dismissed as baseless.
He plans to privatize the state oil company, ensure a greater role for the private sector in the economy, liberalise the exchange rate and provide more equipment to the military.
A northern Muslim from the Fulani ethnic group, Atiku has businesses in port logistics among several ventures. His running mate is Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, a Christian governor from oil-producing Delta state. The choice of Okowa points to a strategy by Atiku to generate support in the largely Christian south.
Peter Gregory Obi
Peter Obi has generated substantial buzz among young voters and is looking to harness Nigerians’ anger with the status quo to drive his third-party presidential bid.
The 61-year-old bespectacled former governor and banker was Atiku’s running mate in 2019. He says he is happy to stand on his record as governor of Anambra state, which posted a rare budget surplus in 2014.
He has used a slick social media campaign to galvanise the vote of restless and increasingly disaffected youth, fed up with traditional politics and the old men who tend to dominate them – Tinubu and Abubakar are both in their 70s.
But analysts question whether the polls Obi leads are reliable and note that he does not have the resources or extensive political base – built up over decades – that the other two have. He promises to triple power generation, dismantle a multiple-rate naira exchange rate regime, gradually wean the economy off its reliance on oil by ramping up agriculture output and exports and better fund the military.
Obi is a Christian from the Igbo tribe in the volatile southeast, where some members are agitating to secede from Nigeria. His running mate Yusuf Baba-Ahmed is an economist and former senator from northern Kaduna state, who is also the founder of Baze University in Abuja.
Whoever Nigerians choose to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari – only the second incumbent in Nigerian history to bow out willingly after serving two democratic terms – will have to resolve a litany of crisis that have worsened under the retired army general’s administration.
These include banditry and militant violence now affecting most parts of the country, systemic corruption that deters investment and enriches a well-connected elite, high inflation and widespread cash shortages after a botched introduction of new bills late last year. All three candidates have made roughly similar promises to tackle these issues.
Amid fears that a close poll may be disputed and trigger even more violence and chaos, all candidates signed a peace pledge last Wednesday, promising to seek redress at the courts for any grievances.
“This is the only country we have, and we must do everything to keep it safe, united and peaceful,” Buhari said at the signing in the capital Abuja. “There should be no riots or acts of violence after the announcement of the election results”.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has taken measures to ensure this election will be free and fair – a major concern in a nation with a long history of electoral fraud and violence.