Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria – On February 25, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s replacement as he is serving out the second of his constitutionally permitted two four-year terms.
Eighteen candidates are jostling to succeed him as leader of Africa’s biggest economy.
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Top contenders include Bola Tinubu, a two-term former governor of Lagos and a major stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party as well as the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who is gunning for the position a record sixth time.
Also in the race are the Labour Party’s (LP) Peter Obi, a two-time former governor of Anambra, and Rabiu Kwankwaso, ex-defence minister and former governor of the northern hub Kano, on the ticket of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).
Who are the main candidates?
The PDP remains Nigeria’s key opposition and Abubakar, a veteran who is on his sixth attempt to be president, is hoping to clinch the presidency and return the party, which was at the helm of affairs from 1999 to 2015, to power.
He has hinged his campaign on unifying what remains a divided country and lifting Nigeria’s economy, which has suffered two recessions in four years, out of the doldrums.
In Nigeria, which is split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims, there is a gentlemanly agreement between the main parties to share power between north and south, and Christians and Muslims. The outgoing Buhari is a northern Muslim.
Abubakar, like Buhari, is a northern Muslim – and ethnic Fulani – from the northeast. He has selected Ifeanyi Okowa, the outgoing governor of Delta State in the south and Christian, as his running mate.
Tinubu and Atiku, former political and business associates, were among the founding fathers of the APC but square up on Saturday on different sides, with each hoping to pull one over the other.
The former, a two-term governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, is credited with raising the state’s revenue, and supporters say he will replicate his success on the national stage.
He has courted controversy by doing what was considered unthinkable for more than three decades, selecting Kashim Shettima, ex-governor of Borno, as his running mate. Tinubu and Shettima are both Muslims, from the southwest and northeast, respectively.
Ahead of Saturday’s vote, they have argued that competency overrules religion.
The former governor of the southeastern state of Anambra, whose emergence and strong showing so far has effectively disrupted the traditional two-horse race, is also being projected as a surprise winner of the vote.
Multiple polls have predicted a win for the Labour Party and Obi, who has a large following among Nigerian youths who are disenchanted with governance in Africa’s largest economy. He was on the PDP ticket alongside Abubakar in 2019.
Obi, a wealthy capitalist famed for his frugality and overseeing an infrastructure drive during his time as governor is running with Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, a former senator from the northwestern state of Kaduna.
Seen as a wildcard in the race, Kwankwaso comes with enough experience to match the other frontrunners. A former two-time governor of Kano and defence minister, he has served in the two houses of parliament.
He is immensely popular among the youth in his home region for his welfarist politics. One big achievement was a significant scholarship scheme that benefitted thousands of students from low-income households in Kano, previously known for its high numbers of the almajirai, out-of-school child beggars.
Kwankwaso is running alongside Isaac Idahosa, a bishop in the Pentecostal Christian denomination, who hails from Edo State in the south.
What are the key issues in this election?
Buhari came to power promising to fix the economy, as well as tackling corruption and insecurity. But his presidency has been so underwhelming that even Tinubu, the APC’s national leader, has repeatedly dissociated himself from the failings of the government.
The economy has endured two recessions in the last five years, and the naira has plummeted to one-third of its value in that time. There is also insecurity, especially in the northeast, northwest and southeast, where multiple armed groups hold grievances against the state and continue to conduct frequent rounds of killings and kidnappings.
The current campaign period has focused on these same issues.
Are there any security concerns?
In addition to insecurity in parts of the country, there have been attacks on a number of state offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While there is a long-running pattern of violence around Nigeria’s usually keenly contested elections, experts say the new wave comes with precision and sophistication.
However, INEC has said it is not considering postponing the elections.
How many elections are there?
The election cycle includes elections for governorships and members of parliament at the federal and state levels.
- Elections will be held in all 109 senatorial districts and 360 constituencies in Nigeria’s bicameral federal legislature on February 25, the same day as the presidential election.
- Two weeks later, 28 of the country’s 36 states hold the governorship and state parliament elections in March 2023.
The governing party enjoys a wide-margin majority in the legislature.
- In the Senate, the APC has 66 seats, while the PDP, the main opposition party, holds 38 seats. The rest are distributed among other fringe parties, except for three vacant seats.
- In the House of Representatives, the APC controls 227 seats, with PDP having 121. One seat is vacant, while 11 other seats are shared among five smaller parties.
How will voting be done?
The upcoming vote will have more technology features in the electoral process than in previous elections.
- Parliamentary debates about a new electoral law ended last year when President Buhari eventually signed a bill to that effect.
- The most notable improvement is the legal backing for the electoral commission to use verify and transmit results electronically. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to accredit voters using biometrics, and upload results.
- BVAS was test-run in an off-cycle election last year.
Here is how voting will happen:
- Voters go to the assigned polling booths as the polls open for voters’ accreditation.
- Usually, votes are tallied in the presence of parties’ agents and interested electorate after voting has ended. The results are then transferred manually to a collation centre, which has previously left the process susceptible to logistical challenges and in some cases, malpractice.
- In recent elections, the transmission of results has been done both manually and electronically. This time, things become even more transparent: results from the polling units are scanned and uploaded to a web portal accessible by registered members of the public.
- Still, the manual method remains the legally approved method of transmission according to the Electoral Act. Festus Okoye, chairman of INEC’s Information and Voter Education Committee, has said the electronic results will only be consulted in the case of disputes.
How are winners declared?
In the presidential election:
- Beyond winning a simple majority, the victorious candidate also has to have at least 25 percent of the votes cast in at least 24 of the country’s 36 states.
- If no candidate meets these criteria, a run-off will be conducted within 21 days, with only two candidates allowed to participate: the one with the highest number of votes in total and the candidate who garnered the required 25 percent votes in more states than any other candidate.
- If there are two candidates who meet the second criterion, the candidate with the highest vote tally will be picked to run against the candidate with the majority of the votes in the first round of voting.
- Essentially, second place in the first voting round does not guarantee a spot in the run-off.
- The election can be cancelled if wide malpractice is recorded. In this case, a rerun will be ordered instead of a run-off.
In governorship and state parliament elections:
- The winner must get the highest number of votes and 25 percent of the votes cast in two-thirds of the state’s local government areas.
Plugging a loophole
- The new legislation has resolved a legal loophole that previously existed. According to Section 34 of the Electoral Act, if a candidate dies before the polls open, INEC will suspend the election for 14 days for the affected party to nominate a new candidate.
- If the incident happens after polls have opened but no winner has been declared, INEC can delay the election up to 21 days.
- In this case, if it is an executive role, the running mate takes over the ticket and the beneficiary picks their running mate.
- In the case of a legislative role, the party has 14 days to nominate a new candidate.
- If the president-elect dies before being sworn in, the vice president-elect will be sworn in instead and the new president-elect will nominate a new vice president which has to be approved by a plenary sitting of the National Assembly.
In parts of Africa, personality-driven politics and patronage culture are still dominant, so ideology politics is not as entrenched on the continent as it was under military regimes.
Political actors are frequently crossing party divides and changing their stance on national issues depending on the stage of their career and other variables in an electoral cycle.
Below is an approximate representation of their ideological standing – economically and culturally.
When will we know the results?
The results of the elections are usually announced within three to five days after the elections.