Liberia: Nigeria Goes to Elections Tomorrow

Although there are a total of 18 candidates running, the three top contenders are governing party APC’s Bola Tinubu,right, the opposing People’s Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar, left, and the wildcard from the Labour Party, Peter Obi.  

 —  Whoever wins, will be inheriting a country that is battling myriad economic and security problems that range from fuel and cash shortages to rising terror attacks, high inflation, and a plummeting local currency.

On February 25, more than 93.4 million Nigerians will go to the polls to elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor as he serves out the second of his constitutionally permitted two four-year terms.

Eighteen candidates are jostling to succeed him in what has become a fiercely   three-horse-race contest. Whoever wins, will be inheriting a country that is battling myriad economic and security problems that range from fuel and cash shortages to rising terror attacks, high inflation, and a plummeting local currency.  

Nigeria as Africa largest economy and most populated county,  stands as  beacon for Africa but also stands the risk of bringing darkness to the continent because whatever happens during this election, it will have great repercussions across the continent and also the impact will be felt around the world.

The top presidential contenders include Bola Tinubu, a two-term former governor of Lagos and a major stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the People's Democratic Party's (PDP) Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president seeking the position for a record sixth time, and the Labour Party's (LP) Peter Obi, a two-term former governor of Anambra.

Nigeria’s presidential elections have typically been two-horse races between the ruling and opposition parties, but this year’s vote has a third strong contender, Peter Obi, who is running under the lesser known Labour Party.

Tinubu, 70, a former governor of Nigeria’s wealthy Lagos State, wields significant influence in the southwestern region where he is acclaimed as a political godfather and kingmaker.

The affluent political veteran, boasts of aiding the election of Buhari to the presidency on his fourth attempt in 2015, after three previous unsuccessful bids.

The ruling party candidate has, however, been dogged by allegations of graft which he strongly denies. Critics say he has also not convincingly addressed concerns about his health, and has, at times, appeared confused and incoherent on the campaign trail. He has also made gaffes that have made him the butt of jokes and viral memes on social media.

Tinubu has also come under criticism for abstaining from presidential debates and delegating questions about his manifesto to members of his team during a recent outing at the UK think tank Chatham House.

One of Tinubu’s main challengers is the opposition party’s Abubakar, who is running for the sixth time following five previous losses.

Abubakar, 76, who served as vice president from 1999 to 2007, is a staunch capitalist who made his fortune investing in various sectors in the country. The tycoon has been investigated for corruption in the past. However, he denies any wrongdoing.

Many believe Abubakar’s presidential ambition might usurp an unofficial arrangement to rotate the presidency between Nigeria’s northern and southern regions, since he is from the same northern region as the outgoing leader, Buhari.

Peter Obi is a two-time former governor of Anambra State who is being touted as a credible alternative to the two major candidates.

Obi eschews the excesses of the typical ‘African Big Man’ leader. He shuns a large entourage, flies economy class and carries his own luggage. His “no frills” approach has attracted hordes of supporters, mostly young Nigerians who call themselves ‘Obidients.’

Obi is also the only Christian among the leading candidates. His southeastern region has yet to produce a president or vice president since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999.

The ruling party’s Tinubu, although from the religiously mixed southwestern part of the country, is a Muslim and also chose a Muslim running mate, fueling public anger over his choice.

Described by Tinubu as “Mr. Stingy,” Obi, 61, is famed for his frugal approach and is seen as a ‘Mr Clean’ of Nigerian politics.

However, his offshore accounts were among those found in the Pandora Papers, which exposed the hidden riches of the global elite in 2021. Obi denies any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, this year's election is the first time since the country's return to democracy in 1999, that none of the contenders is an incumbent or a former military leader. 

And as Nigeria deals with its internal crises, there is also a crisis of confidence in democracy across West Africa. In the past three years, a series of coups and attempted coups in its neighbours Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Mali have led to the region being called the “coup belt”.

Several former African presidents have travelled to Nigeria ahead of the vote to serve as heads of foreign observer missions. They include South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and Ghana’s John Mahama.

Civil society leaders and experts say Nigeria is being perceived as a stabilising force in West Africa and another successful civilian-civilian transition would be key to establishing its influence in the region for good.

Many experts and observers believe that when Nigeria, as Africa’s "bellwether", gets it right at the polls on Saturday, the rest, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and others who are poised for elections later this year, would.

Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham and an expert on African politics, could not put it any better, saying: “If the Nigerian election is successful and seen to be democratic, that is going to be a big shot in the arm for democracy more generally across Africa … but the opposite is also true.”

At the United States Africa Leaders Summit last year, US President Joe Biden sought assurance from President Muhammandu Buhari, George Weah and their counterparts from Sierra Leone, DRC, Gabon that there will be free and fair elections in their respective countries.

Despite a dozen African countries going to the polls this year, experts agree that the Nigerian election is the one that matters the most. Some described it as a cause for optimism and also a test.

“Nigeria has now had almost 24 years of uninterrupted democracy and the two-term limit is being followed. But Nigeria has to get it right,” the Foreign Policy, the US global affairs magazine, said in its latest publication.  “The Nigeria election is the most important anywhere in the world in 2023,” it said, while describing it as “a global event.”

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.

To be declared the winner of the presidential election, a candidate must have obtained the highest number of votes and at least 25 per cent of the ballots in at least two-thirds of the 36 states and in Abuja. If none of the candidates qualifies, there will be a run-off between the top two candidates within 21 days, which would be a first in Nigeria's democratic history.

Like Liberia, the youthful population of Nigeria is poised to be the prime game changer in the election.  Almost 40 percent of registered voters are under the age of 35 and many are hoping to finally trigger change by casting a ballot.  

Source: CNN and  Al Jazeera