Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, goes to the polls today to elect a new president, governors and senators.
The presidential and parliamentary elections, which have been described as the most tightly contested since military rule ended in 1999, has 15,336 candidates battling for various positions. They are locking horns over one presidential slot, 28 governorship seats, 469 legislative seats in the National Assembly, and 993 legislative slots in the State Houses of Assembly.
The fate of the candidates, nominated across 18 existing political parties, will be determined at 176,846 polling units across the country.
Although there are 93,469,008 registered voters, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has stated that 87,209,007 of the voters had collected their permanent voter cards (PVCs) and are expected to cast their votes.
With 18 candidates vying for the presidency, the stakes are high and many watchers of the political space say the outcome of the election could be a make or break for Nigeria.
Political analysts have also said the presidential election is too close to call, with the four leading candidates being Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
Abubakar, a veteran politician and PDP candidate, is making a sixth shot at the presidency. He is hoping to win political power and return to power the party which ruled the country from
1999 to 2015 with Olusegun Obasanjo as President. Other presidents who ruled on the ticket of the party include Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, who completed the term of Yar’Adua when he passed away as sitting President.
The veteran politician’s campaign hinged on unifying what he described as a “divided country” and lifting Nigeria’s economy.
In Nigeria, where ethnicity and religious background plays key role in electoral victory, Abubakar is a force to reckon. He is a northern Muslim, ethnic Fulani – from the northeast.
He has selected Ifeanyi Okowa, the outgoing governor of Delta State in the south and a Christian, as his running mate.
Tinubu and Atiku, former political and business associates, were among the founder fathers of the APC. However, the pair will face off tomorrow on different sides, with each hoping to outdo the other.
Tinubu is a two-term governor of Lagos State, Nigeria’s economic capital, and credited with raising the state’s revenue.
At the core of his campaign is to replicate his success on the national stage.
For more than three decades, he had selected Kashim Shettima, ex-governor of Borno, as his running mate.
Tinubu and Shettima are both Muslims, from the southwest and northeast, respectively.
Peter Obi is the former governor of the southeastern state of Anambra, whose emergence and strong showing so far has effectively disrupted the traditional two-horse race.
He 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.
Kwankwaso comes with 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 said to be popular among the youth in his home region for his welfarist politics.
One big achievement attributed to him was a significant scholarship scheme that benefited thousands of students from low-income households in Kano.
Kwankwaso is running along with Isaac Idahosa, a bishop in the Pentecostal Christian denomination, who hails from Edo State in the south.
Other African countries, including Ghana, are keenly keeping an eye on the polls in Nigeria with the hope that the West African giant would emerge united and stronger after the polls.
Ahead of the polls, concerns have been raised that the volatile security situation during the campaign could escalate at the drop of a hat.
For instance, a recent report of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said this year’s elections would be the most challenging to conduct in Nigeria, saying the raging insecurity, preparedness of INEC and conduct of presidential candidates would shape the outcome of the polls.
“But the credibility of the 2023 general election will also depend on the degree to which citizens can vote freely and unencumbered,” CDD-Nigeria said.
“Insecurity remains a critical issue, particularly in the North-West and South-East. Further challenging this operation are the prevailing structural, infrastructural and cultural ecosystems in which the polls will take place,” the political think tank added.
As part of measures to forestall the integrity of the elections, Nigeria closed all its land borders on the eve of the polls.
According to Nigerian Immigration Service, the directive was meant to ensure that the “elections are free, fair and devoid of anomalies.”
In line with that directive, border officials have been told to ensure strict enforcement of the order.
The immigration service said it had seized 6,000 voter cards and other Nigerian identification documents from illegal immigrants in the run-up to the elections.
President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday urged security agencies to be “firm and courageous” in the election period, and warned against riots after the announcement of election results.
Thousands of local and international journalists have been deployed to cover the elections in Nigeria, including the Daily Graphic’s Foreign and Supplements Editor, Mary Mensah, who will bring you up-to-the-minute stories and analysis on Africa’s biggest elections.
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