In less than 10 days, it is expected that Nigerians head to the polls to elect a new President against a backdrop of currency and fuel scarcity, increasing insecurity and general unease. On Thursday 16th February, the incumbent President in a speech to address the growing crisis borne from the implementation of the Naira redesign policy affirmed that despite the current challenges, the elections will go on as scheduled.
The sixth election since Nigeria’s 1999 transition to democracy, the 2023 elections check many boxes left unchecked by previous elections. The unprecedented dynamics surrounding the forthcoming elections make it clear that this periodic governance ritual may not be business as usual. The imminent elections are markedly different on many levels for the following reasons: the existence of a third force with a matching political clout, the ethnic representation of the front runners, cross-platform endorsements, the unparalleled political awareness and civic engagement of the youths, and the record breaking number of attacks and riots, which analysts believe are under reported.
Since 1999, there have been no election reruns principally due to the fact that allegiances were not overly fragmented but the 2023 elections hint at it.
A Potential Rerun?
The successful candidate is expected to win at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT*. In a case where these conditions are not met, it results in a rerun election. Since 1999, there have been no election reruns principally due to the fact that allegiances were not overly fragmented. Before now, elections have been a contest between two main political parties or coalitions despite others’ participation. This is evidenced by the 2015 and 2019 election cycles. In 2015, the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were the front runners despite at least 19 other candidates being on the ballot. In a similar pattern, Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP were the front runners in 2019 despite at least 50 other candidacies. However, the 2023 elections present a viable third force in Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso’s candidacies; both with significant following in some parts of the country. By fragmenting religious and ethnic allegiances, it is expected that that their candidacies would be a game changer leading to hints at a potential rerun.
Closely linked to the existence of a third force is the ethno-religious representation of the candidates. It is established that ethnicity and religion have been major determinants of political outcomes in Nigeria especially since 2011. Given that the three major ethnic groups are represented at the frontlines of the presidential contest: Atiku Abubakar (Hausa/Fulani), Rabiu Kwankwanso (Hausa) Bola Tinubu (Yoruba) and Peter Obi (Igbo). A first since 1999 and second only to 1979 in Nigeria’s electoral history. It is noteworthy that the frontrunners have tried to cushion the ethnicity effect on their candidacies with the choice of their running mates. For example, these ethnic considerations were at the root of the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Uncharacteristic Cross Platform Endorsement
On the list of many firsts are also the proliferation of cross-platform endorsements in the lead up to the 2023 elections. Elder statesmen and leading politicians categorically declared their support for Presidential candidates from other ethnicities and rival political parties. The arguments advanced for this include Nigeria’s federal character, religious inclusion, and effective governance. For example, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi has been endorsed by Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani elder statesmen as well non-Labour party politicians. Similarly, the Nyesom Wike led G5 PDP governors have also alienated themselves from the campaign of their party’s flagbearer, Atiku Abubakar while endorsing Bola Tinubu, the APC Candidate. Although the PDP claims that the G5’s support will be inconsequential to the results of the elections, the impact of such an alienation cannot be ruled out.
This election cycle also sees an unprecedented level of political awareness and civic engagement especially among the youths
Unprecedented civic engagement
This election cycle also sees an unprecedented level of political awareness and civic engagement especially among the youths. Some of the many factors underlying this youthful engagement include the government’s repression of the 2020 youth-led #EndSars protest that resulted in the Lekki Massacre, the government’s subsequent denial of culpability, widespread insecurity, the poor socio-economic indicators – Nigeria is regarded as the poverty capital of the world and currently has the highest number of out-of-school children, the mass exodus of young Nigerian in the japa* wave etc. All these have made young Nigerians more politically aware and determined to make choices that will steer the country in the right direction. As evidenced by the civic and political engagement on social media platforms, notably, Twitter, there is an increased involvement of youth, and this is evidenced by INEC’s statistics that note an increase in number of new registrations with the addition of 9,518,188 voters.
Initially zoned to the country’s Northeast, insecurity in Nigeria has become widespread with different manifestations across the country’s six geopolitical zones. In the Northwest, banditry and terrorism have become commonplace, farmer-herder clashes continue in the Middle Belt and across the country. In the South-south, vestiges of Niger-Delta militancy fuels occasional crises. In the Southeast, the serial operation of unknown gunmen, enforcement of IPOB’s sit-at-home order and the continued protests for Nnamdi Kanu’s release fuel insecurity and instability. In the Southwest, pockets of violence and kidnap for ransom cases which were rare in the region have become common place. The 2023 elections are scheduled to hold amid this threatening milieu of insecurity. In addition, the 2022 floods displaced over one million Nigerians across 24 states resulting in an IDP situation that is not without consequences for the conduct of 2023 elections. The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) would therefore need to ensure effective logistics coordination, security of polling officials and access to polls in what would be the most daunting elections it has yet organized.
In the lead-up to the 2023 elections and especially in 2022, there was an unprecedented number of attacks on INEC offices across the country. More specifically since July 2022 after the conclusion of most party primaries, there were eight attacks in five states with states in the Nigeria’s south being more affected. With the unprecedented nature of the dynamics surrounding the next elections, there is no doubt that the 2023 elections is a high-stake exercise for the security, economic prosperity and of Nigeria. The effect of this unprecedented dynamics on the conduct and credibility of the 2023 Elections remain to be seen.
* Abuja is not considered one of the 36 states. There may be some divergence in interpretation.
* A Yoruba slang which means “to run, flee or escape”, has taken root in the minds of young Nigerians and become something they aspire to, in hopes of a better future in a more structured system.