Editor’s note: In this article, Dr. Uche Igwe shares his thoughts on how the 2023 presidential election could turn out. Igwe is a Senior Political Economy Analyst and Visiting Fellow at the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He can be contacted at u.igwe@lse.ac.uk

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Less than sixty days before the next elections, a climate of uncertainty seems to hang over Nigeria, the most populous black country in Africa. The political arithmetic remains complex, as all three major political parties become involved in the final days of the campaign and the battle for supremacy. Pollsters and experts are divided on what the likely outcome of the presidential election will be. Nigeria’s ruling party remains unpopular after many years of decline and misrule under the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari.

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Uche Igwe
Dr. Igwe argued that APC’s Bola Tinubu has a lot of baggage that could hurt its chances in 2023. Photo credit: @uche_igwe
Source: Twitter

The country’s economy is in tatters; citizens live in constant fear due to the increase in terrorism and insecurity. Unemployment and poverty numbers are skyrocketing daily, while the exchange rate remains volatile, leading to skyrocketing fuel and food inflation. Some infrastructure projects that were started have not yet been completed. Politics remains sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines.

Tired Buhari does not seem interested in his party’s choice

The political elite remains fragmented on the right path for the country, as its members coalesce around different political parties. The current leadership seems powerless amid growing citizen discontent over a myriad of failed promises. President Buhari looks overwhelmed and weary after he failed to carry out his much-vaunted succession plan with precision. In the heat of the battle over his party’s presidential flag-bearer nominations, the president’s indecisiveness may have contributed to company mismanagement. He was unable to publicly name a successor, paving the way for influential elements within the party to hijack the machine and impose Bola Ahmed Tinubu through a heavily monetized, dollar-denominated convention.

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Neither President Buhari nor the party’s chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, concealed the fact that they preferred other candidates. His president and ministers barely follow his party’s candidate in campaigns across the country. In addition, many of the president’s supporters in his home state of Katsina, including his former appointees, are leaving the party en masse to support Atiku Abubakar, the main opposition candidate who, like Buhari, is of the Fulani ethnic group.

Despite their doubts, some governors continue to accompany

Some of the governors, especially from the north, are still visible in the presidential campaigns of the All Progressive Congress candidate, Mr. Tinubu, suggesting their support for him. However, many remain disappointed that they were not chosen as his running mate, despite his support for his appearance. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State were among those who mobilized support for Bola Tinubu to emerge as their party’s presidential candidate, while pushing to be named as his running mate.

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However, after much scheming and haggling, Mr. Tinubu appointed a relatively unpopular but longstanding friend and loyalist, Kashim Shetima. Despite their misgivings and threats to sabotage it, APC governors prefer to support their presidential candidate as their own way of maintaining support in their various states and having their nominees compete for various positions within the party.

APC presidential candidate is in fragile health and burdened with multiple baggage

The APC candidate seems to be carrying a lot of baggage. His health remains delicate, his record is said to be controversial and there are allegations that he may have been prosecuted for a drug trafficking offense in the United States of America. Despite being the governor and later political godfather of Lagos, he does not seem to enjoy wide support within his area. Prominent and highly respected socio-cultural groups have disassociated themselves from him, backing one of the opposition leaders and former Governor Peter Obi.

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The tepid nature of Buhari’s support and the fact that he is not on the ballot have not helped the APC. To bolster his support in the northern part of the country, the APC presidential candidate chose a Muslim running mate. In a country where religion remains a highly contentious issue, that election pitted him against Christians across the country, further eroding his popularity. Despite this choice, there are indications that what he hoped to gain by taking advantage of his religious affiliation may be complicated because one of his main opponents in the race is Mr. Abubakar Atiku, a Muslim from the north. The north remains the most important base of support for the ruling APC. However, Atiku’s appearance would likely upset the permutations, as he is likely to benefit substantially from those votes.

Poll numbers do not favor the ruling party, but Tinubu’s supporters are holding their ground.

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Unsurprisingly, repeated voter preference polls indicate that if free and fair elections are held, Tinubu will be defeated across the country. The details reveal that he may not be able to inherit President Buhari’s support base in the north. In addition, it is clear that many young people across the country seem tired of older politicians and are determined to break down historical barriers and overcome traditional voting patterns. They have expressed their willingness to go out en masse to vote in the next elections, and the majority have indicated that they will vote against the ruling party. Whether they will be able to do what they say remains a guess.

However, many people remain undecided and the numbers are large enough to constitute a last minute change. NOI Polls has conducted such polls on the presidential election since 2011 with reasonable accuracy, although questions have been raised about how to improve the methodology. Some suggest the poll is primarily targeting urban voters with social media skills and may not reflect the preferences of voters in rural communities.

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However, politicians within the ruling party remain confident and inflexible. They dismiss the poll results as mere opposition tricks and point out how the power of incumbency can be used to alter election results. Speculation abounds that the ruling party may be prepared to compromise the electoral process in its favor through massive vote buying. As the party that controls the central government, the security apparatuses remain firmly in their hands and are likely to do their bidding. This is despite assurances from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it has installed a secure infrastructure that will disrupt tampering, known as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS).

Improved turnout and an increase in new young voters can be a game changer

The average participation of voters is between 30 and 35% in the last two electoral cycles, according to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This means that between 65 and 70% of registered voters would not end up voting. Many develop apathy fearing their votes won’t count due to fraud and manipulation. With the introduction of BVAS, the confidence of the general public in the electoral process is expected to improve. This is likely to increase participation.

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As mentioned, the growing interest of young people in participating in elections is another important factor that will be difficult to ignore. In the recently concluded voter registration exercise, 9,518,188 new voters were registered. In terms of demographic distribution, this includes 7.2 million new voters, of which 76.5% are young people between 18 and 34 years old, according to INEC figures. It is said that 40% of this number are students. The implication of improved turnout and the combined strength of newly registered young voters may be the game changer in the upcoming election.

Widespread violence and exacerbated security challenges can affect participation

The spread of the conflict throughout the country through terrorism, kidnappings and banditry, perpetrated by extremist groups and the phenomenon of unknown gunmen, continues to raise fears that the upcoming elections will be neither free nor fair. Nigeria is currently ranked 143 out of 163 in the Global Terrorism Index, slightly above Ethiopia and Pakistan. Many local government areas in the states of Niger, Kaduna, Borno, Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara remain under the control of terrorists and bandits. These areas have an estimated five million votes in total. It is unclear how the elections will be conducted and whether ballots from these disputed areas will be returned. Many analysts have raised concerns that the ruling party could use these areas to produce fabricated voter numbers that do not exist.

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In addition, there is growing concern about participation elsewhere in the southeast, where separatist organizations violently enforce stay-at-home actions that have sown fear among citizens. In the course of these, many offices belonging to the INEC have been violently attacked, causing the loss of life and property. With many unresolved issues, it is safe to say that the political fate of Africa’s most populous country and largest economy still hangs in the balance.

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