Nigeria: Multiple Factors Could Shape the Outcome of Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

With many issues unresolved, it is safe to say that the political fate of Africa’s most populous country and the largest economy continues to hang in the balance.

… the surging interest among young people in participating in the election is another important factor that will be difficult to ignore. In the recently concluded voters registration exercise, 9,518,188 new voters were registered. In terms of demographic distribution, this comprises 7.2 million new voters, 76.5% of who are young people between the ages of 18 and 34 years, according to figures from INEC. 40% of this number are said to be students. The implication of improved turnout and the combined force of youthful newly registered voters may be the game changer in the forthcoming elections.

Less than sixty days to the forthcoming elections, a climate of uncertainty seems to be hanging over Nigeria, Africa’s most populous black country. The political arithmetic remains complex, as the three major political parties engage in the final days of the campaign and supremacy battle. Pollsters and pundits are divided on what the likely outcome of the presidential election will be. Nigeria’s ruling party remains unpopular after many years of decay and misrule under President Muhammadu Buhari. The country’s economy is in tatters; citizens live in constant fear due to rising terrorism and insecurity. Unemployment and poverty figures are soaring daily, while the exchange rate remains unstable, leading to ballooning fuel and food inflation. A few infrastructural projects that were commenced are yet to be completed. The polity remains sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines.

Tired Buhari Does Not Appear Keen On His Party’s Choice

The political elite remains fragmented about the right way forward for the country as its members coalesce around different political parties. The current leadership appears helpless amidst rising citizen discontent due to a myriad of failed promises. President Buhari seems overwhelmed and tired after he could not precisely pull off his much-touted succession plan. At the thick of the battle for nominations for his party’s presidential flag bearer, the President’s indecisiveness might have contributed to the mismanagement of the endeavour. He could not publicly name a successor, which paved the way for influential elements within the party to hijack the machinery and impose Bola Ahmed Tinubu through a heavily monetised and dollar-denominated convention. Neither President Buhari nor the party Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, hid the fact that they preferred other candidates. The President and his ministers hardly follow their party’s candidate on campaigns across the country. Also, many of the President’s supporters in his home state, Katsina, including his former appointees, are leaving the party in droves to support Atiku Abubakar, the leading opposition candidate who, like Buhari, is from the Fulani ethnic group.

Despite Their Misgivings, Some Governors Continue To Tag Along

Some of the governors, especially from the North, remain visible in the presidential campaigns of the All Progressives Congress candidate Mr Tinubu, suggesting their support for him. However, many remain disappointed that they were not chosen as his running mate, despite their support for his emergence. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State were some of those who mobilised support for Bola Tinubu to emerge as the presidential candidate of their party, while lobbying to be named as his running mate. However, after a lot of intrigues and horse trading, Mr Tinubu named a relatively unpopular but longstanding friend and loyalist, Kashim Shetima. Despite their misgivings and threats to sabotage him, the APC governors however prefer to support their presidential candidate as their own way of maintaining support in their various states and delivering their nominees contesting for various positions under the party.

Unsurprisingly, repeated polls about voters’ preference indicate that if a free and fair election is conducted, Mr Tinubu will be defeated across the country. The details reveal that he may not be able to inherit the support base of President Buhari across the North. Furthermore, it is evident that many young people across the country appear tired of older politicians and are determined to break the historical barriers and cut through the traditional voting patterns.

The APC Presidential Candidate Has Frail Health and Carries Multiple Baggage

The APC candidate appears to be carrying so much baggage. His health remains frail, his history is said to be contentious, and there are allegations that he might have been indicted for a drug trafficking offence back in the day in the United States of America. Despite being the governor and later godfather of Lagos politics, he does not appear to enjoy widespread support within his zone. Prominent and well-respected social-cultural groups have dissociated themselves from him and endorsed one of the leaders of the opposition and the former Governor Peter Obi. The lukewarm nature of Buhari’s support and the fact that he is not on the ballot have been unhelpful to the APC. To shore up 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 very contentious issue, that choice pitched him against Christians across the country, further eroding his popularity. Despite this choice, there are indications that what he expected to gain through leveraging his religious affiliation may be complicated because one of his major opponents in the contest is Mr Abubakar Atiku, a Northern Muslim. The North remains the most significant support base of the ruling APC. However, the emergence of Mr Atiku would likely alter the permutations, as he is likely to benefit substantially from those votes.

Poll Numbers Do Not Favour the Ruling Party, Yet Tinubu’s Supporters Remain Adamant

Unsurprisingly, repeated polls about voters’ preference indicate that if a free and fair election is conducted, Mr Tinubu will be defeated across the country. The details reveal that he may not be able to inherit the support base of President Buhari across the North. Furthermore, it is evident that many young people across the country appear tired of older politicians and are determined to break the historical barriers and cut through the traditional voting patterns. They have expressed their willingness to come out massively to vote in the next elections, and most have indicated that they will vote against the ruling party. Whether they will be able to walk the talk remains a conjecture. However, many people remain undecided, and the numbers are large enough to constitute a last-minute swing. NOI Polls has conducted such polling on presidential elections since 2011 with reasonable accuracy, although questions have arisen about improving the methodology. Some suggest that the polling mainly targets urban-based voters with social media capabilities, and may not reflect voters’ preferences in rural communities.

Nevertheless, politicians within the ruling party remain both confident and adamant. They dismiss the polling results as mere stunts of the opposition and point to how the power of incumbency can be used to alter electoral outcomes. Speculations are rife that the ruling party may be prepared to compromise the electoral process in its favour through massive vote buying. As the party controlling the central government, the security apparatuses remain firmly in its hands and they will likely do its bidding. This is despite the assurances from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it has installed a secure infrastructure that will disrupt rigging, known as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS).

Currently, Nigeria ranks 143 out of 163 on the Global Terrorism Index, slightly above Ethiopia and Pakistan. Many local government areas across Niger, Kaduna, Bornu, Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara States remain under the control of terrorists and bandits. These areas hold an estimated five million votes in total. It remains unclear how the elections will be conducted and whether ballots will be returned from these contested areas.

Improved Turnout and A Surge In New Young Voters May Be the Game Changer

The average turnout of voters hovers between 30 to 35% in the last two electoral cycles, according to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This means that between 65 to 70% of registered voters would not end up voting. Many develop apathy because of the fear that their votes may not count due to rigging and manipulation. With the introduction of BVAS, the general public confidence in the electoral process is expected to improve. This will likely increase the turnout. As mentioned, the surging interest among young people in participating in the election is another important factor that will be difficult to ignore. In the recently concluded voters registration exercise, 9,518,188 new voters were registered. In terms of demographic distribution, this comprises 7.2 million new voters, 76.5% of who are young people between the ages of 18 and 34 years, according to figures from INEC. 40% of this number are said to be students. The implication of improved turnout and the combined force of youthful newly registered voters may be the game changer in the forthcoming elections.

Widespread Violence and Exacerbated Security Challenges May Affect Turnout

The spread of conflict across the country through terrorism, kidnapping and banditry, as perpetrated by extremist groups and the unknown gunmen phenomenon, continues to deepen fears that the forthcoming elections will neither be free nor fair. Currently, Nigeria ranks 143 out of 163 on the Global Terrorism Index, slightly above Ethiopia and Pakistan. Many local government areas across Niger, Kaduna, Bornu, Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara States remain under the control of terrorists and bandits. These areas hold an estimated five million votes in total. It remains unclear how the elections will be conducted and whether ballots will be returned from these contested areas. Many analysts have raised concerns about the likelihood that these areas could be used by the ruling party to produce concocted figures from non-existent voters. Furthermore, there are mounting concerns about turnout in other places in the South-East, where separatist organisations violently enforce sit-at-home actions, which have spread fear among citizens. In the course of these, many offices belonging to INEC have been violently attacked, leading to the loss of lives and properties. With many issues unresolved, it is safe to say that the political fate of Africa’s most populous country and the largest economy continues to hang in the balance.

Uche Igwe is a Visiting Fellow at Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He can be reached on u.igwe@lse.ac.uk

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