Its Election Day in Nigeria – 2023 Edition

Voters in Africa’s most populous country go to the polls today to elect its next president and decide the political party makeup of its National Assembly. Over 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote. More than a third of those registered voters are youth between 19 and 34. There are 18 candidates in the race, but only four have the notoriety and money to compete for president. The four are Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).

All eyes have been on Nigeria for weeks as the government and electoral management body have prepared to conduct Africa’s most significant elections. While Americans have been focused on internal politics across Africa, the question I continue to get is – Who will be Nigeria’s next President? As I have traveled to Tanzania and Rwanda in the past few months, friends and colleagues are curious about Nigeria’s election. Many of these individuals might struggle to name the candidates of the APC or PDP but are quick to ask me about the fate of Peter Obi! Many young Nigerians have put their electoral aspirations on Obi and consider him an outsider. Despite this label, Obi was the former governor of Anambra State in Southeast Nigeria and the 2019 vice presidential candidate for PDP. However, young voters have latched on to his promise to fight corruption and create jobs.

I often tell my friends who ask if Obi will win that it is hard for me to see Obi winning in the Nigeria I left in 2019. That is not to say he cannot win, it’s just to say that he has much work to turn out his base to take him across the finish line. Political parties’ matter in Nigeria because they provide the infrastructure and financing to turn out voters. The APC and PDP, because of their years as the ruling party in the country (APC eight years and PDP 16 years), have extensive structures not only in their favorable territory but also in locations where the party is not so popular. Most importantly, both parties have governors across the country will help ensure their party voters will turn out on election day. Obi has become the darling of social media. You can’t go through Twitter or Instagram without seeing someone declaring themselves ‘Obident,’ a phrase given to Obi supporters. But it’s hard to gauge the impact of social media users in Nigeria. Many voters who will queue to vote on election day don’t engage on social media. The election will not be won on social media but at the state level. And this is where it is hard for me to see Obi winning.

I met Peter Obi (center) in September 2022 in Abuja.

To win an election outright, a candidate has to win the most votes, with at least 25% of the vote share in at least 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. If a candidate doesn’t meet this threshold, the election will go to a runoff between the top two candidates. For the first time Nigeria’s return to Democracy in 1999, a third-party presidential candidate has a legitimate chance to win the presidency. But while most of the attention has focused on Peter Obi, another candidate can play the spoiler role in today’s election. That candidate is the red hat-wearing Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. Kwankwaso is a former defense minister, former senator and served two terms as governor of Kano, one of Nigeria’s most populous states. He is the presidential candidate for the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP). While has candidacy has gotten the same level of attention as Obi, his candidacy can take votes away from other presidential candidates.

Despite coming to power declaring he would fix the economy, tackle corruption, and strengthen security in the country, President Buhari has struggled to connect to the citizens. I remember his powerful advertisement in 2015. However, the economy has suffered two recessions in the last five years, and the naira has plummeted to one-third of its value. When I arrived in Nigeria on May 25, 2014, one US dollar would get me 162 naira. When I left Nigeria in November 2019 one US dollar would get me 361 naira. Today, one US dollar equals 460 naira. And this is the official rate. The black-market rate for naria today is one US dollar equals 755 naira. There is also insecurity, especially in the northeast, northwest and southeast, where armed groups continue to conduct frequent killings and kidnappings. In addition, the power supply has dropped, leaving many Nigerians in the dark for days at a time; fuel queues have started again, forcing Nigerians to spend hours, if not days waiting to purchase fuel, and the introduction of new naira notes has made it almost impossible to access cash. Just last night a friend told me he had to pay 5,000 naira to take out 20,000 naira from his account.

Nigerians are fed up, and once again, the country finds itself “Dancing on the Brink.”  But let me end this blog by crediting the electoral management body. Last month, the body’s chairman declared that the election could not be postponed. 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections were all delayed to a later date. The 2019 delay came as people were queuing to vote at polling units. It was pushed back by a week. Earlier this morning, I talked to a friend who was about to leave his house to go vote. The electoral management body seems better prepared for this election than 2015 and 2019. The success of any election starts with the preparation of electoral management body.

Meeting the Chairman of the electoral management body (INEC) in 2018. With the president of IRI (center) and my former Africa Director (over my shoulder)

Here’s to a safe, free, fair election in Africa’s most populous country and my home for nearly six years.

One Comment on “Its Election Day in Nigeria – 2023 Edition

  1. As always, your life continues to fascinate me. I look forward to a follow-up regarding the election results.

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