/ 24 February 2023

Nigerian poll anything but predictable

Atiku Abubakar (1)
Persistent: Supporters of Atiku Abubaker, who is taking a sixth shot at the top job.

The last Nigerian president to leave his successor something tangible to build on was Olusegun Obasanjo, who left office in 2007. 

Even then, his administration’s economic progress was marred by unconstitutional third-term ambitions, the massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Odi and conflict over oil.

Since then, the clamour has been for change rather than continuity. Umaru Yar’Adua ruled from his sickbed, almost sparking a constitutional crisis, and he eventually died in office. 

Goodluck Jonathan, the accidental president who inherited his predecessor’s office, will be remembered for his failure to bring back the close to 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, 100 of whom are still missing. 

Muhammadu Buhari, over two terms, has presided over a collapsing currency and a contracting economy, even as insecurity worsens and the brain drain gathers pace. 

If all goes according to plan — and it doesn’t always — Nigerians will head to the polls on Saturday seeking yet another change. 

Usually, elections here are a two-horse race but this time is a little different. There are three frontrunners and one dark horse. In the absence of reliable polling, it is difficult to assess the depth of any candidate’s support.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, from the incumbent’s All Progressives Conference, is a political savant who has, over two messy decades, been a kingmaker at both local and national levels. Now, with the ruling party’s formidable political machine at his disposal, he has a fair shot of sitting on the throne.

Atiku Abubakar, a vice president under Obasanjo, has run for the top job on five previous occasions. He lost every time but has grown a power base that cuts across Nigeria’s traditional geographical, religious and ethnic divides. He styles himself as a pro-business candidate.

Peter Obi, the surprise frontrunner, made his name as the governor of Anambra State. He is one of the only governors in Nigerian history to have left state coffers in better shape than he found them.

Frontrunner: People wait for Peter Obi, who has a reputation for humility and frugality, to speak.

He has cultivated a reputation of humility and frugality, unlike other politicians, but he might struggle to find support outside his power base in the south, although he has chosen a running mate from the north to mitigate this.

The dark horse is Rabiu Kwakanso, a former governor of Kano State who has a cult-like following in the north, which has 22.5 million registered voters out of the eligible 93.5 million in the country as a whole.

The unusually strong field of candidates complicates any predictions. A winning candidate requires the majority of the popular vote, plus at least 25% in at least 24 of the country’s 36 states. If no candidate meets both of these criteria, the top two will proceed to a run-off election within three weeks, with the eliminated candidates’ supporters up for grabs.

This would be Nigeria’s first presidential run-off and no one knows quite what to expect.

What ultimately matters, however, is whether Nigerians will get the change they want, and deserve — whether their leader will serve with heart and might, one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity, as the national anthem promises. Whether he (there are no women in the highest echelons of Nigerian politics) will attain great heights and build a nation where peace and justice shall reign. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.