The conduct of elections at various levels demonstrates the progress made in consolidating democracy . . . The trust of Nigerians in the democratic process is resilient… This has likely been strengthened by the transition between political parties in 2015.1“Common Country Analysis, Nigeria” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, February 2022, https://www.unodc.org/documents/nigeria//Common_Country_Analysis_2022_Nigeria.pdf

Nigerians will reaffirm their democratic vows by trooping to vote on February 25 and March 11, 2023, in the third civilian-to-civilian transition since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Indeed, the elections have symbolic, substantial, and consequential meanings for Nigerians at home and the diaspora, the international community, and the political class.

For the Nigerian electorate, it offers an opportunity to assess and determine whose tenure to renew and whose to terminate through their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). In symbolic and substantial terms, a seamless civilian-to-civilian transition devoid of post-election hiccups assures Nigerians in diaspora and the even the international community of Nigeria’s stability and progress in democratic consolidation with attendant boost for development.

Mindful of these expectations, the incumbent and outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, in his national broadcast on February 16, 2023, reiterated that an enabling atmosphere for a credible election would be created. However, there are ominous signs in the polity comparable to events that culminated in the annulment of June 12, 1993, and with the potential for post-election violence akin to the 2011 elections, which should not be ignored. Besides the deplorable living conditions of most Nigerians, now worsened by constraints imposed by a flawed Naira redesign policy, discordance, denials, tensions, and mixed messaging have characterized both the political environment and inter-governmental relations.

Nonetheless, political campaigns have continued, and Nigerians seem determined to vote as a demonstration of their commitment to the preservation of democracy even though it has not alleviated widespread poverty, insecurity, and misery. Given the enormity of powers given to the office of the President in the 1999 constitution, it has become the most important election in the country.

The 2023 general elections at the federal level—presidential and national assembly—and state—gubernatorial and state assemblies—will be hotly contested. The presidential election is a high-stake competition with (un)arguably three leading candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (former two-term governor of Lagos State), a Yoruba Muslim from the southwest; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Waziri Atiku Abubakar (former two-term Vice-President of Nigeria), a Fulani Muslim from the northeast; and Mr. Peter Obi (former governor of Anambra state), of the Labour Party, an Igbo Christian from the southeast.

The emergence of three leading Presidential candidates in what in the recent past had usually been a two-person race raises some fresh issues in what is essentially a contest to replace a government widely seen to have failed to live up to the yearnings of Nigerians for political change, good governance, and security. Also of note are the challenges it poses for the balancing of competing interests within Nigeria’s complex geopolitics and the quest of a largely youthful electorate that is keen to effect political change through the ballot box.

Candidates’ and Parties’ (Mis)Management of Victory and Defeat

Given the distribution of the candidates along Nigeria’s main ethnic and religious regions, and the interests that their campaigns have ignited, observers have predicted that voter turnout might be the highest in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the number of registered voters in the northcentral region is 15,363,731; northeast, 12,542,429; northwest, 22,255,562; southeast, 10,907,606; south-south, 14,440,714 and the southwest, 17,958,966 voters. It has been touted that turnout of voters might exceed all prior elections held since the inception of the Fourth Republic,2“2023 elections: Voter turnout will rise,” SMBIntel, February 22, 2023, https://www.sbmintel.com/2023/01/2023-elections-voter-turnout-will-rise/ although that was before the eruption of the Naira cash crisis across the country.

Based on the observations of online sources and political rallies, each of the three leading candidates’ supporters has demonstrated sustained optimism even in the face of factors that should worry them about their chances at the polls. Some of these issues have implications for Nigeria’s democracy and even global democracy as they are instructive in expanding what is known about pacted democracies, that is, democracies borne out of elite consensus, especially between the military ruling class and their civilian counterparts in Nigeria in 1998/1999.

One such issue is intra-party fractionalization, driven by accusations and counter-accusations of anti-party activities or lack of loyalty to the party, and how this is advancing or undermining elite consensus. In this regard, we are witnessing a situation in which some candidates and leaders of political parties openly oppose their parties’ standard bearers or deny such candidates their support. A telling example of this in the run-up to the Nigerian 2023 Presidential elections is the faction of five state governors within the PDP known as the G-5 (Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State,  Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State), demanding that the Chairman of their party, Iyorchia Ayu, step down to achieve north-south geo-political balancing in the party’s leadership echelon or else they will support another party’s candidate.3Nosa Igbinadolor, “Can the G-5 swing Nigeria’s large undecided voters?”, Business Day, January 19, 2023, https://businessday.ng/politics/article/can-the-g-5-swing-nigerias-large-undecided-voters/ Also relevant is the opposition of certain APC governors and officials to the Naira currency redesign of the government, some going as far as to accuse the government (controlled by the APC), of using the policy to sabotage the APC presidential candidate’s chances at the elections.

While also arguing that it is unfair for the party chairman and presidential candidate to both come from the north and insisting that the latter position should be zoned to the south, some pundits have attributed their stance to the failure of one of them to clinch the presidential ticket of the party at the PDP primaries, contrary to an earlier vow that he would not leave the party even if he loses.4John Owen Nwachukwu, “2023: Wike reveals his two major pains over losing PDP presidential ticket to Atiku,” Daily Post, September 23, 2022, https://dailypost.ng/2022/09/23/2023-wike-reveals-his-two-major-pains-over-losing-pdp-presidential-ticket-to-atiku/; “Wike: Those Saying I Want To Destroy PDP Because I Lost Presidential Ticket Are Sick,” Daily Trust, September 8, 2022, https://dailytrust.com/wike-those-saying-i-want-to-destroy-pdp-because-i-lost-presidential-ticket-are-sick/; Stephen Angbulu, “2023 Presidency: I won’t leave PDP if I lose ticket — Wike,” Punch, March 31, 2022, https://punchng.com/2023-presidency-i-wont-leave-pdp-if-i-lose-ticket-wike/

In the case of the ruling APC, two issues stand out. Firstly, the party is running with a Muslim-Muslim ticket as both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates are Muslims from the southwest and northwest, in a country where the Muslim/Christian divide has somewhat deepened in the past decade. Secondly, the widespread perception of the APC as a ruling party that failed to deliver change, in the face of widespread corruption, insecurity, and growing poverty, has alienated many citizens, who are looking for an opportunity to try another party, outside of those that had ruled the country since 1999.

In this regard, the emergence of Peter Obi as the presidential candidate of the Labor Party (LP) has raised a lot of excitement and expectations among the youth, mostly in the urban areas and online, who are desirous of change and see him as the younger candidate—even though he is in his sixties—and different from the older candidates of the two established parties that have (mis)ruled the country since 1999, when the country returned to democratic rule, perhaps ignoring the fact that Obi left the PDP just 72 hours before its party primaries.5QueenEsther Iroanusi, “2023: Peter Obi dumps PDP,” Premium Times, May 25, 2022, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/532417-2023-peter-obi-dumps-pdp.html?tztc=1 While some observers have high expectations that the Labour Party might pull a surprise by at least forcing the 2023 presidential elections into a second round, or even a win in the first ballot, others see this as a two-person race between Tinubu and Atiku. While Obi’s supporters point to his relatively clean credentials, business acumen, and credibility, supporters of the APC and PDP point to the stupendous wealth, experience, and vast national networks of their presidential candidates. Critics of the LP are also quick to point out that many LP candidates wary of their party’s chances are already decamping to other parties as seen in some states in the southwest,6Jacob Akintunde, “S/West Labour Party leaders decamp to APC,” Business Day, February 14, 2023, https://businessday.ng/news/article/s-west-labour-party-leaders-decamp-to-apc/ northwest, and the northeast.7“Labour Party dissolved in Jigawa as Gubernatorial, Senatorial, Reps candidates decamps party to APC,” Nigerian Tribune, January 21, 2023, https://tribuneonlineng.com/labour-party-dissolved-in-jigawa-as-gubernatorial-senatorial-reps-candidates-decamps-party-to-apc/; Sodiq Omolaoye, “Politicians paying Labour party officials millions to defect from party, says Utomi,” February 7, 2023, https://guardian.ng/news/politicians-paying-labour-party-officials-millions-to-defect-from-party-says-utomi/ Their critics in turn equally respond that the ruling APC and PDP are also being torn apart by internal wranglings, citing the activities of the G-5, and recent accusations of the Presidential candidate of the APC that certain elements close to President Buhari, and Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele, who lost in the party’s primary, are deliberately working to undermine his chances at the polls.8Modupe Gbadeyanka, “Elections: Tinubu Accuses Buhari Administration of Sabotage,” Business Post, January 26, 2023, https://businesspost.ng/general/elections-tinubu-accuses-buhari-administration-of-sabotage/ In the final analysis, and in spite of the high stakes involved, the 2023 Nigerian presidential election may be too close to call, but, barring any last minute disruption, it seems that one of the two dominant parties may spring a last-minute surprise.

The Essays in this Issue

The contributors to this special issue of Kujenga Amani, who are all former and current Social Science Research Council’s APN and Next Fellows, explore several dimensions and ramifications of Nigeria’s 2023 watershed elections, which for better or worse will shape the future of Africa’s largest democracy. While Stephanie Effevottu’s essay explores the central role of the youth-both in terms of its potential as a voting bloc, and as a social force for change, she equally draws attention to some of the challenges embedded in the country’s political terrain. Dovetailing with this is Fisayo Ajala’s exposition on the contribution of civil society organizations in sensitizing and empowering youth to play an important role in the consolidation of democracy by ensuring free and fair elections. His essay also draws attention to the reinvigoration of Nigerian youth in the run-up to the elections, while making a case for reversing the trend in the declining rate of women’s participation in Nigerian politics. The next essay by Oluwaseun Kugbayi takes on a different perspective on the elections by addressing the impact of the humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria and widespread poverty in the country on the ability of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and impoverished citizens to vote. This contribution calls attention to the implications of the vulnerability of impoverished voters to financial inducement by rich politicians, including ways this could affect the integrity and legitimacy of the elections. Ridwan Lukman’s essay analyzes the manifestos of political parties ahead of the 2023 elections, paying close attention to the place of security in the presidential elections. He notes and explains why the three leading parties prioritize addressing security in the content of the party manifestos but calls on the electorate to be very vigilant in making their choice, even as he draws the attention of whoever emerges as the winner to the enormity of the responsibility posed by the myriad of security challenges facing the country. In her contribution, Titilope Ajayi is mindful of the challenges posed by the daunting socio-economic and political context within which the 2023 elections will be held. Referring to these conditions as “spoilers,” her essay notes that these conditions could either fuel voter apathy or drive the quest for voters to elect a government that would represent a change of political direction for the country. The last essay in the special issue goes beyond the elections to critically examine the potential threats that election deniers could pose to peace and security in the country. Drawing on the case of pre-election polling by various agencies and newspapers against the background of political tensions and rather testy inter-group relations in the country, Gbemisola Animasawun calls for greater caution in the ways such polls are conducted and the results disseminated, so as not to provide justification for the rejection of the results of the election by political forces that could in turn potentially pose a threat to the democratic process.

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