Ceo forum 2023

Analysis: Nigerians vote in a consequential election

After all the polls and surveys by pundits and prognosticators, Nigerians are set to troop to their polling units for the real poll. They will be electing a new leader to replace President Muhammadu Buhari.

The question that voters should be asking themselves as they vote, according to a former vice president for the World Bank’s Africa Division, Oby Ezekwesili, is: “If you set up an enterprise and needed someone to run it successfully, who among the top three presidential candidates would you recruit as CEO? Your answer to this question should actually guide your PVC on Saturday.”

It would be the first time since 2003 that Buhari’s name would not be on the ballot. It is also most likely to be the last foray into electoral politics for two of the three leading candidates, Bola Tinubu, 72 and Atiku Abubakar, 76.

The election is set to not only test the strength of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the newly invigorated Labour Party (LP), it will be a referendum on the popularity and the right to continue to rule of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

For many Nigerians, this election is one that will determine the fortunes of the nation and the way forward for its battered masses. For others, Saturday’s outcome will inform their emigration decisions.

Uyi, a management consultant in Abuja says he is waiting for the results of the election to determine if he would have to leave the country or stay behind. “If the candidate I am supporting does not win, my wife and I have decided that we would speed up our Canadian immigration process and leave with our son.

The country is extremely difficult to live in as it is and our hope; and I tell you, this is the hope of many of my friends and colleagues: if Peter Obi wins, we will sit back and see what changes he brings to the economy and society. If he doesn’t win, we will leave as we do not see any hope for the future here.”

It is not just emigration decisions; for many others, the outcome of Saturday’s poll will determine their business and investment decisions.

“I do not want to leave the country,” Yohanna, a real estate developer in Abuja, moaned. “Business has been terrible over the past seven years. I have sites that I need to develop but financing and demand have been the problem. So, since last August, I put off any further investments until Buhari leaves. I would be willing to give any of the three main candidates a chance to prove themselves, maybe one year to see how pro-business, especially to small business, they would be. If they are no different from the current guy, I would sell off, pack up and leave too. Many of my friends have left.”

Buhari’s eight years in office has been tough for many Nigerians. His time in power has seen food prices rise precipitously, disproportionately impacting the poor in a country that is home to the highest population of the world’s poorest citizens.

In 2022, an estimated population of 133 million people in Nigeria lived in extreme poverty, representing 63 per cent of the nation’s population.

“Everyone has a hard time regardless of who they are in Nigeria, but for young people — in all the ways that are important to them — the current administration has fallen short. The numbers of record unemployment, food insecurity and poverty among young people speak for themselves,” Leena Koni Hoffmann, associate fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, told the Financial Times.

Steve Hanke, professor of applied economics and founder/co-director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at the Johns Hopkins University, said in July 2021: “Nigeria ranks a terrible 161 out of 162 in security and safety, a report recently released by Caton Institute reveals… On the border of the Nigerian state of Kaduna, bandits have shot down a Nigeria Air Force jet. Also, under the incompetent leadership of sleepy Buhari, bandits act with impunity.”

Buhari’s legacy, as Chris Olaoluwa Ogunmodede put it in a World Politics Review analysis, is “a diminished Nigeria and a failed state”.

It is against this disconcerting background of insecurity and economic meltdown that Nigerians will be picking a replacement for the failed Nigerian leader.

Nigerians may not have the power to bring down the inflationary cost of foods, but they do have the power to elect a leader that can introduce sustainable economic measures to topple inflation.

The options are many: 17 men and one woman. Yet only one will be chosen. Diverse opinion polls have consistently put three of the 18 candidates ahead.

While the ruling party’s candidate, Tinubu, is seeking to consolidate his party’s hold on power, Buhari’s performance would be an encumbrance for him.

Tinubu is running against the awful record of the current president. Opposition parties and many Nigerians are holding him up against the appalling outcomes of Buhari’s management of the nation’s economy, politics, society and security.

He has at varying times sought to link his electoral fortunes to the record of the President, while, at other times, distanced himself from that record.

In most opinion polls that have surfaced, Tinubu has lagged in third place. To win this election, he must successfully convince voters seeking to punish the ruling party that he is in every way different from the current president, who is widely loathed across the country.

For the candidate of the opposition PDP, Atiku, this would be the sixth and perhaps last time he would be seeking the office of President of Nigeria. He had unsuccessfully contested five times in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.

In 1993, backed by the late powerful political power-broker, Shehu Musa Yar’adua, he contested the Social Democratic Party presidential primaries but lost to Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe.

After a vicious power struggle between 2003 and 2006 with the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku, who was Obasanjo’s deputy, was ousted from the then ruling PDP.

He was rehabilitated by Tinubu, who gave him the presidential ticket of the Action Congress in the 2007 presidential election, where he came third behind former President Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the ANPP.

He again contested the presidential primaries of the PDP during the 2011 presidential election, but lost out to President Goodluck Jonathan.

In 2014, he joined the All Progressives Congress ahead of the 2015 presidential election and contested the presidential primaries, losing to Buhari. In 2017, he returned to the PDP and was the party’s presidential candidate during the 2019 presidential election, again losing to incumbent President Buhari.

To win this time, Atiku is uncharacteristically positioning himself as the northern hegemon defending northern hegemonic interests. He believes this is his sure route to power

In October 2022, Atiku stridently positioned himself as the candidate of the North in the elections when he told an Arewa townhall policy dialogue in Kaduna that northerners do not need an Igbo or Yoruba as president but “someone from the North”.

“I know the whole of this country,” he had said, “I have built bridges across this country. I think what the average northerner needs is somebody who is from the North, and who also understands the other parts of Nigeria and who has been able to build bridges across the rest of the country. This is what the northerner needs. He (northerner) doesn’t need a Yoruba candidate, or an Igbo candidate. This is what the northerner needs.”

The PDP candidate has oscillated between second and first positions in sound polls and surveys.
Labour Party candidate Peter Obi’s entry into the presidential race has amplified the engagement of young voters. He is seen as different from the other two major candidates who are regarded as part of the old guard and seen as dated by many of the country’s young voters.

Backed by Nigeria’s major trade union, the Nigeria Labour Congress, Obi has created a movement of mostly young zealots and disrupted the traditional two candidate presidential contest.

Read also: Election: 87.2 million PVCs collected

He has stressed economic growth, manufacturing and accountability in his campaigns, themes that have excited a growing number of voters.

Recent polls have consistently put him in the lead. Yet, his victory is in no way guaranteed. London-based consulting firm, Sofala Partners, speaking of his candidacy, said: “Given the historical nature of his candidacy, and potential implications for Nigerian politics going forward…what we found is that while the path to victory may not be easy, there does seem to be a very real groundswell of support amongst youth that stretches far beyond a narrow slice of the urban elite.

“Our view is that while victory for Obi may be an uphill battle, his rapid ascendance – and the way it has been accomplished – will have implications well beyond the outcome of this election. Leveraging many of the networks and strategies that grew up around the #EndSARS movement, Obi’s candidacy is demonstrating the potential impact and pathway to harnessing the support of young people, who are pushing against the status quo.

Even if Obi loses, a strong showing will signal a significant departure from how national politics have operated in Nigeria for the last 23 years. It will demonstrate the rise of a consolidated and powerful youth bloc as a political factor, a rejection of the status quo, the weakening of the traditional party duopoly, and a viable pathway to national office that does not rely on insider politicking and local party infrastructure.”

This is a consequential election and the outcomes would be telling for the nation and its abused citizens.