Nigeria’s presidential race goes down to the wire – The Economist

The 2023 presidential election is close, chaotic and crucial to the future of Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, a report by The Economist, a British weekly newspaper has said.

There is no clear path for any of the contenders and it all goes down to the wire — it can’t be decided until the very last minute.

Nigerians, who will vote on February 25, twenty-two days from now are poorer today than eight years ago, the report by the British newspaper said.

According to Afrobarometer, a pollster, 89 percent of Nigerians think the country is heading in the wrong direction.

“Much of the blame falls on the outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari, who has governed badly during his eight years in office,” the report said.

“On Buhari’s watch, the economy has stagnated and violence has spread: last year at least 10,000 people were killed by criminal gangs, terrorists or the army.

“A country that once exported security through peacekeeping missions now exports trouble, destabilising neighbours. Yet for all its travails, Nigeria is also Africa’s biggest democracy— with an opportunity for renewal. That matters in a country that has gone through five coups,” the British newspaper said.

According to The Economist, if presidential elections were won by advertising, Bola Tinubu of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) party would win Nigeria’s by a landslide, his face grins relentlessly over all corners of the country.

“Posters don’t vote,” quips a member of the campaign team for Peter Obi, the candidate of Labour Party (LP), a rival minor party who unexpectedly leads the polls in what is usually a two-horse race,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the use of modern voting technology will make it harder to rig the results. More Nigerians are likely to vote than ever before.

According to The Economist, there is an “unprecedented awakening” among the young, who make up 40 percent of registered voters, says Opeyemi Oriniowo of the Nigeria Youth Futures Fund, an NGO based in Lagos.

“These are telling signals in a continent where democracy is in retreat,” the British newspaper said.

“Should an opposition party win, this would be only the second time since the generals returned to barracks in 1999 that voters have rejected an incumbent party by the ballot?”

According to the British paper, three hopefuls seem to have a shot at victory. To secure it, they have to gain not only the most votes nationally, but also win at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and federal capital. If no candidate clears that bar, there will be an unprecedented run-off.

What will decide who wins?

According to The Economist, despite the huge challenges facing Nigeria, it will not be a policy proposal. Little distinguishes the candidates on the key issues; other factors come into play. Powerbrokers often deliver blocks of votes by fair means or foul.

Read also: Election 2023: Aspiring women are ready

“Whoever the camp leaders say, that is who we will vote for,” says Falmata Abdulrahman as she breastfeeds her daughter in a camp for displaced people in the northeast. Intimidation and vote buying are common, according to a statement in the report.

Ahmadu Duste, who worked at a polling station in the last election said in the report that, “We were at the mercy of hoodlums and thugs. I saw voters being given cash.”

According to The Economist, the 70-year-old Tinubu has the clearest path to victory because he has deep pockets and his APC controls 21 of Nigeria’s 36 governorships.

“He expects to win handsomely in the southwest, his regional stronghold. He hopes his Muslim faith and that of his running-mate, Kashim Shettima, a former governor of the north-eastern state of Borno, will help him in the mostly Muslim north,” the British paper said.

“Yet given the violence, fuel shortages and economic malaise in Nigeria, many voters may be wary of backing the incumbent party. Many also worry about Tinubu’s health, since he looks increasingly frail and has had to skip several big campaign events.”

Last year, he settled a lawsuit in which he was accused of secretly owning 70 percent of a private company that was given a contract to collect taxes on behalf of Lagos state during his time as its governor (1999-2007), the report by The Economist said.

Also, court papers alleged that it earned a commission of 10 percent of all revenues it collected there. However, Tinubu denies any wrongdoing.

“Some voters also question the probity of the main opposition’s candidate, 76-year-old Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a wealthy former customs official and vice-president,” the British paper said.

“In 2010 a Senate committee in America said he was implicated in the transfer of over $40m of “suspect funds” to that country. He too denies wrongdoing. Across much of Nigeria, religious leaders—Christian and Muslim— are pushing people to vote for their co-religionists.”

The British paper said that it may set an imposing hurdle for Abubakar. He is a northerner and a Muslim representing a party that in recent years has found support mainly in the Christian south.

“This time Obi, a Christian backed by neither of the two dominant parties of yore, will eat into much of that support. “My pastor encourages us to vote for him,” says Lydia Adamu, a churchgoer,” according to a statement from the report.

The British paper added that Atiku is struggling to rally even his own party. “Five PDP governors have withheld their endorsements and seem set to back his southern rivals.

“In the north, he will probably lose votes to Rabiu Kwankwaso, a popular former governor who is also running for the top job.”

The Economist said, “Obi, a 61-year-old former governor and trader, owes his popularity in part to citizens’ popularity in part to citizens’ desperation for an alternative to Nigeria’s venal, ego-laden politicians.

“Many voters are attracted by his frugal, energetic style and see him as more honest than his rivals.

Kayode Fayemi, a former APC governor advising Tinubu’s campaign, concedes that Obi will probably take 80 percent to 90 percent of the vote in the south-east, his home region.

According to The Economist, rivals deride his young fans as keyboard warriors who are not registered to vote.

Yet as supporters hung off nearby balconies at a recent rally, Obi cried, “If you have your PVC [voter card], raise your hand.” A forest of arms rose to the sky. Still, Obi’s path to victory is a narrow one,” the British newspaper said.

“Election officials are accused of dragging their heels in registering new voters, particularly in his stronghold, which has fewer voters on the books than other regions. And his weakness in northern states means he may struggle to clear the 25 percent bar.”

According to the report, Obi’s best hope is that urbanites turn out in such large numbers that the election goes to a run-off.

“The poll seems unlikely to be completely free, fair and peaceful, but it should still deliver a legitimate result. Election offices have been repeatedly attacked. Polling booths will be largely absent from areas infested with jihadists,” according to The Economist.

“Losers may stir up violence. More worryingly, some talk of a return to Nigeria’s dark past of coups.

According to a statement by Fayemi in the report, some powerful Nigerians “want to pre-empt the people”, because they “feel that none of the candidates in the running now would be good for the country.”

Thankfully, a putsch would be hard to pull off. Whatever the failings of the contenders, a return to military rule would be worse for Nigeria,” the British newspaper said.

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