Nigerian elections in 2023: main candidates and challenges
29 November 2022
On 25 February 2023, Nigeria will hold its seventh general election since the return to democracy and civilian rule in 1999.
Of the 18 candidates vying to succeed President Buhari, three stand out. Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos and candidate of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC), former vice-president (1999-2007) Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the main opposition party, and Peter Obi, the Labour Party outsider, who was predicted to win in several polls released in September, including those by Premise Data Corp for Bloomberg News and NOI Polls for the ANAP Foundation. All three face the challenge of reaching beyond their natural electorate in a country where politics is heavily influenced by religious and ethnic lines. Yet, voter behaviour will also be influenced by a series of factors including the deteriorating economic conditions, increased insecurity, mounting social grievances and a disillusioned youth towards the country’s elite. Economically, Nigeria faces persistent inflation that reached more than 21% in October and one of the highest unemployment rates in Africa, reaching 42.5% among youth. Oil production, which has been steadily declining for the past decade, and poor access to electricity are weighing on the economy. Regardless of who wins, access to reliable energy will be a priority for the new president. Although projects have recently been launched, such as the construction of the 1,650-megawatt Zungeru hydroelectric plant, which is estimated to cost USD 3 billion, the stakes are high: more than 85 million Nigerians still do not have access to the power grid. Characterised by the Islamic insurgency in the northeast, banditry in the northwest and south, and separatist aspirations in the southeast, the security situation remains complex. The government is struggling to manage the crisis, which will undoubtedly influence the election and post-election periods. Frequent attacks by criminal gangs could deter voters and contribute to increased abstention in areas marked by insecurity. Targeted attacks on polling stations have already been identified, particularly in the southwest (Ogun and Osun). The frequency of these attacks is expected to increase as the elections approach, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) facilities being among the primary targets. Beyond these issues, many questions arise around INEC's ability to ensure credible elections. At the heart of the debate is its ability to implement some of the provisions of the new Electoral Act 2022, including the regularisation of the use of electronic devices (e.g., the bimodal voter accreditation system, BVAS). While in theory the digitization of the electoral process is supposed to reduce the risk of fraud, Nigerians remain sceptical about the integrity and credibility of the results. Voters are also sceptical of the INEC's ability to meet the logistical challenge of deploying nearly 1.5 million staff to 176,846 polling stations (56,872 more than in the previous election). These factors will certainly impact voter mobilisation on Election Day and thus the credibility of the elections, despite a significant increase in the number of registered voters. For reference, in 2019, turnout did not exceed 35%. Yet, these elections could be different. The preliminary number of registered voters already reached 93.5 million, nearly 10 million more than in 2019, 84% of whom are under the age of 34, according to INEC. These numbers reflect greater youth engagement, buoyed by the #EndSARS (2020) and Not Too Young to Run movements that have greatly mobilised Nigerian youth in recent years.