The 2023 elections, being the 6th since the emergence of Nigeria’s fourth republic, ticks many boxes left unticked by past elections since the 1999 transition to democratic governance. The unprecedented dynamics surrounding the forthcoming elections has given room for speculations that this periodic governance ritual may produce a different result. The 2023 elections will be markedly different on many levels: the emergence of a third force with a matching political clout, the ethnic representation of the front runners, cross-platform endorsements, the unparalleled political awareness and involvement of the youths, the widespread insecurity and unprecedented number of attacks on electoral infrastructure.
Since 1999, presidential elections in Nigeria have been a contest between two prominent political parties or coalitions despite the participation of more parties. Taking the example of the last two election cycles, the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and Muhammadu Buhari of the APC were the front runners in the 2015 elections despite at least 19 other candidates being on the ballot box.
In 2023, the three major ethnic groups are represented at the frontlines of the presidential contest: Atiku Abubakar (Hausa/Fulani), Bola Tinubu (Yoruba) and Peter Obi (Igbo). This has never happened since 1999 and in Nigeria’s electoral history, it is second only to the 1979 elections
In a similar pattern, Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP were the front runners in the 2019 elections despite at least 50 other candidacies sanctioned by the electoral commission. This two-party trend has so far limited the electorate’s choice. However, the 2023 elections however present a third force beyond the two known and prominent parties and candidates in Peter Obi’s Labour Party Candidacy.
It is expected that the inclusion of this third force that garnered significant following across the nation would be a game changer in the 2023 elections. Given that winning Presidential elections in Africa’s most populous nation requires a candidate to win 25% of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT, the third force may make this an unlikely eventuality. In fact, speculations around the seeming incapability of any of the three candidates to do this in the first round is responsible for the fact that analysts now hint at a potential rerun.
In 2023, the three major ethnic groups are represented at the frontlines of the presidential contest: Atiku Abubakar (Hausa/Fulani), Bola Tinubu (Yoruba) and Peter Obi (Igbo). This has never happened since 1999 and in Nigeria’s electoral history, it is second only to the 1979 elections. Considering how ethnicity and other primordial identities have coloured and shaped Nigeria’s politics and governance since independence, this will be an important determinant of the 2023 elections.
However, the 2023 elections however present a third force beyond the two known and prominent parties and candidates in Peter Obi’s Labour Party Candidacy
It is noteworthy that the frontrunners have tried to cushion the ethnicity effect on their candidacies with the choice of their running mates. These ethnic balancing considerations led to the APC Muslim/Muslim ticket. This ethnic representation will nonetheless significantly impact the election.
Furthermore, uncharacteristic of Nigerian politics and elections is the proliferation of cross-platform endorsements that has been witnessed in the lead up to the next elections. Elder statesmen and leading politicians have categorically declared their support for Presidential candidates from other ethnicities and rival political parties. The arguments advanced for this eventuality include Nigeria’s federal character, religious inclusion, and effective governance. For example, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi has been endorsed by Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani elder statesmen as well non-Labour party politicians.
Noteworthy endorsements in this regard include the Ayo Adebanjo led Afenifer group (an influential Yoruba socio-political group), and Babachir Lawal, current member of the APC and former Secretary General of the Federation has also given interviews to the effect that he supports Peter Obi and is encouraging others to the same. The Nyesom Wike led G5 PDP governors have also alienated itself from the campaign of the flagbearer of their political party, the People’s Democratic Party. Though the PDP claims that the G5’s support will be inconsequential to the results of the elections, the impact of such an alienation cannot be ruled out.
The 2023 elections are scheduled to hold amid this threatening milieu of insecurity
This election cycle also sees an unprecedented level of political awareness and civic engagement among the youth population. There are many factors that underlie this youthful awareness and engagement. Some of them include the government’s reaction to the 2020 youth-led #EndSars protest that resulted in the Lekki Massacre, the government’s subsequent denial of culpability, widespread insecurity, the poor socio-economic indicators – Nigeria is regarded as the poverty capital of the world and currently has the highest number of out-of-school children, the mass exodus of young Nigerian in the japa wave etc.
All these have made young Nigerians more politically aware and to make choices that will steer the country in the right direction. As evidenced by the civic and political engagement on social media platforms, notably, twitter. There is an increased involvement of youth, and this is evidenced by INEC’s statistics that note a difference in number of registrations.
This election cycle also sees an unprecedented level of political awareness and civic engagement among the youth population. There are many factors that underlie this youthful awareness and engagement
Initially zoned to country’s Northeast, insecurity has become widespread with different manifestations across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. In the Northwest, banditry and terrorism have become commonplace, farmer-herder clashes continue in the Middle Belt and across the country. In the South-south, vestiges of Niger-Delta militancy fuels occasional crises. In the Southeast, the serial operation of unknown gunmen and the continued IPOB protests for Nnamdi Kanu’s release fuel insecurity and instability.
In the Southwest, pockets of violence and kidnap for ransom cases which were rare in the region have now become common place. The 2023 elections are scheduled to hold amid this threatening milieu of insecurity. Further aggravating the challenges that insecurity presents to the 2023 elections are the 2022 floods which displaced over one million Nigerians across 24 states. The floods and the resulting IDP situation are not without consequences for the 2023 elections. The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) therefore should ensure effective logistics coordination, security of polling officials and access to polls in what would be the most daunting elections it has yet organized.
In the lead-up to the 2023 elections and especially in 2022, there have been an unprecedent number of attacks on INEC offices across the country. Since 2019, there have been 50 attacks on electoral infrastructure and personnel in 15 states. More specifically since July 2022 after the conclusion of most party primaries, there have been 8 attacks in five states. With states in the Nigeria’s south being disproportionately affected.
With the unprecedented nature of the dynamics surrounding Nigeria’s 2023 elections, it remains to be seen the effects it would have on the conduct and credibility of the 2023 Elections.
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