Nigerians vote the tightest in the country’s democratic era

Nigerians will go to the polls on Saturday to elect their next president, ending a grueling election campaign aimed at emerging as a credible alternative to the country’s two dominant political parties.

Major candidates have spent five months criss-crossing Africa’s largest democracy as voters prepare to elect a successor to outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari after eight years in power.

A total of 18 candidates are officially running, although only three have a realistic chance of winning what is expected to be the closest presidential election in Nigeria’s democratic era.

Bola Tinubu, the governor of Lagos for 8 years until 2007, a member of the all-time Progressive Congress, and Atiku Abubakar, the former vice president of the Peoples Democratic Party, who is running for the post for the sixth time, are hoping to win. So does businessman and former state governor Peter Obi, whose failed campaign in the upstart Labor Party roused voters disillusioned by Nigeria’s two major parties.

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Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, it has been rare for an incumbent or former military ruler to be absent from the presidential election, which analysts say has provided an opportunity for a different type of leader to be elected this time around. Buhari, a military head of state in the 1980s, has contested all but one of the six elections so far, casting a shadow over Nigeria’s democracy.

On Saturday, voters will also elect 109 senators and 360 members to the lower house of representatives.

Nigerian presidential election

Woman in colorful headscarf

Read our collection of key stories from Saturday’s Nigerian elections

In the weeks leading up to the vote, the botched introduction of newly redesigned banknotes and a crippling fuel shortage dominated the news.

There have been repeated questions about the age of the two main party candidates – Tinubu, 70, and Abubakar, 76 – in a vast country where the average age is 18. they deny it.

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Pre-election polls had predicted Obi’s victory in a high-turnout vote, but with the large number of people reluctant to share their voting intentions with pollsters, analysts were wary of reading too much into the polls.

Previous elections in Nigeria have been plagued by low turnout; In 2019, slightly more than a third of those entitled to vote cast their ballots. This time, over 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote.

A victory for Obi, 61, whose campaign focused on austerity and accountability has drawn a following among disaffected urban youth in the country’s south, would be a huge political shock in a country that has only elected presidents from the two major parties since 1999.

To win the presidency, a candidate must win the most votes and pass the constitutional threshold of at least 25 percent of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital, Abuja. If no candidate clears this bar, a repeat vote will be held for the first time in the country’s history.

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The winner will be announced by the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria’s electoral agency, at a ceremony in Abuja. Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, an analyst at the Center for Democracy and Development, said that although the results will start as early as Sunday, the declaration will not come until Wednesday.

Widespread insecurity, public sector corruption, and the poor state of the economy, crippled by rising prices and high unemployment, are the biggest concerns of voters. Another big issue is the proposed elimination of gasoline subsidies, which cost the country more than $10 billion last year.