Nigeria will be holding a General Election on February 25, 2023, one week later than scheduled, against a backdrop of runaway insecurity which now seems to have morphed into banditry, presenting a litmus test for the new president.
This will be the seventh General Election since Nigeria returned to civilian democratic rule in 1999. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has registered more than six million new voters, adding to a national register of 60 million voters.
Voters will also be choosing new state governors and members of parliament.
Beyond insecurity, Nigeria is bogged down by high unemployment, poverty and a surging population. Concerned opinion leaders like Ogbonnaya Emmanuel, the president of the National Association of Nigeria Comrades, a civic lobby, said the country needs a leader with a vision of revamping every sector of the economy, irrespective of his political affiliations.
“We need a candidate that is ready to grow the economy. We need a new Nigeria. We need a candidate that is credible, reliable and nationalistic in administration,” he told The EastAfrican.
The National Co-ordinator of Advancement for Democracy, Prof Sam Smah, said Nigerians are expecting a president who would harness the ethnic and religious diversities to the advantage of the nation.
But it is insecurity that could define President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure, and also that of the incoming one.
First, insecurity could interfere in the holding of elections, especially in the northeast, northwest, northcentral, and southeastern regions of the country.
An insurgency, separately fronted by fighters of Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), has been a heavy burden on the northeast where more than 109,000 people have been killed since 2009, according to official government figures. Banditry, on the other hand, reigns in the northentral and northwest regions and has claimed the lives of at least 9,300 people since January 2020.
This year, bandits have been striking almost with impunity, with cases reported every day of the week, targeting not just civilians but security agents and government officials too.
Even the peaceful south and southwestern states face a different security problem. They are threatened by a militia group linked to the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The militia, Eastern Security Network (ESN), an offshoot of IPOB, have taken up arms against the state, killing people and destroying government infrastructure, including offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to prevent elections from being holding in the five southeast states. Some of their leaders are now in detention, facing trial.
But from happenings in Abuja, the election is unstoppable. A fortnight ago President Buhari assented to the Amended Electoral Act arguing that it will simplify the conducting of elections and the transition. It spells out the modalities for holding primaries by political parties as well as the introduction of electronic transmission of results.
On March 8, President Buhari wrote to the National Assembly seeking further amendment to Section 84 (12). The Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila told lawmakers that the president was seeking to get rid of some unconstitutional provisions in the Act, such as Section 84 (12) which marginalises serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party.
No favoured successor
At least 18 political parties will be fielding candidates from the presidency and all other elective posts. Two major parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), are the presidential race front runners at least going by past performance.
In a recent interview on a national TV station, President Buhari has said he has no favourite candidate and promised to go by the wishes of his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party, in deciding on his successor.
“No, I wouldn’t name a favourite, because he may be eliminated if I mention. I better keep it secret,” he said.
Buhari, 79, will be completing his eight -year tenure in May 2023. He has been a military president before and later ran for the presidency as civilian several times before winning in 2015, defeating Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan succeeded Umar Yar’Adua who died in office in 2010.
His ruling party is currently preparing for the national convention on March 26, and planning the zoning of various party offices in readiness for the primaries to determine candidates for all elective positions.
Other political parties have also fixed dates for their national conventions as well as for party primaries which are supposed to be conducted before end of April 2022.
All party election preparations are done one year ahead of the election.
Despite the fear of insecurity there are chances this may be a safe election after all. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) released in the first week of March showed that Boko Haram and other militant groups were now committing fewer attacks than, say, three years ago.
The GTI, published by the think tank, the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), shows that total deaths from terrorism in Nigeria fell to its lowest level since 2011.
It reported that terror-related casualties dropped by almost half compared with the previous year and that there has been a dip in violence.
So far, no clear information is coming out on who is running for the presidency but popular figures are emerging ahead of their party primaries.
They include the current vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo; the national leader of APC, Bola Tinubu; Yahaya Bello, Kogi State governor; Orji Uzor Kalu, the chief whip in the Senate. Anyim Pius Anyim, former senate president 2000 to 2003; Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria are in the race.
The other aspirants are Dele Momodu, the chief executive officer of Ovation Magazine; Dave Umahi, the Governor of Ebonyi State; Rivers state Governor Nyesom Wike; Rotimi Amaechi, current Transport minister; and Bukola Saraki, ex-Governor of Kwara State (two terms), and former Senate president.
Also in the running is former vice President Atiku Abubakar, 75, and Aminu Tambuwal, the current Governor of Sokoto State.
The chairman the INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has released the election timetable for the 2023 General Election showing that party primaries, including the resolution of disputes arising from them, should be done between April 4, 2022 and Friday June 3, 2022.
Submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online portal for presidential and National Assembly election takes place from June 10 2022 to June 17, 2022.
Submission of nomination for Governorship and State Assembly elections is from July 1, 2022 to July 15, 2022.
There is clear system on how this election will be conducted, but Nigerians and the rest of Africa will have to wait and see.