Obi, Tinubu and Abubakar: Nigeria presidential race frontrunners

Thursday February 23 2023
Nigerian presidential candidate in Lagos

Nigeria’s All Progressive Congress candidate Bola Tinubu (centre) and President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (right) at a campaign rally on February 21, 2023. PHOTO | MICHELE SPATARI | AFP


On February 25, 2023, Nigerians will vote in what could be their most credible and closely contested presidential election since military rule ended in 1999; and the first in which a presidential candidate who is not from one of the two main parties stands a chance.

Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) faces Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi, a wild- card candidate who defected from the PDP to the smaller Labour Party (LP) and now leads in at least five opinion polls.

Obi, 61, has used a slick social media campaign to galvanise the votes of the restless and increasingly disaffected youth, fed up with traditional politics and the old men who tend to dominate them. Tinubu and Abubakar are both in their 70s.

Opinion polls

But analysts question whether the polls indicating Obi having a lead are reliable and note he does not have the resources or extensive political base built up over decades that the other two have.

Whoever Nigerians choose to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, will have to resolve a litany of crises that have worsened under the retired army general's administration.


These crises include banditry and militant violence now affecting most parts of the country, systemic corruption deterring investment and enriching a well-connected elite, high inflation and widespread cash shortages after a botched introduction of new bills late last year.

All three candidates have made roughly similar promises to tackle these issues.

Amid fears that a close poll may be disputed and trigger even more violence and chaos, all candidates signed a peace pledge on February 22, 2023, promising to seek court appeal in case of dissatisfaction.

"This is the only country we have, and we must do everything to keep it safe, united and peaceful. There should be no riots or acts of violence after the announcement of the election results."" Buhari said at the peace pledge signing in Abuja.

New MPs

Nigerian voters will also choose new parliament members.

"This is one of the closest elections that has ever been held in the history of this country." Abiodun Adeniyi said, Professor of Cass Communication in Abuja's Baze University.

All the polls showing Obi in the lead had a high number of respondents, on average around a third who were undecided or unwilling to say who they would vote for. They also tended to target internet-savvy, educated types and one required a smart phone to participate.

"We must take these polls with a generous amount of salt." said Nnamdi Obasi, Senior Nigeria Advisor for the International Crisis Group Think Tank.

"The poll samples are small and focusing on literate people, but there are large numbers of illiterate people not online, especially in the north." Obasi added.

Obi's known support base is in the south, whereas Abubakar and Tinubu are both popular in the north.

Simple majority

Although the contest looks close, Nigerian Electoral Act makes a run-off unlikely, as the winning candidate needs only a simple majority, provided they get 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the 36 states.

Spreading insecurity especially Islamist violence in the Northeast and banditry in the Northwest and Southeast Nigeria, threatens to make voting impossible for thousands of 93.4 million Nigerian registered voters.

But an increasingly professional Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has made strides in tackling fraud that marred previous polls. A law enacted last year provides for electronic voting machines, card readers to confirm voters are registered in a central database, and the cancellation of results from polling centres where the ballots cast exceed registered voters.

Many Nigerians have attested their confidence in INEC.

"We thank God the election is going to be fair this time. We trust INEC. Nigerians will vote and get who they voted for." said Ngozi Nwosi, 51, who sells clothes at a Lagos market stall in Nigeria.