The 2023 Nigerian elections were tumultuous and highly contested, however, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party came out victorious as Nigeria’s next elected President. As former President Muhammadu Buhari steps down after nearly a decade in power, President Tinubu must be prepared to serve a nation ready for change.
As the presidential elections concluded on March 1st, elections for other seats in office continue. These presidential elections have been the most contested elections since 1999, with a total of 18 presidential candidates running for office, and registered voters estimating about 93.5 million people. With one of the largest youth populations, the new dawn of Nigeria requires a new leader to balm the deep cuts of former President Buhari’s legacy.
Former President Buhari’s time in office is tainted with by unrest and corruption, as well as immense wealth, food, and health disparities throughout the country. President Buhari was the leader of the APC, which maintained power following the end of military rule in 1999. Buhari initially began his long ascent to power as a general. Within the 30 years that Buhari forcibly and “electorally” maintained power, the daily reporting of abductions and severe bombings carried out by Boko Haram became a normal part to life in Northeast Nigeria. With the rise of other Islamist militant groups, the question of terrorism and international security became imminent. Unable to successfully address the pressing issue of growing militant and insurgent communities, Buhari also failed to address his promises to curb corruption (which made up a third of Buhari’s election promises).
Background on Election
Nigeria has much to reckon with, and these elections have been a testament to the lengths in which future leaders are willing to go to to address Buhari’s legacy. Tinubu, 70, won 36% of the vote, defeating Atiku Abubakar, 76, former vice president (this was his sixth time running for office), and Peter Obi, 61, who was extremely favoured among youth.
Although Tinubu, Abubakar, and Obi spearheaded the majority of the election process, they were among 15 other candidates, including a female contender. The historical significance of the 2023 elections come at the cross-roads of years of civil unrest and protest, including a demand for equity, transparency, and civil inclusion. To understand the significance of Tinubu’s win, it is crucial to first put into context the candidacies of Tinubu, Abubakar, and Obi.
Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi are veterans in the electoral process. Abubakar’s sixth presidential bid came from the central opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Serving as vice-president under Olusegun Obasanjo, he has maintained political power through varying degrees of governmental involvement. Abubakar worked as a prominent civil servant and businessman prior to his presidential bid, both jobs that have subjected him to numerous claims of corruption and cronyism (a common theme for Nigerian presidential candidates).
Abubakar’s younger competitor, Peter Obi, has been one of the only candidates that have challenged Nigeria’s two-party system since its inception in 1999. Running on behalf of the lesser known Labour Party, he left the PDP last year to appeal to Nigeria’s youth. Also a wealthy businessman, Obi served as the governor of Anambra State (southern-east state) from 2006-2014. Despite being projected to lose, Obi’s campaign was primarily centered around his claims that he was the only candidate with integrity.
Recognized as the “political godfather” within the south-west region, Bola Tinubu’s extensive network and influence has been questioned through accusations of corruption, clientelism, and nepotism. Tinubu’s campaign slogan was “Emi Lokan” in Yoruba, which translates to “it’s my turn [to be president].” Some believe that his substantial influence within the economic sector and experience as a businessman will lend a new perspective to tackling the ongoing instability with the Naira.
Tinubu won the vote with 36%, Abubakar with 29%, and Obi with 24% of ballots cast. Although there were no land-slide wins, the massive voter register of about 93 million voters is an historical win for Nigeria. To contextualize such numbers it is important to note that in order to win, a candidate must obtain the highest number of votes nation-wide and win more than a quarter of ballots cast within at least two-thirds of the states in Nigeria.
Background on Tinubu
This may be Tinubu’s first time in office, but he is no stranger to political power and governance. Tinubu served as the governor of Lagos from 1999 to 2008, granting him the title of “Godfather of Lagos.” It is no surprise that his election slogan was “it’s my turn,” considering his party came out of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was dissolved 20 years prior by Olusegun Obsanjo when he was president of the PDP. Tinubu refused to join the PDP, and instead built a following and grew his influence during his time as governor of the economic capital Lagos. Tinubu was able to formally crystallize the APC by merging it with other political parties in the north, leading to the successful campaign that brought Buhari into office.
Nigeria is home to the largest African population with over 200 million people. As it continues to rapidly grow, the United Nations has projected that it will be the third-most populous country by around 2050. This year has marked another hard year for Nigerians in all facets of security, questioning how these issues will persist with a growing young population.
The cash crisis has been an ongoing problem in Nigeria, made worse by heightened inflation and constant militia attacks. The ongoing currency redesign and cashless policy has drastically affected the election process and livelihood of thousands of Nigerians. Improper infrastructure has resulted in hundreds of people queuing at ATMs and mobile banking services, but as those services crash people are left with no solution and are forced to starve as their money goes untouched in their bank accounts. The combination of a currency redesign and a cashless policy has not come at an ideal time as many people were unable to access their bank accounts to open a voter registration card.
Ending insecurity was a key element within the unfolding of the presidential elections. Nigeria is largely experiencing a kidnapping-for-ransom crisis, all while battling concentrated and growing Islamist militant groups in the north and within south-east separatist insurgencies. Just last year two horrific mass shootings occurred. One at a Catholic Church in Owo and the other took place when gunmen stormed a passenger train where many were fatally injured, killed, and kidnapped.
Unemployment rates to have risen. The National Bureau of Statistics’ most recent findings show that 33% of Nigeria’s population is unemployed, 42% representing young adults. With a large youth population, Nigeria’s employment sector is running out of adequate employment for recent graduates. Although Nigeria is a major oil producer, according to the World Bank, four out of ten Nigerians live below the poverty line as they lack adequate education, infrastructure, electricity, and safe drinking water.
Throughout Buhari’s time in office, the issue of terrorism was worsened by his inability to tackle the issue head-on. It is safe to say that Buhari’s promise to “frontally and courageously tackle terrorism” has yet to be realized. Many Nigerians still feel gravely unsafe. For these failures, Buhari was constitutionally barred from running again, effectively turning the people of north Nigeria against the him and the APC.
Within the last decade that Buhari has been in office, despite their lack of territory, insurgent groups like Boko Haram have consistently threatened the security of states like Borno. Large parts of Borno are still extremely unsafe to travel to by road, with many fleeing and around 1.6 million internally displaced. Additionally, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which split from Boko Haram almost a decade ago, is an ever growing threat to national security. In 2022, ISWAP was responsible for the highest number of attacks since its genesis, controlling vulnerable and important territories around Lake Chad.
The Future of Tinubu’s Nigeria
As Tinubu steps into office from a win that arose from the vote of less than 10% of the 93 million registered voters, these upcoming weeks are critical in solidifying support. The legacy of Buhari will not be easily forgotten, however a certainty in change has been granted with this shift of power. Although the parties have three weeks to appeal the results of the vote, it is unprecedented for the Supreme Court of Nigeria to overturn a presidential election. Tinubu crosses into the new year with a hopeful, new Nigeria that is eager for stability, security, and change. With an historical registration of voters, the number of ballots cast is not reflective of the population. With 40% of registered voters being under 35, the generations raised on Buhari brings in Tinubu,. Tinubu must begin to carve out a legacy and presence that strays away from the legacy left by Buhari if he wants to extend and maximize his time in office.
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