This week marks exactly five months until Nigeria hosts its much-anticipated February 2023 general elections. As this latest round of voting is expected to be amongst the closest yet and comes amid a number of rising security and socio-economic challenges in the country, Castor Vali is enhancing its support to clients in Nigeria to help them navigate this crucial period. This blog aims to provide an election primer to our clients and interested parties doing business in Nigeria.
Three’s a crowd
Next year’s elections are expected to be closely contested by three main candidates, namely: Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP).
Abubakar (aged 75 years) of the PDP is a northerner and former governor of Adamawa State who has long contested the presidency, first trying his hand at the top position in 1992. Indeed, next year’s vote will mark his sixth attempt. Heading into the 2023 polls, he remains a major heavyweight given that he came second to current President Muhammadu Buhari in the last elections, garnering some 11 million votes, to his winning 15 million. One of the key tenets of his platform is to do away with the current rotation principle in which the presidents of Nigeria typically rotate between the north and the south. This is likely to garner him much support amongst northern voters (who on paper represent 55% of registered voters) as this region would likely want to remain in power.
Tinubu (aged 70 years) of the APC is the former governor of Lagos state, and therefore represents one of the key southern voting options next year. He enjoys significant support in the south as he is largely credited with modernising and promoting economic growth in Lagos under his tenure – an achievement many hope he would be able to realise at the national level amid rising social challenges of late. While it is expected that this support will help bolster Tinubu’s standing in next year’s polls, it is uncertain how his choice of a Northern Muslim as his running mate – former Governor of Borno state, Senator Kashim Shettima – will play out amongst his core Christian support base and whether it will be enough to garner support in the north. Moreover, Tinubu faces another major challenge in the south – Obi of the Labour party, which is further likely to divide the region’s vote.
Obi (aged 61 years) of the Labour Party is said to represent the youth’s vote. While his career may not be as extensive as the PDP and APC candidates, he is currently trending high in opinion polls. Indeed, recent polls indicate that should the vote be held today, he would garner a majority share. While promising, it should be flagged that such polls can be misleading as a sizeable portion of Nigerian voters also remains undecided – voters that could still sway the outcome of the result. Nevertheless, Obi is believed to enjoy the support of notable figures, such as former president Olusegun Obasanjo, which will serve him well in the elections. Moreover, with his political manifesto premised on an economic restructuring of the country and the creation of viable employment opportunities for the youth, Obi’s message continues to garner momentum across ethnic and religious divides.
Between a rock and a hard place
Each one of the above candidates is vying for the top seat in the country amid unprecedented national challenges, defined chiefly by mounting insecurity and rising socio-economic pressures.
In the run-up to the 2023 elections, the recent spike in national insecurity continues to be of significant concern for voters. Notably, insecurity, whether in the form of crime, banditry, or terrorism, is assessed to have worsened in recent years on a national scale. Key concerns in this regard include a widening crime/bandit-terrorism nexus in Northern Nigeria that has seen militants and Islamist extremists under ISWAP, stage and claim notable attacks, including the March 2022 stikes on Kaduna airport and the Abuja-Kaduna railway, and the July 2022 Kuje prison break in the FCT. Insecurity in the Southeast also continues to remain a major concern amid the rise of the Eastern Security Network, the militant wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra. Since 2020, the region has experienced an unprecedented surge in the number of recorded attacks on security personnel, security installations, critical infrastructures, and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) facilities. Mounting local grievances among non-state actors over security contracts to secure oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta also threatens to revive Delta militancy over the coming months ahead of the vote.
In addition to continued security concerns, Nigerians also remain frustrated by several rising socio-economic pressures this election year. The country’s present socio-economic turmoil is characterised by rising inflation, a depreciating Naira, high poverty rates and worsening unemployment. Inflation, for example, reached a 17-year high of 20.52% by mid-September, resulting in a significant reduction in the purchasing power of the average Nigerian. Such inflation is further coming at a time when the Naira has reportedly lost 94.87% of its value in the last five years, further driving up the cost of living. These rising pressures, driven by both internal and external economic shocks, have ultimately contributed to a rise in poverty in Nigeria where by the end of 2022 it is estimated that some 90 million Nigerians will be economically deprived. This is an astounding figure, if realised, it will represent over 45 percent of the population. Adding to this, the unemployment rate in Nigeria remains stubbornly high and climbing at 33.3 percent, while youth employment is estimated at 42.5 percent.
If a week is a long time in politics, then five months is certainly long enough for new trends and developments to emerge. Having said that some key takeaways can already be flagged:
Firstly, both Abubukar and Tinubu are likely to garner a lion’s share of the vote given their extensive histories in Nigerian politics and broad-based support. While these heavyweights remain the key contenders, the continued rise of Obi, particularly among a disenfranchised youth, may serve to be a disrupter in next year’s election that could see a split vote and/or formation of a coalition after the final results are announced.
Secondly, whoever takes the top seat next year will be faced with addressing a unique collection of security and socio-economic challenges. Well-thought out and decisive policy action will be required from the outset to address these issues and prevent further destabilisation at the national level. Without such action, Nigerians are at risk of facing further hardships after the conclusion of the polls across all social indicators.
Thirdly, amid these challenges, the next five months in Nigeria are likely to be characterised by mounting risks, as is typical of any election period in the country. This includes a rise in the incidence and impact of civil unrest as campaigns get underway and a rise in insecurity, whether in the form of criminality, militancy, and terrorism, as a variety of threat actors will look to expand their reach and influence in the country over this period.
Castor Vali support
To support our clients in tracking, forecasting, and mitigating the above risks during this election period, Castor Vali has developed a variety of Election Preparedness Tools, including intelligence subscription packages and in-house training.
To read more about our products and services ahead of this historic vote, see our Nigeria Election Monitoring and Risk Management Support services.