Tomorrow (Saturday), some 70 million eligible voters have a chance to elect a new president and 469 federal parliamentarians. This will be followed a week later with the elections of state governors and lawmakers. Overseeing these make or mar polls is the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), headed by a former university lecturer prof. Mahmoud Yakubu.
On paper, it is a crowded race for the presidency. But realistically, it is a race between the governing All Progressives Congress’ candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and opposition People’s Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar. The latter is a former vice president ( 1999-2007) and has been a serial presidential contender. A third runner, Peter Obi, of the Labour Party, has run a singularly robust, crowd pulling campaign so far but he may not get further a look-in when the final tally is delivered.
The elections are the 6th, an impressive uninterrupted run, since Nigeria returned to democratic civil rule in 1999. That makes 24 years, compared to over 30 years of military dictatorship. The PDP governed for 16 of the 24 years of civilian dispensation, producing presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The latter lost a second term bid in 2015 to the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari of the APC.
Buhari’s upset victory in 2015 was the most successful transition from one civilian administration to another in the nation’s history, aside the election that produced the late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Buhari was to be reelected in 2019 for a second and last term. The winner of Saturday’s election will replace him as president.
The outgoing president in the months preceding the election released tidbits from press interviews, suggesting he would be relieved to leave office and would give Abuja, the nation’s capital, a wide berth. He has not shown that there is a favoured candidate, instead asking Nigerians to vote for candidates they trusted.
There are many firsts in these elections. It will be the first time in a quarter of a century that the leading candidates in a presidential election are not former soldiers, and the first in two decades in which Buhari will not be on the ballot. Secondly, with the three main candidates representing the three major regions at Independence – one from the East, another from the West and another from the Northern region – 2023 marks a return to the original fault-lines that were present at the creation of Nigeria, or a return of tri-podal politics.
Thirdly, in these elections, INEC proposes to deploy the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System ( B-VAS) as its solution to Nigeria’s history of data-free voting. The B-VAS device accredits voters, counts them and can digitally transmit the results from a polling unit to the INEC’s central collation. The result transmission capability of B-VAS is, however, substantially dependent on the existence of broadband infrastructure, which cannot be guaranteed in some parts of the country.
Besides, the election preparations have suffered a major bleep. A well intentioned monetary policy, leading to changes in the designs of some currency notes, is causing mass misery nationwide. Deposit banks are unable to meet customer demands, leading to violence in many cities. The shortage of cash, it is feared, may lead to massive voter apathy. However, the chance to have their votes counted in real time will be too tempting for many voters to want to grasp.