Nigerians will vote on February 25 to choose their next president along with lawmakers in the House and Senate chambers. With 18 candidates vying for the job, experts at a panel discussion on Tuesday weighed in on the electoral dynamics and their implications for security, the economy and Nigeria’s foreign policy.
Among the main contenders are Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP).
But something is different this time, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Africa Security Initiative who convened Tuesday’s panel discussion. Besides representatives of the APC and the PDP, candidates include Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra state who is representing the Labor Party and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Kanu and former federal minister of defense of the New Nigeria People’s Party.
"This election is more competitive than has been the case certainly generating a lot of excitement just in terms of the electoral dynamics," Felbab-Brown said.
Each candidate has a vision for Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation. Tinubu, 70, said he will create wealth for the country.
"We will turn Nigeria and it will be our El Dorado," he said when he accepted the party nomination, Reuters reported.
Abubakar, 76, who lost to President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 elections, has a message of inclusion. Buhari is stepping down after two terms.
"Every part of this country will be given a sense of belonging, no part will be sidelined, no part will be marginalized," he said.
For Obi, 61, it’s time to build a new Nigeria that’s more attractive to its people.
"Those who left … even the young people who are today leaving, they will come back, we want to bring them back," he said. "Nigerians are prepared to come back if they can find that they have a country to go back to."
Obi has generated buzz among young Nigerians, panelists said. Matthew Page, associate fellow at Chatham House and author of the book, Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, said the election is a test of strength for the country’s kleptocratic ruling class.
"I think we are all watching in light of Peter Obi’s candidacy to see if the country’s powerful ruling elites who, regardless of their party, maintain their grip on the political system in Nigeria now since 1999," Page said. "Will they retrench decisively and maintain their hold on the system, or will they face a strong challenge from candidate that are enjoying the support of younger Nigerians?"
According to the electoral commission, 93 million people have registered to vote, and voters age 18-34 make up about 40% of that total, said Cynthia Mbamalu, director of programs for Yiaga Africa.
Page said on the economy, Nigeria must pursue economic and fiscal policies that unleash the country’s human and economic potential.
"Nigeria is pretty much trapped in a problematic cycle of high inflation, currency devaluation and manipulation, wasteful spending and irresponsible borrowing," he said. "Now Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio remains relatively low, at the same time its debt servicing costs are incredibly high. So, for example, in its 2023 budget, debt servicing costs would account for 30% of the government’s budget."
Other issues Nigeria faces, the panelists said, include crime, corruption, climate change and the need for good governance.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.