Lagos, Nigeria

Countdown begins for Nigeria’s crucial elections

Nigeria’s next presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for February 25th. The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), will step aside, having served the constitutional maximum of two terms in office.

Custom dictates that power should shift from the Muslim-majority north to the Christian-majority south after two terms under Mr Buhari, a northern Muslim. However, the spirit of this implicit agreement has not been applied to the upcoming polls.

Who are the main presidential candidates to replace Mr Buhari?

Bola Tinubu (All Progressives Congress): Seen as a continuity candidate to Mr Buhari, Mr Tinubu is a former governor of Lagos and is credited with rapid development of the city, which is now Nigeria’s economic hub. However, he is facing allegations of criminality in the 1990s, when he resided in the US. As a southern muslim, has chosen a northern Muslim as his running mate. In some quarters this Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket may undermine his election bid.

Atiku Abubakar (People’s Democratic Party, PDP): A political heavyweight who has represented both the APC and the PDP. The election will be his sixth attempt at the presidency, with the last being in 2019. A northern Muslim, he has chosen a Christian, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate, and so may be seen to have greater nationwide appeal.

Peter Obi (Labour Party): For the first time in Nigerian politics since democracy began in 1999, the presidential election will be a three-way race. A political luminary, Mr Obi has successfully recast himself as the anti-establishment candidate for the Labour Party, which until recently was a fringe movement. He is running on an anti‑corruption platform and has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity, using social media to appeal to young and urban voters.

How would a win for each candidate affect Nigeria’s policy outlook?

The run-up to the 2023 election has prevented the government from committing fully to reforms it had been endorsing during the middle of Mr Buhari’s second term. An era of reform following the election is expected to begin, but slowly at first. Petrol subsidies are expected to be reduced, partly relieving fiscal strains.

Although Mr Tinubu claims that he is prepared to end petrol subsidies and rev up the private sector through public-private-partnerships, he also believes that Nigeria’s low debt/GDP ratio permits continued fiscal expansionism, and has not ruled out continued deficit monetisation by the central bank. Mr Tinubu is also likely to continue with a managed-exchange-rate regime and use the central bank as a de facto development agency.

Mr Abubakar has said he would unify Nigeria’s exchange rates, cut government debt and promote the private sector through corporation tax cuts. Petrol subsidies would also be cut. However, Mr Abubakar is also battling against allegations of corruption, from when he was vice-president in 1999-2007, with new claims of financial improbity having surfaced since the start of 2023.

Mr Obi wants a more orthodox handle on the economy and in particular on the public finances. Notably, Mr Obi would try to restructure Nigeria’s public debt to reduce interest payments, the largest spending item in the federal budget.

Too close to call?

Last month Mr Tinubu accused Mr Buhari’s administration of using intermittent fuel-supply shortages to block his chances of winning the presidential election. These inflammatory claims, which were made at a campaign rally, appear to acknowledge the lack of clarity surrounding the APC’s support of its own candidate.

Having been the favourite to win the election we believe that ruling party support for Mr Tinubu is flagging, and that the possibility of Mr Abubakar’s victory in the upcoming elections cannot be discounted. A challenged or inconclusive result might trigger a political crisis because of the infrastructural, logistics and security challenges related to holding a run-off within the legal timeframe.

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