Africa’s biggest democracy is at a critical juncture as the country heads to the polls later this month.

One of the world’s biggest experiments in democracy will take place in Nigeria on 16 February. More than 80 million voters will head to the polls to choose the next president of Africa’s biggest democracy. 

As a federal state, Nigeria has 36 states and more than 200 different ethnic groups, making elections often fraught with tension. Multiparty elections in Nigeria was restored in 1999. 

Here are the key points in these presidential elections. 

Players

There are over 70 candidates whose names will be on the ballot papers.

But the election is widely seen as a two-horse race between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party, and Atiku Abubakar, who is the nominee of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) party. 

A wealthy businessman and the former vice president, Abubakar, despite the allegations of corruption he has faced, aims to prevent Buhari securing a second term in office.  

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari rides in a motorcade while inspecting the guard of honor at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria, in May, 2015.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari rides in a motorcade while inspecting the guard of honor at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria, in May, 2015. (Reuters)

In the 2015 elections, Buhari presented himself as hope for the country by putting the Boko Haram insurgency and the fight against corruption at the centre of his agenda. Despite his old age - he was 73 at the time - he was seen as an anti-corruption warrior who would bring change for the country’s young masses.

The issues that the upcoming president will face

However, after four years of Buhari’s rule, many Nigerians feel that their expectations have not been met.

The country of nearly 200 million people has been suffering from three key issues: security, the economy and corruption. 

Security

Although Buhari repeatedly claimed that Boko Haram has been defeated, factions of the group continue to carry out deadly attacks, causing more bloodshed and forcing thousands to flee their homes. 

In November 2018, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram faction, killed at least 100 Nigerian soldiers in an attack on a village in northeastern Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency since 2009. The attack marked one of the highest numbers of soldiers killed in a single attack by Boko Haram.

The Nigerian army seems to have failed to deal with the insurgency with experts warning that poor strategy and inadequate equipment have plagued the counter-terrorism efforts. 

However, the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria is not the only one that has deepened ethnic and religious polarisation in the cosmopolitan nation. 

Violence between semi-nomadic cattle herders and settled farmers in the Middle Belt region has killed more than 1,300 people, higher than the Boko Haram insurgency in the first half of 2018, according to an International Crisis Group report

The violence concentrated in the central states is largely driven by competition over dwindling arable land amid a rapidly growing population. 

Lastly, Nigerian security forces are also trying to combat separatists and militias who target oil pipelines in one of Africa’s most important oil-producing regions, the Niger Delta.  

Economy

Nigeria might be Africa's largest economy, but it has been struggling to get on its feet. 

Due to the decline in oil prices and the devastating recession and high inflation, the oil-dependent Nigerian economy has not been able to recover since 2016. 

Nigeria’s unemployment rate stands at 23.1 percent, and inflation peaked at 11.28 percent. 

The World Poverty Clock’s 2018 report shows that Nigeria overtook India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty, despite India having a population seven times larger than Nigeria’s.

While Buhari is trying to convince Nigerians that the economy will thrive if he is re-elected, Abubakar emphasises his business skills and offers a more market-friendly economic platform. 

Nigeria's yahoo boys ask hundreds of victims to send them small amounts of cash, adding up to significant sums.
Nigeria's yahoo boys ask hundreds of victims to send them small amounts of cash, adding up to significant sums. (Olivia Ndubuisi / TRTWorld)

Corruption

Widespread corruption remains deeply entrenched into Nigerian state institutions. Even Buhari recently admitted that “fighting corruption in a nation like Nigeria is a difficult task”. 

The Chatham House 2017 report shows that “close to $400 billion” was stolen from Nigeria’s public accounts between 1960 to 1999. 

Significantly, the endemic corruption has extensively expanded to the oil industry as Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and the sixth largest in the world.

The most famous scandal is the case of Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former minister of petroleum from 2010 to 2015. The lawsuits which have been filed in the US, Britain and Nigeria, seek to reclaim assets worth nearly $350 million including luxury apartments, mansions and yachts. 

Although the government claims that it has taken steps to tackle endemic corruption, the country currently ranks 144th among 188 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption report.

While some Nigerians see Buhari as an incorruptible leader, others see Abubakar as a businessman who will economically transform the Nigerian economy. Whoever Nigerians vote for it will surely impact how much money they have in their pockets.