From endemic corruption to rising unemployment, here's a breakdown of the issues that matter most in Nigeria's upcoming elections.
On May 29, 2015, Nigerians watched with huge expectations as president Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office in a ceremony in the Nigerian capital.
African heads of state poured into Abuja to attend the inauguration ceremony, as did former US secretary of state John Kerry and other dignitaries.
It was, by any measure, a historic moment for the country. Buhari, a former military ruler between 1984 and 1985, became the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent president since independence from Britain in 1960. He beat then-president Goodluck Jonathan by 15.4 million votes to 12.9 million.
After a military inspection and parade, and amid occasional loud cheers, Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria's 15th head of state and outlined the West African nation’s economic, security, corruption, and unemployment challenges. But he struck an optimistic note when he said: "We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems."
That day, he concluded his speech by saying: "We have an opportunity, let us take it." On social media, especially Twitter, Nigerians reacted using several hashtags, including #BuhariFixThis, #ChangeIsHere and #DearBuhari.
Nearly four years later, almost all of those issues Buhari promised to “fix” are still ailing Nigeria, and they have been dominating the run-up to the presidential election. Buhari is seeking re-election under the ruling All Progressives Congress (or APC).
But, unlike 2015 when he had to slog the presidency out with only 14 candidates, this year about 73 candidates are running in what will, just like the last election, be a tight battle. Realistically, the race is largely between the APC and the main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), which is fielding Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former vice president from 1999 to 2007.
Ahead of Nigeria's presidential elections on February 16, here are the major issues shaping political campaigns and debates across the country.
Security has dominated the campaigns of many candidates, and rightly so. It is a major problem buffeting several parts of Nigeria at the moment.
Boko Haram militants continue to attack northeastern Nigeria, creating vast humanitarian needs and displacing thousands of people. The insurgency, launched in 2009, has killed some 35,000 people and displaced some 2.5 million people across the Lake Chad region, 1.8 million of whom are inside Nigeria. Some 7.7 million people, half of whom are children, seriously need humanitarian aid in the most affected northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
Though the insurgents suffered heavy losses following the victory of Buhari in 2015, a recent upsurge in attacks on military bases and civilians since last November has forced nearly 60,000 people to flee to overcrowded camps in Borno State and across the border to Chad and Cameroon.
Away from Boko Haram, tit-for-tat violence between herders and farming communities, mostly in central Nigeria, has killed at least 3,641 people between January 2016 and October 2018, according to Amnesty International.
Again, there is militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, as well as renewed agitation for secession by pro-Biafra separatists in the southeast, calling for an independent state after failed attempts to establish a similar state led to a civil war from 1967 to 1970.
And finally on security, armed bandits pose a huge threat to rural communities in northwestern Nigeria, particularly in Zamfara state where thousands have been displaced and hundreds of people killed last year alone.
President Buhari knew this and cannot shy away from the fact that his victory in 2015 was partly due to the common belief that he is incorruptible, with his base often citing his anti-corruption crusade as a military dictator. However, since his ascendency to power, the president appears to be struggling to tackle corruption.
Critics say his fight against corruption is one-sided, with members of the opposition often arrested and people in his administration and political party allowed to move freely without any charges. Even with his anti-corruption campaign, the latest ranking from Transparency International (TI) shows that Nigeria ranked 144 out of 180 countries and scored 27 on a scale of 100, an indication that Nigeria “remained unchanged” on the ranking since 2017.
Even TI admits that many of the “positive steps” initiated by Buhari in the last three years “have clearly not yielded the desired results”.
Corruption would, as always, remain one of the major issues during elections here because, as a report from global accountancy firm PWC noted, if corruption is allowed to flourish it could cost Nigeria up to 37 percent of its GDP by 2030.
Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer and one of the continent’s largest economies, a combination of lower oil prices and a weak currency affected the economy and, in August 2016, forced the country into its first recession in 25 years. Crude oil accounts for 70 percent of government revenue, so the slump in global oil prices hurt the economy badly. Though the country exited recession in late 2017, recovery has been wobbly.
And by extension, even the modest growth recorded by the economy has not translated into better outcomes for the nation’s more than 180 million population, the majority of who are struggling with extreme poverty. Last year, Nigeria became the country with the largest number of people mired in poverty, with about 86.9 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty compared to India’s 71.5 million.
The widespread issue explains why campaigns zero in on the economy with candidates making big promises, sometimes, with messianic fervour. For example, Buhari’s main challenger Abubakar has promised to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025.
More than half of Nigeria’s population are young people under 35. Unemployment figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have been on a steady rise since late 2014 when the rate was 6.4 percent.
In its most recent labour force data, released last December, NBS reported that the unemployment rate hit 23.1 percent in the third quarter, up from 18.1 percent in the same period in 2017.
According to the NBS, the total number of unemployed Nigerians (people who do not have jobs or worked fewer than 20 hours weekly) stood at 20.9 million, up from 17.6 million in the last quarter of 2017.
In all fairness, Buhari’s administration created a few ‘empowerment’ schemes, notably the N-Power initiative under which the government says it is paying at least 500,000 young people a monthly stipend of 30,000 naira (around $85) to work as teachers, health workers, tax liaison officers and agricultural extension officers, but this does not address the huge unemployment gap.
As with corruption, insecurity and the economy, joblessness - especially among young people - continuously comes up in campaigns and shapes discussions around the elections.
An erratic power supply has plagued Nigeria, undercutting the efficiency of factories, firms and small and medium businesses.
Diesel-powered generators are commonplace as a result of this failure, and analysts often argue that power generation is one of the main obstacles to economic development in the nation.
For now, Nigeria currently generates around 4,000 megawatts (MW) of electric power daily, though there is a potential to generate up to 12,522 megawatts from existing plants. Some 20 million households are without electricity, compared to 2.2 millions households in South Africa, which generates more than 47,000 MW.
During Buhari’s campaign rallies in southwestern Nigeria last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo told the crowd that “power is the second item on our list”, and went on to enumerate the benefits of having stable electricity in homes and workplaces.
“There are currently 634 million people without electricity in Africa and in Nigeria we estimate that only one in five people has access to power from the electricity grid,” explained Pedro Omontuemhen, partner and lead for power and utilities at PWC Nigeria.
“This leaves four in five people living in urban and rural communities having to fend for themselves with makeshift and localised power solutions.”
For the average Nigerian, who consumes fewer than 140 kilowatt hours every year, a government that prioritises power generation and making electricity much more available and stable would make a huge difference.