In Depth

Who will win the Nigerian election?

Businessman Atiku Abubakar takes on incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari this weekend in delayed vote

Nigerian voters will head to the polls tomorrow for a pivotal election that sees President Muhammadu Buhari fighting for a second term.

The vote was initially scheduled for 16 February, but just five hours before it was due to begin, the country’s Independent National Electoral Commissions (INEC) announced that the election had been postponed by a week, blaming the delay on “logistical reasons, including fires, bad weather, and difficulties distributing voting materials”, The Spectator reports.

With crunch time fast approaching, we look at what is at stake and who is expected to win. 

Who is running?

Buhari came to power in 2015 as leader of the centre-left All Progressives Congress (APC), vowing to “root out corruption, revive the economy and defeat the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency”, the BBC reports.

Yet despite the electorate “taking him at his word”, his first term has been “marred by his prolonged absence due to illness, a weak economy, and the government’s failure to effectively tackle corruption and insecurity”, The Guardian says.

The 76-year-old leader is running for re-election against 71 other candidates, but his main challenger is Atiku Abubakar, a business tycoon and former vice president who is representing the centre-right People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The president faces an extremely tight battle against 72-year-old Abubakar, who has pledged to privatise the state oil company and float the currency to reinvigorate the flagging economy, says Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day.

Why was the vote delayed?

The last-minute cancellation of last week’s vote “surprised the country and inconvenienced thousands of Nigerians who had travelled a long way to cast their votes”, the BBC reports. The delay also cost the the nation’s economy around $1.5bn (£1.15bn).

Although the INEC blamed logistical issues for the delay, the two main contender’s parties are blaming each other.

In a statement, the APC claimed that the PDP wanted to halt Buhari’s momentum, while Abubakar’s party has suggested that electoral commission bosses delayed the election to create “the space to perfect their rigging plans”.

Al Jazeera suggests that “given the Nigerian judiciary’s lack of independence and well-earned reputation for corruption, it is possible that the Nigerian presidency could essentially be sold to the highest bidder”.

Who will win?

The playing field seems surprisingly level.

Business Day reports that both men are Muslims from the north, which “could make that area a crucial battleground”. The Spectator notes that they also share an “electoral disadvantage in a country of mainly young people” - the average age of a Nigerian is just 18, while both candidates are in their 70s.

According to Olly Owen, a lecturer in African studies at Oxford University, both men also “appeal to two distinct tendencies among Nigerian voters - a yearning for clean government and a desire for economic opportunity”.

Given this apparently even split in likely support, some experts suggest that endorsements may swing the election. Abubakar will benefit from the support of key powerbrokers, including former army chiefs and heads of state.

However, Al Jazeera reports that images posted online showing policemen and soldiers using Buhari’s campaign sign, which “indicates an endorsement”, have gone viral. “Security forces are seen with their hands raised and showing what is known locally as ‘4 + 4’, which means a second term of four years for the incumbent,” the site says.

Victor Okhai, the presidential candidate for the minority Providence People’s Charter party, has voiced fears over the outcome, regardless of the winner.

“I envisage that the results will be seriously contested and disputed,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is because the gladiators from the two biggest parties have sworn not to give in or concede victory in case they lose. This is not healthy for the polity.”

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