Changing of the Guard:
A View at the Trends and Terrain Determining the 2023 Nigerian General Elections

Nigerians will go to the polls in February and March 2023 to vote candidates into 1,489 elective positions – with three more governorship elections in November 2023 – from the presidency to the state house of assembly. The president, and governors in 18 of the 28 states holding ballots, are term-limited which will see a significant transition in governance. Most of this cadre of leaders were elected into office in 2015, as part of the ‘APC Sak’, a phrase referring to the Buhari support that ushered in the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC) and led to the end of sixteen years under the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Nigerian politics is dominated more by personalities than party ideologies, especially governors, former heads of state and erstwhile politicians that have been able to control structures in their states. This is why politicians can cross-carpet with no immediate consequence at the polls or to their standing. The national chair and secretary of the APC were members of the opposition PDP within the last decade,1 while two of the frontrunners2 for the forthcoming presidential elections, the PDP’s Atiku and New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP)’s Kwankwaso contested the presidential primaries of the APC in 2015. Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) nominee, was the vice-presidential candidate and running mate to Atiku on the PDP platform in 2019 and was elected as governor of Anambra on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2010. However, the 2023 elections will be determined by more than just the politicians and their current party allegiances. Insecurity remains a prevalent issue across the country, with every geopolitical zone being affected by one insecurity issue. From bandits, kidnappers and terrorists in the north to secessionists, state-sponsored criminal activities by party thugs and cultists in the south – and recurrent clashes precipitated by the “resource curse” across the Niger Delta – no part of the country is immune from what appears to be a deepening descent into instability in the country. The economy has suffered from two recessions since 2015, due mainly to the spill-over effects of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and of the Russian-Ukraine war on oil prices and the agricultural sector. Defenders of the current administration will no doubt point to the administration’s successes and claim better socio-economic indices of development under their watch than under previous governments. But what is clear, and perhaps above this partisan divide, is that the country is not where most citizens expect, and the challenge will be the next set of leaders of federal and state executive branches of government and legislatures the next set of political leaders to find a way to keep the country together and united.

The capacity and ability of the candidates put up for federal and state elections to public political offices, including the character issue, will be sorely tested as a major issue in the run-up to and after the next elections. A key part of the coming elections is how to handle the sensitive religious and cultural fault lines that threaten to cause a seismic shift and political realignment in the country. After two terms of a northern Muslim in Muhammadu Buhari, many politicians led agitations for the presidency to return to the south in accordance with an unwritten convention on alternating the post. Yet, these concerns were quashed by the individual ambitions of two of the country’s more established and financially well-endowed politicians: Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president, was able to secure the presidential nomination of the PDP, despite also being a northern Muslim like the incumbent president; and Bola Tinubu, a former governor of and senator from Lagos state, emerged as the APC nominee despite being a Muslim like the incumbent president. In order to follow up with expected political calculations in the Muslim-dominated north, Tinubu selected a Muslim running mate ensuring a ticket incongruous with the sensitive religious climate in the country.

In addition to the aforementioned religious and cultural factors, the 2023 elections will likely be the first to feel the significant impact of a third major increase in the country’s registered voter population. Whereas in previous elections increase in the registered voter population did not typically translate into a higher voter turnout, as was the case in 2019. In fact, the per centage of voter turn-out dropped with every successive election since the 2003 electoral cycle. Despite this trend, there is cause for optimism that it will be reversed in the 2023 elections. This is because significant campaigns have been launched to encourage younger voters to register and get their permanent voter card (PVC) in order to become more active stakeholders in the electoral process. Another reason is increased faith in the electoral process following the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation Software (BVAS) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Results Viewing Portal (IReV). The development led to an increase in the number of youths registered to vote – the electoral body estimates 40% of newly registered voters are students3 – making it the strata with the highest number of potential voters.

In looking at the 2023 elections, it is important to look at critical trends we can identify from past elections and assess their salience, alongside other salient factors, in affecting and influencing the outcomes of the 2023 elections.

We use cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to visit this page, you accept our use of cookies.