Who will take over the country? Nigerians began voting on Saturday to elect the next president of Africa’s most populous nation. After two terms marked by an explosion of insecurity and poverty in this country where 60% of the population is under 25, President Muhammadu Buhari, 80, is stepping down, as required by the Constitution.
More than 87 million voters are called in 176,000 polling stations to choose a president from 18 candidates, as well as deputies and senators. No major incident had been reported at the start of the day. But in many places, such as Lagos (south-west) or Kano (north), the start of voting took a long time because the material was not ready.
Tinubu, Abubakar and Obi on the starting line
Ruling party (APC) candidate Bola Tinubu, 70, cast his ballot in his stronghold of Lagos on Saturday morning, where he was greeted by a packed crowd and impressive security. The former governor (1999-2007) is nicknamed the “godfather” because of his political influence. Yoruba of Muslim faith, he claims to be the only one who can straighten out Nigeria and has already warned: this time, “it’s my turn” to govern.
But nothing is played against his two main opponents. At 76, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, of the opposition (PDP, in power from 1999 to 2015), will run for the presidency for the sixth time. Originally from the north and of the Muslim faith, he hopes to win many votes there. The ethnic and religious vote is important in a country with more than 250 ethnic groups, polarized between a predominantly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.
The other credible challenger is the former governor of Anambra (south-east) Peter Obi, a 61-year-old Christian, supported by the small Labor Party (LP), and very popular with young people. “I call on people to come out and vote. I am not looking for a job. I want to serve people (…) I want to lift people out of poverty”, said Peter Obi, walking in the streets of his native village, Amatutu, followed by dozens of journalists.
This vote is crucial. Nigeria – 216 million inhabitants – should become the third most populous country in the world by 2050, while West Africa is threatened by a strong democratic decline and the spread of jihadist violence. The future president will inherit a myriad of problems: criminal and jihadist violence in the north and center, separatist unrest in the southeast, galloping inflation, widespread impoverishment. To make matters worse, recent shortages of gasoline and banknotes have sparked riots. This is enough to inspire a strong desire for change among many Nigerians.
Across the country, the campaign was marked by attacks targeting local candidates, activists, police stations and election commission offices. The identification of voters by facial and digital recognition should limit fraud. Participation, low in previous elections (33% in 2019) is another unknown. The results must be announced within 14 days of the ballot.