The Federal Republic of Nigeria witnessed a historic presidential election in February 2023, with major political figures competing for the top position. The ruling party's candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, emerged victorious with 8.8 million votes, beating his main rivals, Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the People's Democratic Party who received 6.9 million votes, and Peter Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party who received 6.1 million votes. Senator Tinubu also won more than 25% of the votes in 24 out of the total 36 states, in addition to the capital Abuja, which is a necessary requirement for a presidential candidate to win.
The results of these elections were surprising to many, as most analyses had suggested that opposition parties, particularly Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, had the potential to rise given their political, economic, and tribal weight. Although Senator Tinubu won a significant majority of the votes, the interactions associated with the elections and their outcome indicate that there might be challenges that the new president may face.
Implications of Voting Behavior
Tribal and regional affiliations are among the most influential factors influencing voters' preferences, especially in the southwest regions of the country, inhabited by the Yoruba people. They view Bola Ahmed Tinubu's victory as an opportunity to regain power for their tribe. However, Tinubu's popular support from the Hausa people in the north of the country is not based on tribal grounds. Rather, it may be attributed to their confidence in his leadership potential and personality, even though he is competing with Atiku Abubakar, the famous wealthy politician who comes from one of the Hausa tribes in the north.
Moreover, Tinubu was able to win over swing voters in states that represent a stronghold for the People's Democratic Party, especially after the loss of candidate Peter Obi. This caused what is known as the "vote-splitting" effect, which damaged Atiku Abubakar's chances and led to a decline in his supporting votes. This was significant because Obi won in some of the strongholds of the People's Democratic Party, especially in the central northern states. He received support from many youth groups in major cities and from the most educated youth. Although age is not the only controlling factor governing the movement of the youth, religious and ethnic aspects do play a significant role in their movement, representing a social and political pressure element.
Another outstanding issue that could be a source of concern for Nigerian authorities is the attempts made to disrupt and obstruct the elections, along with calls to annul the results and organize new elections. This is because some political parties lost confidence in the results of the presidential elections. The two main opposition parties to the ruling party demanded that President Buhari organize free and fair elections and dismiss the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu.
On the other hand, one positive sign from the elections is that they were generally peaceful, compared to previous elections held since 1999. No terror attacks occurred, and no voters were killed during the elections, despite growing concerns over the opposition's rejection of the results. However, there are still concerns over the opposition's calls for taking to the streets, which could cause security and political tensions across the country.
Weaknesses and Strengths
Tinubu has the ability for long-term planning and is considered by some to be the "king of the long game" who has been planning his rise to power for many years. He was not only the governor of a major state like Lagos but also prepared for those who succeeded him in governing the state. He used his immense influence and resources to prepare leaders and establish political power, starting in the southwest and extending to northern Nigeria. He wields significant influence in the southwest, where he is seen as a political godfather and kingmaker.
Tinubu served as a senator in the Nigerian federal parliament and was governor of Lagos state for two consecutive terms from 1999 to 2007. He has made clear and lasting contributions to the political landscape of Nigeria, achieving unprecedented economic and developmental progress for Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital. He is credited with establishing the State Ministry of Special Duties and spearheading pioneering reforms that transformed the state into Nigeria's economic hub. Since leaving the position in 2007, he has been responsible for selecting all of Lagos' governors and played an active role in the election of former President Buhari in his fourth attempt in 2015.
Overall, Tinubu's strengths lie in his ability to plan for the long term, establish and wield political power, and make significant contributions to the economic and developmental progress of Nigeria. However, weaknesses may arise from accusations of political godfatherism and potential overreliance on his influence and resources.
After serving for decades as the second-in-command, Tinubu announced that it was his turn to step out of the shadows and run for the presidency. He launched his campaign under the slogan "Emi Lokan," which means "It's my turn" in the Yoruba language. Tinubu is considered a savvy political figure who has gained popular approval for his vision for administration and his ability to lead without making discriminatory statements or practices at partisan, religious, or tribal levels. He also has progressive and modern ideas and shows respect for social and national symbols, including kings, princes, and religious leaders such as scholars, imams, and Christian leaders. What sets him apart in this regard is that he is Muslim, and his wife is Christian.
However, Tinubu faces several accusations, including allegations of corruption due to his vast and extensive wealth and interests in various sectors, including real estate and media. He is also accused of having a truckload of gold bullion at his home in a wealthy area of Lagos since the 2019 elections. He has also faced repeated criticism for failing to transparently address concerns about his health, as he sometimes appears confused and inconsistent during conversations.
Interconnected Internal Challenges
President Tinubu's administration is facing a wide range of economic, political, security, social, and religious sectarian challenges. The following challenges stand out:
1. Internal tribal divisions:
The president-elect still has the task of unifying the various factions and components of a country that is already suffering from symptoms of division along religious, ethnic, and tribal lines. The multi-racial and multi-religious nature of Nigerian society has created a complex situation as the country is home to more than 250 ethnic groups and is witnessing polarization between the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.
2. Chronic societal problems:
Nigerian society suffers from a number of problems, including fuel shortages and electricity crises that have become chronic and recurrent due to policies followed by previous administrations.
3. Rifts within the ruling party:
After taking office, the president is expected to make serious efforts to reconcile the influential figures within the ruling All Progressives Congress party, re-organize, and overcome the internal rifts that nearly derailed the party's candidate's efforts to win the latest elections.
4. Activities of terrorist groups:
Since 2009, Boko Haram has been active in the northeast of Nigeria, causing over 40,000 deaths and displacing more than two million people, despite the efforts of successive administrations to crack down on them. In addition, the terrorists have established new fronts in the northwest and central parts of the country, where criminal gangs attack farmers and herders in rural areas without restraint and carry out kidnapping operations for ransom.
Insecurity and mass kidnappings have forced the authorities to close over 11,000 schools since the end of 2020, resulting in an increased number of out-of-school children. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there are now 18.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, and 60% of them are girls.
5. Crude oil theft:
The new administration also faces the widespread phenomenon of crude oil theft, which caused Nigeria to temporarily lose its position as Africa's largest oil producer to Angola in the third quarter of 2022 before returning to the top of the list, according to the latest figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Therefore, the new administration must make serious efforts to recover Nigeria's oil sector and meet its national, regional, and international obligations. The country's budget for 2023 includes plans to resume oil production at a rate of 1.69 million barrels of crude oil per day, which is lower than its allotted quota of 1.8 million barrels as determined by OPEC.
6. Mixed criminal organizations:
The new administration is faced with the challenge of dealing with a mix of criminal organizations that operate under the guise of civilian cover and claim to have legitimate national demands. These organizations are active in the southeastern part of the country, alongside organized crime gangs in the Niger Delta region, which is strategically critical for exporting Nigerian oil. The region has rampant oil theft and smuggling gangs, along with active separatist groups. The new administration must find an effective formula to address these groups.
7. Prolonged repercussions of Covid-19 and the Ukrainian war:
In addition to the above challenges, the catastrophic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic pushed the country's economy into a recession in mid-2020 for the first time in four years. The impact of the war in Ukraine has also compounded the suffering of citizens. Despite the slim positive growth forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, with a GDP growth of 3% in 2022 and a projected growth of 3.2% in 2023, inflation has exceeded 20%. The new administration must work towards stabilizing the economy and addressing the impact of both the pandemic and the war.
Political Trends in Nigeria
Based on general information, the interactions associated with the voting process, the course of the elections, and the nature of the relationships between the components of Nigerian civil society, the following conclusions can be reached regarding the political scene in Nigeria:
1. Nigerian political actors continue to maintain a delicate balance, working to keep the country running on the basis of political consensus among major players, despite their different affiliations and interests.
2. The principles of the democratic game are respected by all parties, both winners and losers, with legal means of protest through the judiciary being the prevailing logic. Although some violent practices have occurred, they remain limited and do not significantly affect the overall atmosphere.
3. Nigeria's foreign policy will likely continue on the path set during President Muhammadu Buhari's tenure, particularly with regard to relations with Arab countries. However, a positive change is expected in Nigeria's relations with the United States and Europe due to the strong ties between President-elect Tinubu and a network of interests that go back a long way, as well as his time spent as a refugee in the United States.
4. The ruling party's control has a long-lasting influence on the overall political situation and presidential bids, as well as the party's efforts to secure its control over the Nigerian Senate by obtaining 49 out of a total of 109 seats, which ensures a majority for the party in the legislature.
5. Religion continues to exert a powerful influence on the Nigerian political scene and Nigerian voters, despite attempts to use tribal affiliations of the Yoruba people to which the ruling party's candidate belongs. For example, Christian masses from various denominations voted for Peter Obi, who was supported by the highest authority of the Christian faith in Lagos.
6. The implementation of the peaceful rotation of the presidency based on the principle of the six geopolitical regions of Nigeria was agreed upon at the National Conference on Political and Constitutional Reform in 2000 but remains only a theoretical principle. However, the principle of the country's three major regions, represented by the largest tribes, has been reintroduced, with the North belonging to the Hausa, the Southwest to the Yoruba, and the Southeast to the Igbo tribes.