NIGERIA: Before presidential elections next weekend in Nigeria, polls have put outsider candidate Peter Obi in the lead, potentially signalling a sea change in the continent’s most populous country.
A victory for 61-year-old businessman turned politician Obi would upend Nigerian politics and end the two main establishment parties’ decades-long control.
Twenty-four years after the end of military rule, analysts and observers consider the election a significant “inflection moment” for the nation. Although the massive nation, which possesses Africa’s largest economy, is experiencing several economic, political, and social difficulties, it is seen as a bellwether for democracy on the continent.
Recent polls indicate that Obi has between a 10% and 40% advantage over his rivals. Still, many experts warn that if turnout is low, this advantage could quickly disappear, likely giving the victory to the ruling party’s candidate, 70-year-old veteran power broker Bola Tinubu, whose campaign slogan is “It’s my turn.” Less than half of Nigeria’s more than 90 million eligible voters actually get to cast a ballot.
Obi has tried to stop the huge political machines of the ruling All Progressives Congress and its main opponent, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), from having an advantage. He has done this through social media and by reaching out to all communities instead of trying to rally people who already support him.
Few people are debating the magnitude of the difficulties that the ultimate winner will face. Inflation is at record highs, the value of the naira has decreased, and there have been violent riots as a result of the central bank’s botched attempt to introduce new banknotes.
In 2022, thousands of people nationwide were killed in attacks by bandits, criminals, and extremists. The police and the armed forces are regarded as ineffective, corrupt, and harsh, and a wave of kidnapping for ransom has reached hitherto secure towns and cities.
Young voters have responded favourably to Obi’s campaign promise to apologize to victims of police violence, which has become a major topic for young people to rally around in recent years.
Vincent Foucher, an extremism expert at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, warned that the regional affiliate of the Islamic State and Boko Haram could still try to sabotage the election or its aftermath.
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