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Nigeria's 2019 presidential election is a tight race


                                                           By Li Wengang
(Li Wengang is the director of Social and Cultural Studies at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.)

As the Giant of Africa, Nigeria's presidential and legislative elections, as scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to take place on February 23, are expected to be held in a free, fair and peaceful way.

 

The international community is also anticipating that the largest democracy of Nigeria could once again set an example for the whole Africa, just as it did four years ago. Saturday's election will be the sixth since Nigeria regained democracy in 1999 after long-term military rule.

However, there was no plain sailing in Nigeria's previous elections in general, and the 2019 presidential election in particular is sure to be a very tight race and divided along ethnic, religious and North-South regional lines.

 

Among more than 70 candidates, the front-runners are the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and a former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP).

 

Compared with previous presidential elections, in which major candidates were either a Northern Muslim or a Southern Christian, both candidates for 2019 are Muslims from Northern Nigeria where Buhari's support base is.

 

With the vote likely to be split in the North, Abubakar seems to have an edge over Buhari since he may find it is easier to get support from the South, the PDP's traditional stronghold.

 

Moreover, the sharp rise in joblessness and poverty, the resurgence of the extremist Boko Haram in the Northeast, the herders-farmers conflicts in the Middle Belt, and the Igbo ethnic separatist agitation in the South, all will more or less offset Buhari's incumbency advantages. And his mysterious health status adds uncertainties to his run for a second term as well.

 

There's little doubt that Buhari didn't achieve everything he promised when taking office in 2015: To eradicate religious extremism Boko Haram, widespread corruption and poverty.

Economic depression in Nigeria, as reflected in soaring unemployment and poverty (two major concerns of Nigerians), results from a series of factors, including long sharp drop of oil prices, the gloomy world economy, fast growing labor population, terrorism and farmer-herder conflicts. But this time, Buhari promises again to continue his unfinished tasks, while Atiku advocates a pro-business and free market agenda with a proposal to privatize the state-owned oil company. At any rate, whoever wins the election will face tough challenges.

 

Actually, Nigerians and the international community as a whole, seem to not care much about who will win. The priority for Nigeria is that the election should be conducted peacefully.

 

Owing to the current increasing instability and the previous strange circle of election-related violence before, during and after the elections, sporadic violence seems unavoidable. But thanks to the joint efforts of Nigerian security agencies and the international community, various regional and international election monitors, and the signing of the National Peace Accord by all candidates for their commitment to peaceful polls in Abuja on February 13, the general situation should remain stable, and disputes over outcomes hopefully would be solved through legal and peaceful means.

 

Although Saturday's election is a severe test for Nigeria's democracy, it is also an opportunity for the country's future as a stabilizing force and regional power in Africa. Nigeria and the whole of Africa cannot afford a violent power change; peace, stability and development are the only way forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright: Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, CASS

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