Introducing Nigeria 2023: Weekly Update

In their seminal book, “Why nations fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty” published in 2012, the economists, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson brilliantly argued that most theories in economics fail to provide a convincing explanation of the drivers of the lived reality because they erroneously assume that basic political problems have been solved. In their summation, including political analysis in economic studies provided illuminating insights about why certain policies were adopted or ignored across several societies. Against this backdrop and in lead up to Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, there is a need to provide that context in framing Nigeria’s medium term economic outlook and we have decided starting this week to provide some commentary on key trends across the political sphere. This will include brief summaries of key events across the main political parties, key candidates as well as links to good articles covering the elections.  A sort of ‘homo politicus’ meets ‘homo economicus’. The objective is not to take any sides but to provide a grounded assessment on how things are progressing towards the elections.  

2023: Another transitional election

Unlike the last three election cycles (2011, 2015 and 2019), where the incumbent president looked to ward off challengers to the Aso Rock residency, the next presidential election is a transitional one as the present occupier is term barred and will have to leave come May 29, 2023. As such parallels are being drawn to the last post-1999 transitional election which occurred in 2007 when then President Olusegun Obasanjo, after a failed third term bid, worked to ensure his anointed successor, later President Umar Musa Yaradua, ascended to office as the flagbearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As with the 2007 polls, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has seen a deluge of candidates seeking to fly the party’s flag as this presents an easier route to victory given the power of incumbency. A total of 23-25 individuals paid the hefty NGN100million price tag to enter the race which is consistent with the pattern in 2007 when 30 aspirants picked presidential nomination forms for the PDP.  However, unlike in 2007 when the incumbent effectively imposed his successor, President Muhammadu Buhari in keeping with his taciturn approach is unlikely to show his hand in the APC presidential primaries. His posture is best viewed from a statement he made a while back, “I belong to everyone, and I belong to nobody”. While he is likely to endorse everyone who aspires to be president, he is unlikely to wield anything close to what President Obasanjo did in 2007.

PDP’s turnaround on zoning has the potential to split its support base: In line with the unwritten and informal zoning arrangement about rotating Nigeria’s presidency between the north and south, the concern as the 2023 elections approached was whether both parties would commit to presenting southern candidates after eight years of a northerner in President Buhari. Given its antecedence as the original zoning party, the PDP was widely expected to zone its candidacy to the south. However, this ran into a roadblock in the form of the ambition of former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, who is desirous of another shot at the presidency after endless attempts. Atiku’s ambition and financial support, meant that the PDP, whose long sojourn in the opposition trenches had weakened party finances, was not going to be in a position to resist his desire to run for office. As such despite a strong southern gubernatorial base, the PDP has found it hard to adopt a position on zoning. Alongside Atiku, the preponderance of a several northern candidates on the PDP platform lends credence to argument that the party has jettisoned zoning. However, as the saying goes, ‘a day in politics is long’ and surely with some time 7-8 days left to the constantly shifting PDP presidential primaries at the end of May, events could still change. But in the event that the PDP selects a northern candidate, it would be interesting to see how the party holds the line in the key south-east and south-south voting bloc that has consistently delivered heavily for it in all elections since 1999.  For a lowdown on the key PDP candidates see this article in The Cable.  

But APC appears to have zoned its candidacy south: On the other hand, though the APC did not have anything in its DNA about zoning, utterances from key party governors over the last 3 years are consistent with the conclusion of a southerner likely emerging as its candidate. Though there are some northern candidates on the ruling APC candidate shortlist, these appear to be pretenders as some of these have also picked senatorial nomination forms and the presidential declaration serves to extract potential political office concessions. Of the remainder, there are strong southern candidates: Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Rotimi Amaechi and others. The candidates now have two weeks to convince 7800 delegates across thirty-six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of the party to vote for them at the presidential primaries slated for May 30-31, 2022.

The election low-down: To win Nigerian elections slated for February 12, 2023 a party’s flagbearer must secure a majority of total valid votes cast and carry at least 25% of the votes in at least 24 of the 36 states. The elections are organized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which says that there are around 84million registered voters who will look to pick a candidate from 18 political parties and across 176k polling units. Since the return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s presidential elections have all been decisively won with no complications requiring a second round. There will also be elections across 30 of the 36 states as well as legislative elections across the two chambers of the National Assembly and at the State Houses of Assembly. In terms of position of the major parties, APC is the party of big government and is closer to the left in terms of economic philosophy while PDP is the part of private capital and more economic liberalization and is closer to the right. In terms of candidate’s economic philosophy, we will try to patch together profiles as we head into their presidential conventions.  

See what else we’re reading below:


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