Old faces, new hopes: Meet the candidates in Nigeria’s 2023 elections
Four men lead the race to be Nigeria’s next president. Who are they and what do they stand for?
When Nigeria goes to the polls on 25 February 2023, they will be able to choose between 18 candidates to be the new president. For only the second time since the return to democracy in 1999, the incumbent – Muhammadu Buhari, who is coming to the end of his maximum second term – will not be one of the options.
Out of the pack of hopefuls, four candidates stand out as having a chance: Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP); and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).
These four men are well-known to both voters and one another. In 2015, Tinubu, Atiku and Kwankwaso were all part of the newly created APC as it defeated the then ruling PDP. And in the 2019 elections, Atiku, Obi and Kwankwaso were all in the PDP, with Atiku the presidential flag-bearer and Obi his running mate.
Now, the four candidates are all up against each other as they vie for the support of more than 90 million registered voters. Who are they and what do they stand for?
Bola Tinubu, 70, served as governor of Lagos state from 1999 to 2007 and remains an instrumental figure in the state’s politics. He was also a key figure in the formation of the APC, which brought President Buhari to power. He is known as a kingmaker and bridge-builder with friends spread across the country. These allies include outgoing vice-president Yemi Osinbajo; two-time governor of Ekiti state Kayode Fayemi; and his successor as Lagos state governor and now minister Babatunde Fashola.
Tinubu is one of Nigeria’s richest politicians and will have a huge war chest at his disposal. Although never formally convicted, he stands accused of becoming so wealthy by corruptly enriching himself when he served as Lagos governor and through various business interests, most notably Alpha Beta Consulting, a firm that has collected taxes for the Lagos state government since the early-2000s. Tinubu is alleged to have bought delegates’ votes for between $10,000-25,000 during the APC presidential primary.
As the ruling party and with 21 state governors, the APC has the advantage of incumbency, but it remains to be seen if Tinubu will campaign as a break from, or continuation of, the Buhari administration. Tinubu’s ambitious, and rather speculative, campaign promises 12% GDP growth, millions of new jobs, and the establishment of six new regional economic development hubs. A fan of state policing, he promises to improve security by decentralising the police force while creating jobs at the same time.
Tinubu is running on a joint ticket with Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno state (2011-2019) and former chairman of Northern Nigeria Governors Forum. Shettima is an astute administrator and is seen as skilled at bringing together fellow governors. But the decision to go with Shettima means the APC is running a Muslim-Muslim ticket, a move which goes against the convention of having a “religiously balanced” ticket in Nigeria.
Fifth time lucky?
Atiku Abubakar, 76, was vice-president between 1999-2007 and has contested for the presidency in every election since his term ended. The Adamawa state native has often been defeated at the party primaries – and he has frequently switched parties between elections – but he made it onto the PDP’s ticket in 2019. He will again be the main opposition’s flag-bearer in 2023.
Like Tinubu, Atiku is both very wealthy and has faced widespread corruption allegations. Some of these have come from Olusegun Obasanjo, the president when Atiku was vice-president, who has accused his former colleague of being unfit for office. Atiku oversaw extensive privatisation efforts during his tenure, which is rumoured to haven given him the opportunity to accumulate significant wealth.
Atiku’s pitch to voters is that he can be the man to unify Nigeria given his personal and political alliances that span the country. He wants to restructure the country’s federal make-up to allow for the greater devolution of powers to sub-national units. He has pledged to prioritise non-military approaches to tackling insecurity, such as alternative dispute resolution methods, and to reform the country’s birth registration system. Atiku’s plans on economy include private sector reform, efficient infrastructure to reduce production costs and optimise agricultural growth potential, and boosting manufacturing and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises.
Atiku’s running-mate is Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state. Okowa publicly identifies a member of the Igbo ethnicity, who predominate in the South-East, but is from the South-South and is chairman of the South-South Governors Forum. His presence on the ticket could help secure the support of this historic PDP stronghold, but the choice has led to some discontent within the party, particularly those close to Nyesom Wike, the influential Rivers state governor who was the runner-up to Atiku in the primaries.
Peter Obi is a former banker and two-time governor of Anambra state. In 2019, he was Atiku’s running mate on the PDP ticket, and he initially sought the party’s endorsement ahead of the 2023 primaries. Realising his chances of winning the PDP nomination were bleak, however, he joined the LP to contest as its presidential candidate.
Obi’s supporters see him as the “clean” candidate, yet he too faces graft allegations from his tenure as Anambra state governor. He was also mentioned in the Pandora Papers and, as a result, was invited by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to answer questions over hidden or undeclared assets. It remains unclear if official charges were brought against him.
Obi’s plans on the economy, an area in which his credentials are strong, focus on revitalising domestic production; investing in education, infrastructure, and human capacity development; and creating jobs. He seems less convincing on tackling security.
Obi has cultivated a strong following among the middle-class. Partly through his online presence, he has also been able to win the support of many young voters, who make up more than half of registered voters. Unfortunately for him, the LP controls no states and has no governors to help deliver votes. But to correct this weakness, Obi’s campaign is hoping to get the endorsement of the Nigerian Labour Congress – the umbrella body for workers in Nigeria – to improve the LP’s physical presence across the country. Such backing, and ensuring young voters turn out, will be key if the LP is to secure an unlikely victory.
Obi’s running mate, Datti Baba Ahmed, is a former senator and representative for Kaduna and now the owner of Baze University in Abuja. He comes from a prominent northern family, which includes the spokesperson of Northern Elders forum, Hakeem Baba Ahmed.
Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a former senator and defence minister, is perhaps best known for being governor of Kano state between 1999-2003 and 2011-2015. That state is historically important for being home to the largest number of active voters. As leader of the Kwakwasiyya political movement – whose members wear red caps and some receive education scholarships – Kwankwaso has a sizeable following across the state. In 2015, Kwankwaso supported Buhari, but switched allegiances and campaigned for Atiku in 2019.
Kwankwaso, a populist, is promising to reverse the economic woes, insecurity, educational crisis, and youth unemployment bedevilling almost all sections of the country. Although unlikely to win the national vote, he will eat into the almost three million votes contributed by Kano in every presidential election since 1999. In this sense he, and his running mate Pastor Isaac Idahosa of Edo state, should be regarded as a potential spoiler rather than a threat to the overall outcome of the presidential polls.