Nigeria, the largest country in Africa by population, goes to the polls because the current term of office of many of its national politicians comes to end four years after the previous elections in March 2015.
Elections will take place for the President and all of the federal legislature (House and Senate). There will also be elections for 29 of the 36 governors of the states that make up Nigeria. It is therefore the main election day of the election cycle in Nigeria.
At a very late stage, the elections were postponed by a week from the previous intended date of 16 February, a decision taken by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Presidential election is basically decided by a simple plurality of votes cast for a candidate. However, there is another hurdle the winning candidate needs to clear, namely a minimum share of 25 per cent of the vote in two thirds (24) of the 36 states. This provision is intended to ensure that the President has significant support across this large and diverse nation.
There are 360 members of the House of Representatives who are elected by simple plurality in single member constituencies, as MPs are in the United Kingdom.
There are 108 Senators, also elected in single-member plurality constituencies.
The two main parties in Nigeria are the All Progressives Congress (APC), founded as an alliance of smaller parties in 2013, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP had held the Presidency from the end of military rule in 1999 until the elections of 2015 when the current President Muhammadu Buhari was elected as the candidate of the APC. His allies in the APC also won a majority in the House and Senate, but there were significant defections of members of parliament away from the APC during the term of the last parliament. The APC lost its majority and the PDP had effective control over House and Senate by 2018.
73 candidates are standing in the Presidential election. The two leading candidates are the incumbent President Buhari (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (PDP).
Holding the election is a challenging exercise for Nigeria’s electoral commission. Ensuring that the 84 million people entitled to vote can do so in peaceful and free conditions is not easy. It is particularly difficult in the areas in the north of the country where Islamist insurgent movement Boko Haram has been engaged in armed conflict; the 2015 election was delayed several weeks because of the rebellion. It is also difficult to prevent official security forces and political organisations with the support of the national and state governments from exercising undue influence on v0ters. It will be important to the future of Nigeria to have a result that is not tainted by allegations of fraud and corruption, as the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been.
Sources and further reading:
Neil Munshi ‘Contrasting visions for Nigeria’ Financial Times 15 February 2019 and other FT coverage via https://www.ft.com/stream/76621a06-80b1-399f-aefc-8715e23c7879
Matthew T Page and Sola Tayo ‘Countdown to February 2019: A Look Ahead at Nigeria’s Elections’ Chatham House paper via https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/countdown-february-2019-look-ahead-nigeria-elections