By Kayode Oyero
Four frontline candidates in the race to become the next President of Africa’s most populous country on Saturday cast their votes at their respective polling units in parts of Nigeria.
Though 18 candidates are in the race, pollsters and analysts have described the contest as a four-horse race between Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP).
While Obi and Tinubu are from the southern region of the country, Kwankwaso and Atiku come from the northern part of Nigeria. The four heavyweights and strong contenders have large followings with the numerical potential of emerging as the successor of President Muhammadu Buhari whose two-term tenure ends on May 29, 2023.
Accreditation and voting commenced around 08:30am at most of the 176,606 polling units scattered across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory that make up Nigeria as 87.2 million voters with Permanent Voter Cards go to the polls to elect a new president and members of the country’s National Assembly.
On Saturday, Tinubu cast his vote at a polling unit in Bourdillion, Ikoyi, Lagos State.
Tinubu voted alongside his wife, Remi, and other party chieftains.
Addressing reporters, he said “democracy is here to stay” in Nigeria and that he is “too confident of victory”.
He said the voting process is “going smoothly” and “going well”.
On the turnout of voters, the APC candidate said, “This is expected, we need a good turnout and that is the adoption and the commitment to democracy and the democratic process must take place.”
The two-term former Lagos governor from 1999 to 2007 and a member of the incumbent’s party is undoubtedly a force in the race.
Obi cast his vote at polling unit 19 in the Agulu area of the Aniocha Local Government Area of Anambra State in Nigeria’s South-East geopolitical zone.
Obi and his wife Margaret cast their vote around 11:45am on Saturday after following the voting queue for about 30 minutes.
Addressing reporters after he voted, Obi said the process was “seamless”.
Obi, a former Governor of Anambra State from 2006 to 2014, is popular among youths. Many pre-election polls have predicted victory for the 61-year-old businessman who is running alongside Kaduna-based Datti Baba-Ahmed.
On his part, Atiku voted at Polling Unit 012, Ajiya Ward in the Yola North Local Government Area of Adamawa State. He voted alongside his wife, Titi.
The former Vice-President, who addressed journalists, expressed optimism and confidence that he will emerge the winner of the presidential election and succeed President Muhammadu Buhari whose two-term tenure ends on May 29, 2023.
Atiku was also the PDP candidate in 2019 and he came second with over 11 million votes right behind Buhari who polled over 15 million votes.
Kwankwaso cast his vote at a polling unit in the Kwankwaso town of the Madobi Local Government Area of Kano State.
Addressing reporters after voting, Kwankwaso said accreditation and voting didn’t start in the polling unit till 11 am as against 08:30am. He, therefore, appealed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be a “little bit patient” for his supporters to vote.
Kwankwaso, 66, is a former governor of Kano State, and an ex-Minister of Defence. He commands a “cut-like following” in North-West Nigeria with his socio-political movement, Kwankwasiyya movement with strong presence in Kano and other states.
President Buhari who also voted in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, alongside his wife, Aisha, encouraged Nigerians to go out and vote for their preferred candidate.
The President had many times before Saturday’s polls assured citizens that he will deliver free and fair elections on February 25 and March 11, 2023, promising a smooth transition on May 29, 2023.
Similarly, the electoral commission chief, Mahmood Yakubu at a press conference on Friday assured Nigerians that election results will be speedily released.
One of the uniqueness of this year’s election is the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Registration Systems (BVAS), the technological system stipulated in the Electoral Act of 2022 which allows the accreditation of voters through biometrics capturing, and uploading of results amongst others.
Historically, INEC rescheduled the 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections due to security, logistics and operational challenges but the 2023 polls will go down as historic being the first election to hold as scheduled since 2011.
In 2011, INEC shifted the elections three times; the first, was after voting had begun in some states on April 2, 2011. Then INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega cited the late arrival of electoral materials in parts of the country for the postponements.
The electoral body further moved the presidential and National Assembly polls to April 9 and then to April 16; while the governorship and state Houses of Assembly election were shifted from April 23 to April 26.
Former Bayelsa State Governor and the then acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, who contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared winner of the presidential election.
The situation was not anyway different in 2015 as INEC postponed the polls six days before the earlier scheduled dates, citing insecurity. The electoral body shifted the Presidential and National Assembly polls from February 14 to March 28, 2015, while the Governorship and State Assemblies’ polls were moved to April 11, 2015.
Jega attributed the postponement to the insurgency in Nigeria’s troubled North-East zone which he said could affect the safety of election personnel, voters, and materials.
A former military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeated the incumbent, then-President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP to emerge winner of the keenly contested poll.
A repeat played out four years ago as INEC shifted the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly Elections from February 16 to February 23, 2019, while it moved the Governorship/State House of Assembly/Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections to March 9, 2019, due to “logistics and operational plans.”
The incumbent, APC’s Buhari won the 2019 presidential election and secured another term of four years.