Nigeria is approaching its seventh consecutive presidential election since the return to democracy in 1999, marking 24 years of uninterrupted democratic rule. Presidential elections in Nigeria have always generated tensions, anxieties and controversies, particularly among the electorate. This is connected to the fact that electioneering periods are characterized by hate speech, which in most cases include an ethnic undertone, violence, vote-buying and selling, or religious rivalry, etc. Changing hands in the government should be a time to celebrate in any nation; however, times are turbulent as social and economic challenges mount in Nigeria. There are many challenges which the country must deal with as it continues its journey towards deepening democracy. These challenges include insecurity, a cash shortage, and scarcity of fuel.
Nigeria is undoubtedly one of the most heterogeneous countries in the world. With a population of over 200 million, Nigeria is the most populous black nation with over 250 ethnic groups and numerous sub-groups. Despite these characteristics, the country’s political scene is dominated by three major ethnic groups, namely Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Other sub-groups exist but are regarded as minorities. The existence of sub-groups among the large and dominant groups raises the fear of dominance of the minority groups by the major ethnic groups. Consequently, politics is played by these ethnic groups and sub-groups in such a manner as to maintain the domination by the majority groups or to prevent and resist domination by the minority groups.
Money politics as manifested in vote-buying has been described as a particular feature of the Nigerian electoral process. This is because political parties and candidates have demonstrated by their actions during electioneering periods that a quality party manifesto and the integrity of contestants are not enough to influence voters’ choices and secure their votes, hence they engage in vote buying and selling. In describing the rampant vote-buying in developing democracies, Ovwasa Lucky observes that political candidates buy and the electorate sell their votes as goods in the market. This commercial act is regarded as a contract in which an individual voter has the obligation to cast his or her vote for a political party or candidates on voting day.
It is unfortunate that in the run-up to elections on Feb. 25, Nigerians are having to wait in hours-long lines for money and fuel amid an acute cash and gasoline shortage in a country that was once Africa’s largest producer of petroleum. Nigerians have been battling lingering fuel scarcity since December 2022, resulting in long queues for petrol while many filling stations sell above the official pump price. Decades of underinvestment and rampant fuel theft have impacted oil output. There are not enough state-run refineries, so Nigeria imports its fuel needs and exports crude oil, which has led to shortages at gas stations. And those with supplies are charging more than double the regulated pump price.
Nigerians are facing the reality of scarcity of cash. The naira redesign policy introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has raised a dust. The Nigerians, following the order of CBN deposited old notes into their bank accounts under a deadline that was extended until February 10, 2023. However, there have been shortage of new notes in circulation. As a result of the shortage of the new currency, Nigerian banks are enforcing daily maximum withdrawal limits of between 5,000 and 20,000 naira (about $6.50 to $27 dollars according to the unofficial exchange rate widely used in the country), with some shutting their doors to customers demanding access to their own cash. Many Nigerians currently have hard times withdrawing cash from Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and inside banking halls. The ATMs are flooded with furious Nigerians shoving and struggling to withdraw cash, and some spend several hours and, in some cases, the whole day, hoping to get a few Naira notes for their needs. POS operators complain of a lack of money; a few of the operators charge up to 20% to customers to get some cash. It has caused chaos in an economy that is primarily cash-based despite the government’s efforts to leapfrog it into a cashless one.
The unfolding crisis has led to long waits at supermarkets and gas stations as electronic payments take hours to complete under an infrastructure ill-equipped for digital point of sale transactions. A side economy has sprung up selling cash for cash, with profits of around 10-20 percent, according to Guardian Nigeria. And the people most affected are the rural poor who are largely unbanked and with even more limited access to new currency. The pressure this exerts on Nigeria’s fragile socio-political and economic conditions is enormous and gradually heading to a dangerous tipping point. Various social media platforms are awash with harrowing videos of people’s reactions in various parts of the country, and they all point to the pervading anger, frustration, and hardship people are going through.
Security concerns persist due to violence from bandits, which may discourage people from coming out to vote or even interfere with voting on election day. One of the effective means through which citizens in a democracy take part in the governance process is through casting votes in elections. It is the most distinguishing political tool possessed by citizens to ensure that government responds to their needs. There is a strong sense of fear among voters amidst the incessant attacks and threats they are witnessing. The general public does not have confidence in the authorities’ ability to ensure people’s safety during elections. People want to exercise their franchise to vote, but this is severely challenged by the security issues which there appears to be little or no commitment to address. Insecurity in different parts of Nigeria is a potential threat to the forthcoming elections. INEC had once raised the alarm over the rising security situation across the country and its potential impact on the 2023 general elections. The chairman of the commission notes that the forthcoming elections faced threats of cancellation or postponement of election results in many parts of the country should the security situation fail to improve. According to Mahmood Yakubu, “If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of election results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”
In 2020, the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security adopted a Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement for Security Personnel on Electoral Duty. The committee was established by the Nigerian authorities to ensure that election, security, safety, and law enforcement agencies work together to manage election related violence. The code of conduct, among other things, makes clear that security personnel deployed during elections need to ensure the security and safety of everyone involved in electoral activities, prevent abuse of fundamental human rights, and avoid the use of excessive force.
The 2023 general elections will define the future of Nigeria. It will shape whether the country can halt various separatist movements and an unprecedented mass youth exodus among those exasperated by Nigeria’s worsening economic outlook. The elections will also have regional implications for West Africa, as successful elections within Nigeria can provide a positive electoral template in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region. Since 2020, the West African region has faced democratic backsliding, with the ECOWAS governments of Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso toppled by military juntas. A successful election in Nigeria could counter negative perceptions of governance within the region. Successful elections in Nigeria will also set a positive example for the continent, given that they will be the first and largest African elections in 2023.
Nigerian authorities have the duty to put in place adequate systems and plans across the country that will allow citizens exercise their right to vote safely and address any irregularities that may hinder the credibility of the elections, for the future of Nigeria rests particularly on these 2023 elections.
 Worldometers 2023, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/nigeria-population/.
 Ovwasa O. Lucky, “Money Politics and Vote Buying in Nigeria: The Bane of Good Governance” in Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences (2014) Vol 5 no7
 Mahmood Yakubu, “Insecurity: 2023 Election Faces Cancellation Threat” https://punchng.com>insecurity-20