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Barring unprecedented legal decisions, Bola Tinubu will be sworn in as the next president of Nigeria on May 29, 2023. This follows the declaration of victory by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on March 1 in the hotly contested February 25 election. The runners-up of the competition have already submitted applications to the courts to challenge this declaration and, in this first election, there is a palpable fear that an unexpected decision could be made. That is, opposition parties, even “third force” candidates, prevented a winning candidate from achieving a plurality of votes for the first time in the Fourth Republic (1999 – date).
Of the country’s 37 sub-national units, 13 of them were won by a third-party candidate and included the country’s two most populous states: Kano and Lagos. The strength of the third force’s performance is also reflected in the narrow margin of victory between the top three contenders. Less than a million votes separated Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, despite the difference in the established structures. Thanks to their performance, the elected president won the fewest popular votes, 36.6% in the Fourth Republic (from 1999 to the present).
Splitting the vote across identity lines
While identity-based voting has been a regular feature of the Nigerian political scene, the emergence of third-party candidates on the front lines of the 2023 elections increased its importance. The ethnic and religious identities of the presidents – Bola Tinubu (Yoruba Muslim), Peter Obi (Igbo Christian), Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Kwankwaso (Hausa-Fulani Muslim) – predictably shaped the outcome of the election. A quick review of the geopolitical zones won by each candidate will reveal this. Mr. Tinubu won four of the six states in the South West and was the only candidate to cross the 25 percent threshold in all six. Also, Mr. Obi won all five states in the South East and was the only one to successfully cross the 25 percent threshold in all five.
Expectedly, the PDP ticket was most successful in the northern zones, including overturning Sokoto and Yobe, states that had not voted so far. Implicit in the results of the presidential election are the lines (mainly ethnic and religious) along which Nigerians are divided today. Third party candidates were also ready to take advantage of these divisions based on their personality. Peter Obi, being the only Christian in the contest seemed to have a chance with the Christian voters, while Mr. Kwankwaso being the only candidate from the North-West stood out in the elections in that region, especially in Kano State. a two-time governor.
The emergence of third force candidates also led to the proliferation of identity-based inter-party endorsements and alliances. The latter shaped the outcome of the presidential election. For instance, Mr. Tinubu’s victory in Rivers State cannot be explained without mentioning the support given by Nyesom Wike, Rivers State Governor and PDP G5 governors leaders who distanced themselves from his party’s candidate over zoning-based dissent. They chose to support a Southern candidate over Atiku, their party’s Northern candidate. In a similar vein, Mr. Obi, a South-East Christian sourced from Northern Christian community leaders, has a long way to go to explain his strong performance in North-Central states like Nasarawa and Plateau.
The increasingly diverse National Assembly
The results of the 2023 elections are also unmatched, as the National Assembly, when it invests in office, will have a strong minority group made up of different parties. This is because of the significant upheavals of candidates that displaced incumbents or popular politicians from the two traditional parties (APC and PDP). With eight political parties represented in the House of Representatives and seven political parties represented in the Senate, the upcoming National Assembly will be one of the most diverse in the Fourth Republic.
Roughly a fifth of the Senate, comprising 21 of the 101 currently declared senators, do not belong to the two major parties. This is also repeated in the Chamber, where 62 of the 327 declared representatives are not members of the two established parties. The main beneficiary of this boost was the Labor Party, which can now call eight senators and 35 representatives, despite previously having only one senator and no representatives. While the traditionally dominant parties are expected to do well in the landmark by-elections to elect the remaining eight senators and 33 representatives, the upcoming national assembly is already markedly different from what it has seen so far in the Fourth Republic. However, this dynamic may be short-lived given the tendency of Nigerian politicians to defect to more mainstream parties. However, the ability of an effective minority of third parties to play a key role in pre-vote negotiations can counter the likelihood of these politicians making mistakes.
The interesting point was that this result was achieved despite low voter turnout. Historically, fluctuations have come, or were expected, with higher turnout making voters less likely to feel tied to previous voting patterns. Voter turnout in the 2023 presidential election was recorded at 27 percent – the lowest since 1999 – with possible migration patterns and voter suppression at risk as reasons for these low numbers despite high voter registrations. Also, some argue that the socio-economic dynamics of the election season, such as severe cash cuts and fuel shortages, have prevented many voters from traveling to vote and tacitly disenfranchised them. How these “third parties” fare this term, and if we begin to use the term “fourth or fifth party” in the future, may be how effective they are in sustaining the momentum that led to this promise. performance this time.
Adapting to the election results in an unprecedented manner, while reflecting the country’s diverse make-up in the fractious leadership introduced, the third force has proven its viability on the Nigerian political stage. Mr. Tinubu’s tenure as president, if his declaration is upheld by the judiciary, will be made or hindered by his administration’s effectiveness in interacting with these new groups. In addition to the division mentioned in the legislature, there will also be governors from five different parties for the first time since the 1979-1983 mandate. The influence of the governors means that this administration may require more skillful engagement with different parties than the usual dismissal of the opposition that ruling groups tend to display. Ultimately, this “coming” of the third force may lead to a longer policy or a deepening of democratic dialogue and debate. The question remains how and, perhaps more importantly, how long this will last.
Pelumi Obisesan-Aina He is a PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London and a visiting researcher at the Center for Democracy and Development.
(This article was first published by CDD and was done before the April 15 by-election).
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