Voters in a tight Nigerian election choose a new president as crises spiral


LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigerians head to the polls on Saturday in the country’s closest presidential race in recent memory, with a third-party candidate running neck-and-neck in opinion polls with candidates from Nigeria’s two main political parties.

The election could mark a turning point for Africa’s most populous country, which has faced a variety of crises under outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, including two recessions, rising inflation, massive unemployment among youth and the proliferation of kidnapping and violence. Those crises left Nigeria with a diminished presence on the world stage and made life for its residents – more than 60 percent of whom are now in poverty – extremely difficult.

Driven by the frustration of the youth, who make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate, third party candidate Peter Obi is seeking to upset two of Nigeria’s most experienced politicians. Obi, a 61-year-old former governor known for frugality, won legions of young followers on social media with his promises of reform and accountability.

“Everything is difficult right now,” said Micheal Oguntimehin, a 23-year-old in Lagos who wishes he was studying at university but is instead running his own cleaning business to get by. “With Obi, we think at least there will be some change.”

Analysts warn that Obi faces long-term problems. Among the 18 presidential candidates on the ballot, the other two top contenders are Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the 70-year-old former governor of Lagos who has Buhari’s support, and Atiku Abubakar, the 76-year-old former vice president year old on his sixth bid. for the presidency.

Both men have advantages over Obi in terms of fund-raising and vote-getting operations. The race is so close that analysts say Nigeria could see its first runoff, which would be needed within 21 days.

It is estimated that Nigeria’s population of 220 million will increase to more than 400 million by 2050, which would make it the third most populous country in the world, behind China and India. What happens here will affect the region and the world, including global migration patterns.

In Nigeria’s election, young people seek to wield new power

Adding new uncertainty to Election Day, there is a nationwide cash crunch that has hit the Nigerian economy in recent weeks. The shortage, caused by the government’s sudden move to remove old banknotes from circulation and issue new ones, has caused huge lines at ATMs and banks and devastated small businesses.

Buhari said last week that the policy would help lay “a strong foundation for free and fair elections” in Nigeria, which has a long history of vote buying. But some analysts warn that the crisis could also have other consequences, including increased frustration with the ruling party and voter apathy.

What you need to know about Nigeria’s historic presidential election

“This suffering is too much,” said Busayo Bamidele, who would normally take the bus to her home state of Oyo to vote but has no money to do so this year due to the lack of funds.

Bamidele, a 30-year-old mother, said she usually makes a good living selling trinkets and jewelry at a usually packed market on Lagos Island. Since the cash crunch started a few weeks ago, she said she has barely been selling anything and is no longer making enough money to feed herself or her children regularly. Stalling around her, vendor after vendor said the same thing.

“I had to borrow money to buy food this morning … and since then we have not eaten anything else,” Bamidele said on a recent afternoon. “And they say we should come and vote?”

Ope Adetayo contributed to this report.

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