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Nigerian presidential race enters final stretch

If Presidential election The ad won Bola Tinubu, the current All-Progress Congress (armored personnel carrier) party would win Nigeria in a landslide. From all corners of the country, he wears a relentless smile (pictured). “Posterers don’t vote,” quipped a member of Peter Obie’s campaign, a contending minor-party candidate who unexpectedly leads the polls in what is usually a two-horse race.

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The contest was close and chaotic, but crucial to the future of Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. Nigerians who will vote on February 25 are poorer today than they were eight years ago. Much of the blame lies with outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, who mismanaged his eight-year tenure in power. A full 89 percent of Nigerians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to pollster Afrobarometer. During his tenure, the economy has stagnated and violence has spread: at least 10,000 people were killed last year by gangs, terrorists or the military. A country that once exported security through peacekeeping operations is now exporting trouble and destabilizing neighbors.

Yet, despite all the hardships it has endured, Nigeria is Africa’s largest democracy – with a chance for revival. That’s a lot for a country that has seen five coups. The use of modern voting technology will make it more difficult to manipulate the results. More Nigerians are likely to vote than ever before. Opeyemi Oriniowo of the Nigerian Youth Future Fund says young people, who make up 40% of registered voters, are “awakening like never before” non-governmental organization Headquartered in Lagos, the commercial capital. In a continent where democracy is in retreat, these are clear signs. If the opposition wins, it will be the second time voters have voted to oust an incumbent party since generals returned to barracks in 1999.

Three hopefuls appear to have a chance at victory. To ensure this, they must not only get the most votes nationwide, but also win at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the federal capital. If no candidate clears that hurdle, there will be an unprecedented runoff.

What will determine who wins? It would not be policy advice, despite the enormous challenges Nigeria faces. There is little distinction between candidates on key issues; other factors are also at play. Power brokers often provide large numbers of votes, either fairly or improperly. “We will vote for whoever the camp leaders say,” Falmata Abdulrahman said as she nursed her daughter in a camp for displaced people in the northeast. Intimidation and vote-buying are common. “We are at the mercy of hooligans and thugs,” said Ahmadu Duste, who worked at a polling station during the last election. “I see voters getting cash.”

Mr Tinubu, 70, has the clearest path to victory because of his deep pockets and his armored personnel carrier Controls 21 of Nigeria’s 36 governors. He’s hoping for a big win southwest of his regional stronghold. He hopes his Muslim faith and that of his running mate, former governor of northeastern Borno state Kashim Shettima, will help him in the Muslim-majority north. However, many voters may be wary of supporting the incumbent party given the violence, fuel shortages and economic downturn in Nigeria. Many are also concerned about Mr. Tinnub’s health, as he looks increasingly frail and has had to miss several big campaign events.

Some may question his character. Last year he settled a lawsuit in which he was accused of secretly owning 70% of a private company that was awarded contracts to collect taxes on behalf of Lagos state during his tenure as governor (1999-2007) . It took a 10 percent commission on all revenue it collected there, court documents said. Mr Tinubu has denied any wrongdoing.

Some voters also questioned the main opposition candidate, the 76-year-old People’s Democratic Party Atiku Abubakar (Plasma), a wealthy former customs official and vice president. In 2010, a US Senate committee said he was involved in transferring more than $40 million in “questionable funds” to the country. He also denied wrongdoing.

In much of Nigeria, religious leaders — Christian and Muslim — are pushing people to vote for their fellow believers. That could pose a huge hurdle for Mr Abubakar. Northerner and Muslim, he represents a party that has gained support mainly in the Christian South in recent years. This time, Mr Obie, a Christian who did not have the support of the two main parties of yore, will cannibalize much of that support. “My pastor encouraged us to vote for him,” said churchgoer Lydia Adamu. Mr Abubakar is even trying to unite his own party.five Plasma The governors refused to endorse him and seemed ready to back his Southern rival. In the north, he could lose to Rabiu Kwankwaso, a popular former governor who is also running for the top job.

Mr Obi, 61, a former governor and trader, is popular in part because citizens are desperate to find an alternative to Nigeria’s mercenary and egotistical politicians. Many voters, attracted by his frugal, energetic style, see him as more honest than his rivals. Kayode Fayemi, formerly armored personnel carrier The governor, who is advising Mr Tinubu’s campaign, acknowledged Mr Obi could get 80 to 90 per cent of the vote in his home southeastern region. Rivals mocked his young fans as keyboard warriors who weren’t registered to vote.However, as supporters hung from a nearby balcony at a recent rally, Mr Obie shouted: “If you have your pvc [voter card], raise your hand. A forest of martial arts rose into the sky.

Mr Obi’s path to victory, though, has been a narrow one. Election officials have been accused of delays in registering new voters, especially in his stronghold, which has fewer voters than other areas (see map). And his weakness in northern states means he may struggle to crack the 25% threshold. His best hope is that the city’s population is so high that the election goes to a runoff.

It seems unlikely that the poll will be completely free, fair and peaceful, but it should still produce legitimate results. Electoral offices have been attacked several times. Jihadist-infested areas will be largely devoid of polling stations. Losers may provoke violence. Even more worrying is the fact that Mr Fayemi is one of those who talk of returning to Nigeria’s dark past of coups. He said some powerful Nigerians “wanted to pre-empt the strike” because they “feel that none of the candidates now in the running are good for the country.” Thankfully, coups are hard to pull off. Regardless of the contenders’ defeat, a return to military rule would be worse for Nigeria.

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