Nigerians will vote on Saturday to elect a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, with many hoping that the next leader will steer Africa’s most populous country and largest economy in a new direction after years of worsening violence and hardship.
The main candidates in the most open election since Nigeria transitioned from army rule to democracy in 1999 are two political veterans from the two main parties and a candidate from a minor party who polls indicate has a chance due to support from young voters.
Buhari, a retired army general, is stepping down after serving the maximum eight years allowed by the constitution but failing to deliver on his pledge to bring back order and security across Nigeria, Africa’s top oil-producing nation.
More than 93 million people are registered to vote for the next president and members of the National Assembly and the some 176,600 polling stations will be open between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (0730 GMT to 1330 GMT).
Vote-counting will begin as soon as polls close and results will be posted outside polling stations. The final tally from the 36 states and federal capital Abuja are expected within five days of voting.
The run-up to the vote has been marred by violence, a pattern seen in previous Nigerian elections, with the killing of a senatorial candidate in the volatile southeast region on Wednesday the latest in a series of serious incidents.
The election comes as Nigerians are struggling to cope with a shortage of cash caused by a botched plan to swap old bank notes for new ones that has wreaked havoc on people’s daily lives and led to scenes of violence at banks and cash machines.
The new president will also have to grapple with problems ranging from high inflation, deep poverty and energy shortages, to an Islamist insurgency in the northeast, industrial-scale oil theft in the south and rampant crime everywhere.
The main contenders in the race to succeed Buhari are former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, 70, of the ruling All Progressives Congress, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 76, of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, and former Anambra State governor Peter Obi, 61, of the smaller Labour Party.
Tinubu and Atiku, as he is known in Nigeria, are both political heavyweights with decades of networking behind them and bulging campaign coffers. Both Muslims, Tinubu is an ethnic Yoruba from the southwest and Atiku is a Fulani from the northeast.
Obi, a Christian from the Igbo ethnic group, has less of a political machine behind him but has used a slick social media campaign to generate huge enthusiasm among young voters, with some even calling themselves the “Obidients”.
Nigeria has a long history of electoral fraud and violence, though its polls have been getting gradually cleaner in recent cycles. The presidential candidates and parties pledged on Wednesday to support a peaceful and transparent process.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has introduced new technology and procedures to ensure this election is free and fair, such as a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) that will identify voters using biometric data.
However, analysts have warned there were still risks from the dearth of cash, which could make hard-pressed citizens vulnerable to vote-buying by candidates, and a shortage of fuel that could make it hard for INEC to deploy staff and equipment to all areas.
U.S. President Joe Biden called on Thursday on candidates and parties to accept the results of the election as announced by INEC, and urged all Nigerians including young voters to make their voices heard through the ballot box.