Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, is on the verge of another general election which political watchers say will be a decisive one for the country still reeling from the aftershock of the COVID-induced economic downturn and two recessions in less than five years.

The most populous Black nation with over 200 million people has been defined in the past over seven and a half years by a rash of socio-economic and political turbulence, from dwindling revenues to declining oil production, widespread poverty and hunger, rising debt profile, heightened insecurity, foreign exchange crisis, battered local currency, runaway inflation, and high unemployment rate. While some of these woes may have global dimensions, they are mostly traceable to the poor quality of leadership by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

With Nigeria and Nigerians gasping for breath, not a few pundits agree that the 2023 presidential election will be a make-or-mar moment for the country. They say the choice Nigerians make come February 25 will determine whether the country, which is currently in the intensive care unit, will come out alive or proceed to the mortuary.

A total of 18 political parties are fielding candidates in the election, according to a final list published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in September. The candidates include Christopher Imumolen (Accord Party), Hamza Al Mustapha (Action Alliance), Yabagi Sani (Action Democratic Party), Omoleye Sowore (African Action Congress), Dumebi Kachikwu (African Democratic Congress), Bola Ahmed Tinubu (All Progressives Congress), Peter Umeadi (All Progressives Grand Alliance), Princess Chichi Ojei (Allied People’s Movement), Osita Charles Nnamdi (Action Peoples Party), Sunday Adenuga (Boot Party), and Peter Obi (Labour Party).

Others are Felix Johnson Osakwe (National Rescue Movement), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (New Nigeria People’s Party), Atiku Abubakar (People’s Democratic Party), Kola Abiola (People’s Redemption Party), Adewole Adebayo (Social Democratic Party), Malik Ado-Ibrahim (Young Progressives Party), and Dan Nwanyanwu (Zenith Labour Party).

Nigerians will also be electing federal parliamentarians (Senate and House of Representatives), governors across most of the 36 states, as well as state legislators.

The presidential candidates have been taking their campaigns to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, with mouth-watering promises of how they would turn around the fortunes of the country and its people.

Even though the 2023 presidential election is looking like a crowded race, political analysts say it is not so as Nigeria’s presidential poll has always been a two-horse race. Some analysts have said this year will not be much different from other election years and have therefore concluded that the race is between PDP’s Atiku and APC’s Tinubu. However, many others have factored in the surprise emergence of the Peter Obi phenomenon which, according to them, is redefining the country’s politics, as well the Kwankwaso factor in and around Kano. They have, therefore, named Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, Bola Tinubu of the APC, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP as the Big Four candidates to watch.

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The four presidential candidates can each pass as an old war horse, with three of them being former state governors. However, some go farther in time than others. Atiku, the only candidate who has not governed a state, was a two-term Vice President of Nigeria (1999-2007).

Atiku, a businessman and politician, joined politics in 1989 after retiring from the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), where he worked for 20 years and rose to become the Deputy Director, the second highest position in the Service as at then. In 1993, Atiku bid for the presidential ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but lost to MKO Abiola/Baba Gana Kingibe. He subsequently ran for the office of President in 2007 (Action Congress of Nigeria) but lost to Umar Musa Yar’Adua; sought the PDP presidential ticket in 2011 but lost to former President Goodluck Jonathan; contended for the APC presidential ticket in 2015 but lost to Buhari, and contested the 2019 presidential election under the PDP but lost to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

Tinubu, an accountant and a two-term governor of Lagos State, won a Senate seat in 1992 to represent the Lagos West senatorial district under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) after his return from a sojourn in the US. Following the annulment of the 1993 presidential election and the enthronement of the Sani Abacha junta, Tinubu joined the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to campaign for a return to democratic rule. He went on exile in 1994 and, on return to Nigeria following Abacha’s death in 1998, took part in the political process that birthed the Fourth Republic, emerging as governor of Lagos State in 1999. Now Tinubu is campaigning for presidency on the strength of what he is said to have achieved as Lagos State governor (1999-2007).

Kwankwaso’s political journey began in the early 1990s when he joined the SDP and became a member of the party’s Peoples Front faction. In 1992, he was elected a member of the House of Representatives for Madobi Federal Constituency of Kano State. He was one of the Kano delegates  was governor of Kano State from 1999 to 2003 and from 2011 to 2015 on the PDP platform. He was among the G-7 governors who pulled out of the PDP and joined the newly formed APC in November 2013. In the build-up to 2015, Kwankwaso bid for the APC presidential ticket and lost to Buhari. In 2018, he defected to PDP alongside 14 serving APC senators. Ahead of the 2019 elections, he contested and lost the PDP presidential ticket to Atiku Abubakar. In February 2022, he collapsed his political structure into the NNPP. He emerged the party’s national leader in March and, subsequently, its presidential candidate.

Peter Obi, politician and businessman, is perhaps the biggest surprise of this election season. A two-term governor of Anambra State who had to go to court to reclaim his mandate, Obi was the running mate to the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election and, in the 2023 election cycle, was a presidential aspirant in the PDP until May 24 when he pulled out of the race and resigned his membership the party. He subsequently joined the Labour Party, where he won the presidential ticket.

Since his emergence as the LP candidate, Obi has taken the political space by storm, garnering unprecedented support from mostly young people both online and offline. For the first time since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999, analysts say there’s a semblance of a third force that will give the two dominant political parties a run for their money. And the Obidient Movement, as Obi’s supporters have come to be known, continues to send shockwaves down the spines of the entrenched political parties.

With the 2023 presidential election less than 60 days away, pundits say it’s too early to call. However, a number of independent polls have tried to ascertain how each of the major candidates stands with voters across the states and geophysical zones and some analysts have assessed the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, each candidate has something going for

As the electorate get set to cast their votes in 176,846 polling units spread across the country’s 774 local government areas come February 25, analysts say the ultimate choice of who will steer the ship of the Nigerian state from 29 May 2023 rests with Nigerians. But irrespective of who emerges victorious among the candidates, the analysts say the task ahead is not a tea party, given the enormity of the challenges the country is contending with.