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Key findings
  • Nigerians are acutely pessimistic about national conditions. Nine in 10 citizens (89%) feel the country is going “in the wrong direction,” the most negative assessment in more than a decade.
  • Not surprisingly, worsening national conditions are reflected in downbeat views of democratic performance. Satisfaction with the way democracy is working in Nigeria has met an all-decade low (21%).
  • Trust in the presidency has reached a nadir (27%), marking the lowest point in President Buhari’s term.
  • There has been a remarkable erosion of traditional political partisanship in Nigeria. In 2015, on the cusp of that year’s pivotal election, two-thirds (67%) of Nigerians expressed attachment to a political party, and more than three-fourths of those were aligned with one of the two major parties. In 2022, six in 10 Nigerians (58%) say they do not “feel close” to any particular political party. This suggests a large pool of uncommitted voters in 2023.
  • Declining affiliation with the major parties is especially evident among younger voters. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of voters aged 35 or younger say they have no party preference, compared with 51% of voters over age 35. Younger voters are “up for grabs,” though they could also be simply disengaged.

Nigeria’s 2023 elections – federal polls in February and state polls in March – come at a  precarious time for the nation. Recurring economic recessions have arisen from turbulent petroleum markets, the COVID-19 pandemic, and unstable economic management. These economic travails are shadowed by worsening domestic insecurity aggravated by multiple insurgencies, intensifying local conflicts, and seemingly uncontrolled banditry (Igwe, 2020).  Many Nigerians are appalled at the deteriorating national situation. 

President Muhammadu Buhari, having served the two terms allowed by the Constitution, is  not running for re-election. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is backing Bola Ahmed  Tinubu, the former Lagos governor, from the Southwest. The opposition People’s Democratic  Party (PDP), which held a national majority from 1999 to 2015, is fielding former Vice President  Atiku Abubakar, from the Northeast. Both are seasoned politicians from the political establishment in the Fourth Republic.  

However, the field in this election cycle has been disrupted by the candidacy of Peter Obi, a  former governor in the Southeast who is running an “outsider” campaign under the banner of the Labour Party (LP). Minor-party candidates typically have little traction in Nigeria, but Obi’s  

campaign has galvanised a segment of the public, especially youth, and some observers see a path to victory for this insurgent candidacy. Apart from the large enthusiastic rallies for  Obi in many parts of the country, some early domestic polls have suggested a surprising plurality in favour of this contender. 

The Afrobarometer network does not conduct polling on specific candidates. However, data from the most recent survey round in Nigeria (March 2022) reflects some important shifts in the mood and affiliations of the Nigerian public. Citizens are overwhelmingly gloomy in their assessments of the country’s overall direction, the national economy, their personal living conditions, and the government’s performance on crime and violence, and affiliation with the two major political parties is on a rapid decline. These findings suggest a broad desire for change and a widening political field.

Peter Lewis

Peter is a board member