The leading contenders in Nigeria’s presidential election have made their final push for support, a week ahead of the West African the nation’s key election.
As the campaign period drew to a close, both the ruling party’s Bola Tinubu and the main opposition’s Atiku Abubakar held rallies on Saturday in the northeast, where extremists have waged a decade-long insurgency against Nigeria. They both promised to improve the lives of the residents of the region.
On social media, third-party candidate Peter Obi, who has been ahead of the other 17 candidates in most polls, said Africa’s most populous country needs a “reset and reboot” from the two major parties that have ruled Nigeria since it left military rule in 1999.
The February 25 election, which was supposed to lead to a transitional government, is the most consequential vote in years for Nigeria, a country of more than 210 million people, according to analysts.
“This is a battle for the soul of the country given the challenges the country is facing,” said Idayat Hassan, who heads the Center for Democracy and Development, which promotes democracy in the country.
Nigeria is grappling with a worsening security crisis that has killed thousands in the past year, a struggling economy that has impoverished its citizens and growing separatist agitations in the southern region that have further divided the country along ethnic lines.
“This is where the future of our state and the country lies – in the hands of the PDP,” main opposition Peoples Democratic Party Abubakar told thousands of supporters in Adamawa state as they waved the party’s red, green and white colours.
“If you give us your mandate, we promise to follow through on our promises to make sure that we have a united country, a peaceful country, a vibrant economy for our country; that we have the best education for our children and that we also delegating powers to our states and local governments with corresponding resources,” said the 76-year-old, who has run in two previous presidential elections, including in 2019 when he lost to incumbent Muhammadu Buhari.
In Borno State, the epicenter of the 12-year extremism that has upended the lives and livelihoods of millions and caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, Tinubu, under the ruling All Progressives Congress, or APCtold crowds of supporters that “renewed hope is here; success is back. We will take care of you all.”
The former governor of Lagos – Nigeria’s economic hub and largest city – vowed to replicate what he did when he led that state from 1999 to 2007.
“We promise you the people of Borno, you have faced hardships and challenges (but) it is over now,” the 71-year-old said as he addressed supporters waving brooms – the symbol of the party.
“I can guarantee one thing: “We will revive the economy, we will develop Nigeria,” Tinubu said.
The Workers’ Party’s Obi – who has risen from an underdog in the early days of the campaign to become the favorite in most opinion polls – appeals particularly to Nigeria’s youth, a large proportion of the country’s 93.4 million registered voters.
“In this march towards freedom, I have not come out for myself! I have come out for the millions of young people who are losing hope in our beloved country!” Obi tweeted.
In a backlash against the two most popular parties, the 61-year-old said Nigeria is not bereft of ideas and plans for good governance but is “marred by the impunity” of a small number of people who benefit from the country’s resources at the expense of the masses.