Three things to know about Nigeria’s presidential elections

40% of the registered voters are between 18 and 34. Only five of the presidential candidates are under 50 years old.

By Gemma Ritchie
Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Three things to know:

  • 93.5-million of Nigeria’s 213-million people (45%) are registered to vote. This is more than the combined populations of Ghana, Niger and Cameroon.
  • 40% of the voters are between the ages of 18 and 34.
  • Only one of the 18 presidential candidates is a woman and only five are under the age of 50.

Nigerians will vote for a new president and National Assembly on 25 February in what will be the biggest election on the continent.

The Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) says 93.5-million people have registered to vote – about 45% of the country’s total population of 213-million. It’s 9.5-million more voters than in the 2019 elections. 

To put this in perspective, 93.5-million is more than the combined populations of three of Nigeria’s neighbours: Ghana, Niger and Cameroon. It’s also more than three times the number of registered voters in South Africa’s last election (26.8-million).

Voters have to get to one of the roughly 176,000 voting stations, which will be open from 8.30am to 2.30pm on Saturday. No one will be allowed to join the voting queue after 2.30pm, the INEC says. 

In comparison, South Africans are given until 5pm to get to a polling station, and the president usually declares election day a public holiday, which means people get a day off work to vote. Not so in Nigeria.

If all 93.5-million registered voters decide to vote, the polling stations will have to process an average of about 530 voters each. It’s unlikely that this will be the case, given that voter turnout was 34% in the last election.

Youth vote

Young people make up the biggest voting block. Two out of every five (40%) registered voters are under the age of 35 years and 28% are students, according to INEC. 

If they decide to go to the polls, young people have the potential to shape the election’s outcome. In the last election in 2019, the proportion of registered voters in the 18 to 35 age bracket was 51%, but the voter turnout was low.

There are signs that this year’s election may be different.

A substantial chunk – 7.2-million (77%) of new registered voters – are between 18 and 34 years old.

A recent opinion poll from the ANAP Foundation indicated that turnout may be “huge”, with 80% of respondents under the age of 35 polled saying they would definitely vote in the elections.

The candidates

There are 18 candidates running for president. Of these, only five are under the age of 50. (The age limit for candidates was dropped to 30 from 40 years of age in 2018 with the adoption of the “Not too young to run” bill.) 

The youngest candidate is Christopher Imumolen who is 38 years old, representing the Accord Party.

Although 48% of registered voters are women, there is only one female candidate, Princess Chichi Ojei (44) from the Allied Peoples Movement. 

The candidate who media reports say appears to be the favourite among young voters is the Labour Party’s 61-year-old candidate Peter Obi. He was the frontrunner in an early February 2023 opinion poll, coming in ahead of 70-year-old Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the All Progressive Congress candidate, and 75-year-old Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party candidate. 

Obi was a member of one of Nigeria’s biggest political parties – the People’s Democratic Party – but jumped ship to join the Labour Party in 2022. 

Incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, who is 80 years old, is not running in this election because there is a two-term limit. 

Since military rule ended in 1999, Nigeria has had six elections and four presidents – three of them from the People’s Democratic Party and one from the All Progressive Congress.

To run for president a candidate must be:

  • a Nigerian citizen,
  • over 30 years old (the age limit of 40 was amended in 2018), and
  • have at least a school certificate level of education (the equivalent of South Africa’s grade 12).

To become president of Nigeria candidates need:

  • a majority of the votes, and
  • at least 25% of the votes in 24 of 36 states.

If there is no outright winner, the INEC will arrange for a run-off election with the two candidates who got the most votes within seven days.