Bola Tinubu will be inaugurated in as Nigeria’s next president on May 29, 2023, barring any unusual judicial rulings. This comes after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced on March 1 that he had won the hotly fought election on February 25. In this election of many firsts, there is tangible concern that an unexpected decision would be made. The contest’s runners-up have already filed petitions with the courts objecting to this pronouncement. This is because victorious candidates were prevented from receiving the majority of votes for the first time in the Fourth Republic (1999–present) due to the strong showing of the opposition parties, particularly the “third force” candidates.
The two most populous states in the nation, Kano and Lagos, were among the 13 sub-national units out of the 37 in the country that were won by a third force candidate. The tight victory margin between the top three lead runners also reflects how well the third force performed. Despite the different existing institutions, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi were separated by less than a million votes. Due to their efforts, the president-elect received the least amount of popular votes (36.6%) throughout the Fourth Republic (from 1999 to the present).
dividing the vote along racial and/or ethnic lines
The rise of third-force candidates on the front lines of the 2023 election heightened the significance of identity-based voting, which has long been a staple of Nigerian politics. The expected outcome of the elections was influenced by the ethnic and religious backgrounds of the leading candidates, including Bola Tinubu (a Yoruba Muslim), Peter Obi (an Igbo Christian), Atiku Abubakar, and Rabiu Kwankwaso (a Hausa-Fulani Muslim). This may be determined by quickly examining the geopolitical zones that each contender has won. Mr Tinubu was the only candidate to get more than 25% of the vote in each of the six South-Western states, winning four of them. In the South-east, Mr Obi was the only candidate to win all five of the states by a margin of more than 25%.
The PDP ticket, as was predicted, had the best success in the northern zones, winning over states like Sokoto and Yobe that had never voted for it previously. The boundaries that now divide Nigerians (mostly along ethnic and religious lines) are implicit in the presidential election outcomes. Additionally prepared to capitalize on these identity-based differences were third-party candidates. Peter Obi, the lone Christian candidate, seemed to be the preferred choice of Christians, but Mr Kwankwaso, the only representative of the vast North-West, fared well in polling in that area, particularly in Kano state, where he served as governor twice.
Identity-based cross-party alliances and endorsements proliferated as a result of the rise of third-force candidates. The latter influenced how the presidential elections turned out. For instance, it is impossible to account for Mr Tinubu’s victory in Rivers State without mentioning the support of Nyesom Wike, the governor of that state and the head of the PDP G5 governors, who had previously distanced themselves from their party’s nominee owing to zoning-based disagreement. They decided to back a candidate from the South instead of Atiku, the North candidate for their party. Similarly to this, Mr Obi’s backing from Northern Christian community leaders helps to explain his excellent performance in North-central states like Nasarawa and Plateau. Mr Obi is a southeastern Christian.
A National Assembly With Increasing Diversity
The National Assembly, which will be inaugurated with a powerful minority caucus made up of many parties, will have results from the 2023 elections that are unequalled in history. This is a result of major upsets by candidates who ousted leaders of the two conventional parties (APC and PDP) or well-known politicians. The next National Assembly will be one of the most varied under the Fourth Republic, with eight political parties represented in the House of Representatives and seven political parties represented in the Senate.
Of the 101 senators that are officially seated, 21 senators, or about a fifth, do not belong to either of the two major parties. Similar results are seen in the House, where 62 of the 327 elected legislators are not affiliated with either of the two major parties. The Labour Party, which had had just one senator and no representatives, was the main benefactor of this effort since it could now count on eight senators and 35 representatives. The upcoming national parliament already varies dramatically from what has existed so far in the Fourth Republic, despite the historically powerful parties being predicted to do well in the still-pending supplemental elections to pick the last eight senators and 33 deputies. Due to Nigerian politicians’ proclivity to switch to stronger parties, this dynamic could not last long. However, the ability of a viable third force minority to play a significant role in discussions prior to floor votes may balance the possibility that these MPs would defect.
It’s noteworthy that this outcome was achieved despite low voter participation. Higher turnout brings out voters who are less likely to feel bound to prior voting habits, which historically has led to surprises or has been predicted. The lowest voter participation since 1999 was reported in the 2023 presidential elections (27%), and despite high voter registration, various migration patterns and voter suppression have been suggested as probable causes. Similar to this, others contend that the socioeconomic circumstances surrounding the election, such as the severe cash constraint and the gasoline shortage, may have stopped many qualified voters from travelling to the polls and thereby implicitly disenfranchised them. How well they maintain the momentum that resulted in such a promising performance this time around might be the key factor determining how these “third parties” do throughout this term and whether we start referring to them as “fourth or fifth” parties in the future.
The third force has shown its viability on the Nigerian political landscape by influencing the election results in an unprecedented way and reflecting the heterogeneous makeup of the nation in its dispersed incoming leadership. If Mr Tinubu’s proclamation is supported by the court, the success or failure of his presidency would depend on how well his government deals with these new organizations. In addition to the aforementioned legislative splits, there will be five different party governors for the first time since the 1979–1983 period. Due to the power of governors, this administration may need to deal with the various parties more skillfully than normal, as opposed to the customary disregard of the opposition that governing groups often display. Ultimately, this ‘coming’ of the third force might either result in more drawn-out politics or a deeper level of democratic discourse and deliberation. It is yet unclear which will happen and, perhaps more significantly, how long this will endure.
Visiting researcher at the Centre for Democracy and Development, Pelumi Obisesan-Aina is a PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London.
Before the April 15 special election, this story was initially published by CDD.