• A total of 18 candidates are in the race, but according to opinion polls, only three have emerged as front contenders.
• Nigerian parties have historically factored in the regional and religious consideration of alternating between the north and south, and Muslim and Christians respectively
On Saturday, February 25, Nigerians head to the polls to elect their next leader after the expiry of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term.
A total of 18 candidates are in the race, but according to opinion polls, only three have emerged as front contenders.
The ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has fielded former Lagos governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu,70, while the main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) has fronted Atiku Abubakar, 76. Atiku has run for the presidency five times and lost in all.
A potentially surprise factor is Labour Party’s Peter Obi, 61, who is hoping to end the dominance of PDP and APC in Nigeria politics since the end of military rule in 1999.
Although he was in the PDP until last year, he is seen as not bearing the blemishes of previous governments. Obi also served as governor of the south-eastern Anambra State.
Besides attracting the support of Nigeria’s youths particularly on social media, Obi has also received unusual endorsement from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected on PDP. However, early indications point to a two-horse race between Atiku and Tinubu, both banking on their more established parties — APC and PDP — that have extensive grassroots networks.
Nigerian parties have historically factored in the regional and religious consideration of alternating between the north and south, and Muslim and Christians respectively, in their selection of presidential candidates.
The rotational and alternating presidential candidature from the north and south of the country is due to the recognition of the country’s fragile and evenly balanced Muslim-Christian composition and ethnic diversity.
However, the 2023 election strategic matrices have broken this tradition. Although the APC has followed this trend with Tinubu coming from the south, given Buhari’s northern roots, the PDP has broken this norm and Abubakar, who like the outgoing president Buhari, comes from the north.
But, Tinubu, a Muslim, has also departed from the Muslim-Christian balancing act to choose a fellow Muslim, former Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, as his vice-presidential running mate. In an apparent balancing strategy, Atiku, a Muslim, has selected Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, a Christian, as his vice-presidential choice.
On his part, Labour Party’s presidential candidate Obi has elicited the interest of the youths in the elections. Notably, Nigeria has one of the highest youth population in the world.
Nearly 40 per cent of registered voters (37 million) are between the ages of 18 and 34, followed by 35.7 per cent of middle-aged voters (33.4 million) between 35 and 49 years of age. Thus, of the 93.4 million registered voters, over 75 per cent are 49 and below. But the challenge is that most youths do not have the voter’s cards (PVCs).
Besides the presidential elections, Nigerians will on Saturday be choosing their representatives for Parliament; 469 legislators comprising 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
If there is no clear presidential winner, a second round will be held within three weeks. There will also be elections for the country's state governors on March 11, 2023.
Key issues in the campaigns included reducing insecurity as the country is currently experiencing campaign violence, ransom kidnappings, combatting militant-terrorist groups (Boko Haram) in the north and a separatist insurgency in the south-east.
The separatists Biafra people have said they are not interested in this election as what matters to them is a referendum for secession. The economy is another important campaign factor because of the rising cost of living and huge unemployment, especially among youths.
As such, the campaigns have relatively seen less of religious and ethnic mobilization. Moreover, the candidates from the two major parties are both Muslims. However, pundits argue that religion and violence continue to influence the voting patterns. Thus the APC candidate may be disadvantaged by the religious considerations.
Further, the fact that there is no incumbent in this election, there is bound to be stiff competition and uncertainty on the outcome of the vote. This is the second time that Nigeria has had a presidential vote without an incumbent running for reelection.
IMPLICATIONS FOR KENYA’S FOREIGN POLICY
Nigeria’s election is a global event and particularly, an African event. Therefore, the outcome of the elections in Nigeria will certainly have a bearing on Kenya’s strategic interest in the region, continent and the international system.
Normally, whenever there is a government transition, most allies become anxious due to the relative uncertainty that accompanies a change of regime. Since foreign policy is a function of domestic policy, the uncertainty arising from domestic dynamics like perhaps the new government radically shifting Nigeria’s foreign policy or maintaining continuity, should concern Kenya’s mandarins and think tanks.
A country’s head of state is its ‘diplomat number one’. The presidential directives can shape and reshape the reorientation of the state’s foreign policy. In this context, Kenya should have a ‘forecast strategy of engagement’ with the incoming administration based on a scenario analysis of the possible outcomes of the Nigeria poll.
The election will reconfigure Kenya’s ties with Nigeria and the West African states. Given a new president will be in office, or, worst case scenario, fears of conflict, this may re-orientate the existing relations between the two states.
Elections in most African states are often accompanied by political uncertainty, which may lead to drastic changes in policy causing adverse effects such as previous contracts or agreements and projects stalling, or being re-examined under a new administration.
Sometimes, newly-elected administrations could take long to form the Cabinet and appoint heads of key agencies thus affecting international commitments. For instance, President Buhari in 2015 took six months to name his Cabinet.
Nigeria is a key ally of major Western powers, a giant economy and geopolitical heavyweight in Africa. Indeed, Nigeria as the leading economy in Africa, is also the largest contributor to the African Development Bank. It is often referred to the ‘Giant of Africa’, owing to its huge population and economy. In fact, the World Bank has categorized Nigeria as one of the emerging vast markets.
Nigeria’s population is currently estimated at about 220 million and is forecast to double by 2050. This makes Nigeria a lucrative destination for trade and investment. Kenya has signed bilateral trade agreements with Nigeria.
NIGERIA-KENYA ECONOMIC TIES
In September 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan visited Kenya accompanied by 500 Nigerian government officials and businessmen. This was said to be the first visit to Kenya by a Nigerian president in 26 years.
Under the AfCFTA, Kenya is looking to expand its tea export market to West and Central African. For this reason, stability in Nigeria after the poll will enhance Kenya’s trade and investment forays in the West Africa region.
As of 2021, Nigeria exports to Kenya were $1.44 million as per the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. Kenya is also exporting its goods and services to Nigeria.
In 2011, Kenyan mobile financial services company Cellulant won a $8.5 million four-year government contract in Nigeria. Furthermore, Kenya Airways is a popular link between West Africa and Asian destinations and has thus contributed to Kenya’s favourable balance of trade with Nigeria.
Kenya’s regional strategy on intra-Africa trade will be influenced by the outcome of elections in Nigeria. Kenya’s Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, has been traversing the continent with an aim of placing Kenya in the regional trade leadership in readiness for full trade integration of African states. The aim is to maximize benefits from economic opportunities inherent in intra-Africa trade.
Kenya has been in the forefront pushing for the conclusion of a tripartite agreement that will see the unification of EAC, Comesa and SADC. After which Kenya expects to lead further integration with Ecowas and other regional blocs like the Arab Maghreb Union. This strategic policy can best be achieved by collaborating with the incoming government of Nigeria (a powerhouse in Ecowas).
The strengthening of trade ties between Kenya and Nigeria is bound to enhance their leadership of intra-African trade. The Pan-African Private Sector Trade and Investment Committee survey in 2022, reveals that Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are some of the leading states in the promotion of intra-Africa trade.
Although Kenya and Nigeria have great potential in bilateral trade, this has not been substantially exploited. For instance, there are many products from Kenya in the Nigerian market such as flowers and tea, which unfortunately are not directly imported from Kenya but from the UK. Kenya should take the earliest opportunity to align with the new government in Nigeria to increase bilateral direct trade relations.
The economic relations between Kenya and Nigeria should grow under the AfCFTA. Both Kenya and Nigeria are leaders in African Continental Free Trade Area, hence Kenya needs to collaborate with the expected new government in Nigeria so that Kenya can actively participate and set agenda in the AfCFTA to utilize economic opportunities in intra-Africa trade.
Here, Kenya’s advantage is that it is a step ahead in the AfCFTA participation and leadership compared to Nigeria. While Kenya and Ghana, were the first to ratify the deal in May 2018, Nigeria was initially reluctant to join, but later ratified the ACFTA agreement in December, 2020.
Kenya is among seven countries selected to pilot trading without being subjected to tariff barriers under the AfCFTA framework. Kenya has taken advantage of this pilot programme by the AfCFTA, where in October 2022, it shipped its first batches of locally made car batteries and tea to Ghana, a key member of Ecowas.
Therefore, under the AfCFTA, Kenya is looking to expand its tea export market to West and Central African. For this reason, stability in Nigeria after the poll will enhance Kenya’s trade and investment forays in the West Africa region.
Kenya has in place the National AfCFTA Implementation Strategy 2022-2027, which enables it to fast-track and benefit from the implementation of the AfCFTA.
Furthermore, the election will potentially have a dimension on Kenya’s foreign policy objective of promoting and projecting its strategic interests through multilateralism, especially at the African Union level.
Nigeria has great influence on the position of the AU on international matters, be they climate change or international peace and security majorly because it is Africa's largest economy and most populous country.
In fact, the global image of Nigeria’s foreign policy is that it is a champion of African issues in the international system. Therefore, Kenya should quickly develop a rapport with the new government and forge closer ties with Nigeria and other African powers such as Egypt, South Africa, Ghana and francophone Africa to make it easier to push her agenda at the African Union.
That notwithstanding, Nigeria is also Kenya’s competitor because the two countries must ultimately look out for their self-interest. The two compete in projecting their image to global powers as better allies in Africa, compete for trade and vie for continental balance of power through the African Union.
For instance, in the lucrative global agenda of green energy, Nigeria, just like Kenya and other African countries, is a favourable investment destination. Western countries that want to become climate-neutral or fossil fuel free, will be looking at Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries for investment.
Despite the competing interests, Kenya can capitalize on new relations with the incoming government in Nigeria to develop cooperation in renewable energies and avoid competition and duplication.
Finally, the Nigerian diaspora is increasingly growing in Kenya and East Africa. The number of Nigerian investments and businesses in Kenya has also increased. Kenya should partner with the incoming government to invigorate new ways of engaging the Nigerian diaspora with a view of improving their welfare and enhancing positive perceptions about Nigerians in Kenya.
In sum, the stakes are not only high for the presidential candidates in Nigeria's 2023 election but the world will be closely following the process and the outcome of the polls. That is because Nigeria is an African power whose voice carries international weight.
Yet, the elections are taking place in an environment of uncertainty and tensions. Nonetheless, the future of Kenya-Nigeria ties is potentially brighter this time round, provided there is a peaceful election and smooth transition to a new administration in Nigeria.
If all remains peaceful and credible results emerge from the vote, Kenya should quickly invite the newly elected Nigerian leadership to Nairobi for a state visit. This will enhance Kenya’s strategy of strengthening collaboration with key African powers as well as expanding into the West Africa trade market. Kenya should have an open and impartial approach to the elections and embrace whoever is validly declared the winner.
Kenya is a regional economic giant in East Africa, while Nigeria is a continental giant. Kenya will have to forge a new trade and investment partnership with Nigeria’s incoming government. For instance, there is need to have direct export and imports between the two states. This is to stop the case of re-exports, as aforementioned.
On continental peace and security, Kenya and Nigeria have played their roles in peace support missions, preventive diplomacy or mediations and counter-terrorism. Kenya needs to deepen its ties with the incoming Nigeria government so that the two states can emerge as lead-partners of the international actors in the war on terrorism and maintenance of Africa’s peace and security.
Kenya’s strategic interest in Nigeria elections should be bolstered by the fact that former President Uhuru Kenyatta is leading the African Union Election Observers' Mission group.
Kenya should deploy its soft power diplomacy to make the most of the role of Uhuru as head of AU election observer mission to find ways of endearing itself to the new administration in Nigeria.
Muliro Nasong’o is a resident Fellow at the Global Centre for Policy and Strategy (GLOCEPS)