Nigeria 2023: How the presidential election will be won and lost 

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Thursday, 23 February 2023 11:07
Peter Obi, Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar (TAR)

It’s official. Nigeria’s election on Saturday will be a three-horse race between Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar. What is the possible path to victory for each candidate? 

Winning a presidential election in Nigeria is never easy. Atiku Abubakar would know this having lost a record five times – thrice at party primaries and twice in general elections. Peter Obi also lost in 2019 when he was Atiku’s running mate.  

So what does it take to be elected president of Africa’s largest country? The Nigerian constitution says there are two primary conditions one must fulfil to win a presidential poll. One is that a candidate must win a majority of the votes and must also garner a minimum of 25% of votes in at least 24 states. 

The second condition needed to meet these two requirements is why all the frontline candidates have had to travel across all 36 states to solicit for votes. And with campaigns now officially over, how could these three candidates meet these constitutional requirements? 

Peter Obi 

One year ago, most Nigerians never imagined that the ex-governor of Anambra State would be a frontline candidate or that the Labour Party would be a force. However, politics is full of surprises. Having bought the PDP presidential form at the cost of N40m ($86,767) in late March, Obi was expected to go up against Atiku, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers and about 15 others at the primary. 

However, Obi decided to opt out a few days to the primary, arguing that he could not bribe delegates with huge sums of money to clinch the party’s ticket. This endeared him to many young Nigerians who saw him as the change the country needed. 

A few days later, Obi defected to the Labour Party, a very small party, which – in the last presidential election – got just 5,074 votes representing 0.02% of the total votes cast. Within seven months since joining the party, Obi has been able to ignite the passion of urban youths and middle class professionals. 

If the north goes ethnic and supports Atiku instead of Tinubu, then Atiku wins the election

Obi is an Igbo from the southeast, a region which has been denied presidential power since a bloody civil war that ended in 1970. For millions of Igbo – many of whom had hitherto supported a campaign for secession – Obi represents hope. Obi is also the only Christian with a realistic chance of becoming president. He thus has support from the Christian establishment.

Obi will be expected to win big in the Christian dominated southern states in the Niger Delta region and the southeast. They include Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Edo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa and Delta. He will be expected to meet the 25% requirement in Lagos, which has a large population of urban youths and Igbo traders.

He is also expected to meet the minimum requirement in the Christian northern states of Benue, Plateau and Taraba; as well as Nasarawa. However, Obi will find it difficult making inroads into the rural southwest states of Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti and Ondo because Tinubu, who is also from the southwest, will be expected to win these states while Atiku of the PDP is projected to be second.

Obi will also find it difficult to get the needed votes in the 12 Muslim majority states which include Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Niger and Kogi. The Labour Party candidate will face an uphill task in Kwara, which is a Yoruba Muslim state. In these states, Atiku and Tinubu will be expected to come first and second in no particular order thereby denying Obi the opportunity of getting 25% of votes.

However, Doyin Okupe, who is Obi’s former campaign manager, thinks differently.

“Peter Obi will win and lead massively in the southeast averagely [70%], including all states in the south-south. In the southwest, Peter Obi will score [a] min[inum] of 40% in Lagos; 25% in Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Ondo. Osun is 15% minimum, northwest 40% minimum in Kaduna and no less than 10% of all the other six  states mainly because of Igbo residents,” he says.

The Africa Report, however, notes that even with this calculation, Obi still falls short of the constitutional requirement and will thus need to have a better showing up north to win.

Unfortunately, his running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba Ahmed, is not known to be a grassroots politician.


Atiku has proved his mettle having come second in the last presidential election where he polled 11.2 million votes, representing 41.22% of the total votes cast. The former vice-president is a wealthy northern Muslim with immense experience in presidential elections. 

His party, the PDP, also has a strong base across the country. The PDP has been winning all presidential elections in the Niger Delta and the southeast since 1999. Atiku thus picked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of the oil-rich Delta State as his running mate in order to solidify his base. 

However, the PDP candidate has lost a chunk of the southeast base due to Obi’s growing popularity. This will also affect Atiku in Lagos where the Igbo usually deliver huge votes for the PDP. Besides, there is a general feeling in the south that with President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, completing his tenure, power ought to return to the south in the spirit of fairness. 

Atiku will win by emulating former President Shehu Shagari’s pathway in the 1979 presidential election where he won with 33.7% of the total votes.

Currently, at least five out of the 13 governors are still not on the same page with Atiku. This crisis in the PDP is worst in Rivers State where Governor Wike has all but endorsed Tinubu. The violence in Rivers State has also prevented the PDP from campaigning in the state.  

Atiku will thus have to rely mainly on the north to deliver the goods. At a meeting with northern elders late last year, he said the region should vote for him because he was their son, a comment that sparked outrage in the south.  

However, with the APC currently controlling 14 of the 19 northern states, Atiku will find it difficult to win these northern states which hold a chunk of the votes and generally have a larger voter turnout than the south. Besides, the PDP is fragmented in Kano, which will play to the advantage of the APC and northern candidate, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, who holds a cult following in the state. 

Even so, the director of voter intelligence, strategy of Atiku’s campaign, Osita Chidoka, tells The Africa Report that Atiku will win by emulating former President Shehu Shagari’s pathway in the 1979 presidential election where he won with 33.7% of the total votes. 

Chidoka says Atiku will meet the 25% requirement in at least 30 states and can defeat both Tinubu and Obi without winning in Lagos, Kano and Rivers. 

The former aviation minister says any state that in any state that Tinubu wins, Atiku will come second and in any state that Obi wins, Atiku also comes second thereby giving him an overall greater tally than them 

He says: “In the 1979 election, Shagari got about 60% of the votes in the North. Aminu Kano got sizable votes in Kano and Kaduna. Waziri Ibrahim got the votes in Borno and the old Gongola, but Shagari was winning in some of the northern states and Rivers and Cross River. 

“Shagari won despite Nnamdi Azikiwe winning 84% of votes in the southeast and Plateau; and Awolowo getting 88% of the votes in the southwest. Shagari kept picking votes across the country, coming second in almost every state he lost.” 

The Africa Report notes that Atiku will need to defeat Tinubu convincingly in the northwest and the northeast in order to win this election. 


In theory, Bola Tinubu is the strongest of all candidates and seems to be in pole position to win this election. The Lagos godfather is super wealthy and has 21 governors of the APC working for his victory. 

Tinubu seeks to follow Buhari’s pathway to victory by winning the southwest and the three sub-regions that make up the north.  

He is expected to win the six states in the southwest as a son of the soil, but this only works to his advantage if the region witnesses a high voter turnout. 

In a bid to endear northern voters to himself, Tinubu, who is a Muslim, broke with tradition by nominating a northern Muslim, Senator Kashim Shettima, as his running mate. This has infuriated northern Christians in the Middle Belt region. The opportunity cost is the votes in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, southern Adamawa and parts of Kaduna and Nasarawa. 

Tinubu is thus relying mostly on the Muslim northern votes to make him president. “But the north will disappoint Tinubu. They will not support him,” 94-year-old Yoruba leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who has endorsed Obi, tells The Africa Report. 

Additionally, reports say that some core northern states where their governors have become unpopular will fall to the PDP. Besides, with President Buhari not on the ballot this time, it is projected that his base will be split and this may not work in Tinubu’s favour. 

Even ahead of this election, reports say President Buhari is not fully supporting Tinubu hence his decision to implement the naira redesign policy, which has brought more enemies for the APC and made life difficult for many Nigerians. 

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State said some of Buhari’s men sold the idea of the naira redesign ahead of the election in order to “create a nationwide shortage of cash so that citizens are incited to vote against APC candidates across the board resulting in massive losses for the party in all the elections”. 

Despite the hurdles in his way, Tinubu will be expected to get the 25% minimum requirement in the six states in the southwest and the 15 states in the north that have a clear Muslim majority. He will depend on two APC governors in the southeast, one in the Niger Delta and one in Plateau State to help him get the minimum requirement. If they fail, Tinubu will fall short of the minimum requirement. 

“If the north goes ethnic and supports Atiku instead of Tinubu, then Atiku wins the election,” David Aworawo of the History Department at the University of Lagos tells The Africa Report. 

However, Festus Keyamo, a spokesperson for Tinubu’s campaign, says the APC will still retain its northern base despite the fact that Buhari is not on the ballot. 

“In 2019, despite the fact that Atiku is from the northeast, he lost four of the six northeast states. Atiku couldn’t get 10% of the votes in Yobe and Borno. Even in the two states he won, it was neck in neck. Things can’t change drastically in four years.  

“Even if we have some marginal challenges in some states, it cannot be huge because it is the same voters from 2019. Atiku did not win one state in the northwest in 2019. We beat them by big margins,” he says, adding that Buhari’s popularity will rub off on Tinubu. 

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