By Linus Okechukwu
ENUGU, Enugu State, Nigeria – On Saturday, nearly 70 million eligible voters will be trooping to polling stations to decide who becomes the next president of Nigeria. It's a decisive choice between two extremes: continuity or change.Fourteen candidates are vying for the coveted position; but, for all practical purposes, only two main presidential candidates – incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress – have a realistic chance of winning.
Only one woman, Oluremi Sonaiya of Kowa Party is contesting for the position of the president, though women make up almost 50 percent of registered voters.
Since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999, the People’s Democratic Party has dominated Nigeria's political landscape without any fierce opposition. But, this year's election will test the party's influence after an alliance of opposition parties formed All Progressive Congress.
This election seems too close to call, or better still, it will be the most closely contested election in Nigeria's history. Elections are held every four years, and Nigeria has conducted four presidential elections since military rule ended in 1999.
Political punditry is no longer a prized skill: almost everybody has something – no matter how trifling – to say about the forthcoming election. On the streets, parks, commercial buses, the media, in churches, schools and homes, everybody seems to be engrossed in discussions about the presidential election.
Linus Okechukwu / youthjournalism.org
An advertisement for Nigerian President
Goodluck Jonathan, who is running for
re-election, and his running mate, Namadi
Sambo, the nation's current vice president.
At no time in Nigeria's history have our presidential elections meant so much to people. No level of intimidation or bribery could change people's political leanings and choices.
Jonathan, the incumbent president, is seeking a second term in office, after defeating retired Buhari in 2011. He had polled 22 million votes against Buhari's 12 million.
Presidents and governors of states in Nigeria are limited to two terms of four years each.
A former inspector, lecturer, environmental protection officer, deputy governor, governor, and then deputy vice president before he became president, Jonathan's meteoric rise to the limelight has been a source of motivation to many youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is especially seen as one who rose from poverty to fame through resilience, determination, humility and industriousness.
With a penchant for fedora hats, Jonathan is from the oil-rich Niger Delta region. His People’s Democratic Party unanimously picked him as the uncontested presidential candidate. He's a Christian and has been heavily criticized for not effectively handling the endemic corruption that has ravaged Nigeria for decades, as well as the security challenges posed by Boko Haram terrorists.
Buhari, his main opponent, is a former military ruler trying for the presidency for the fourth time. He lost three times, most recently against Jonathan in 2011. There's a widespread belief that his military background and disciplinarian credentials are needed to rout the Islamist insurgents and corruption.
Buhari earned his reputation as a stickler for discipline. When he ran Nigeria under military rule from January 1984 until August 1985, about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed as part of a campaign against waste and corruption.
During those years, Nigerians were forced to form orderly queues or face the anger of whip-wielding soldiers as part of Buhari's "War Against Indiscipline." Civil servants who turned up late to work were made to do frog jumps.
Press freedom and political gatherings were not tolerated under his watchful eyes, as reports of gross human rights violations and executions abound.
A Muslim from Daura, a village in the northern Nigerian state of Kastina, Buhari is reputed to be incorruptible. But his economic policies on importation and his refusal to let the currency depreciate in the face of a trade deficit caused a lot of hardship on the local population. Jobs were lost and businesses closed.
Key issues that have driven electioneering are hinged on unemployment, insecurity, corruption, infrastructure and energy.
Religion and ethnicity play subtle roles in voters' choices, too.
To emerge as president, a candidate needs more than 50 percent of the national vote and at least 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states.
A total of 150,000 polling stations nationwide will be deployed Saturday for the presidential and parliamentary elections.
High tech, fraud-resistant biometric cards called Permanent Voters' Cards will be used for the first time in Nigeria. The national minimum voting age is 18.
Huge billboards advertising the two main candidates are commonplace across cities, towns and villages in the country, but all official campaigning ends Thursday before midnight.
Nigeria’s presidential election, run by the Independent National Electoral Commission, was to have been held on Feb. 14, but it was pushed back to March 28 because of security concerns in the northeastern part of the country, where about 3 million people have been impacted by Boko Haram’s brutal acts of terrorism. Some Nigerians suspect that the shift had political overtones.
Governor and state assemblies' elections were also rescheduled from Feb. 28 to April 11 April for similar concerns. Nigeria’s constitution says elections must be completed 30 days before May 29, when power is usually handed over to the winner.
Past elections in Nigeria have been mired in violence, leaving hundreds dead. Many Nigerians, apparently for fear of the outcome of Saturday's polls, have fled to their hometowns. A large contingent of police and other security agents will be deployed across the country to curtail any form of turmoil.
Almost every Nigerian will be glued to their radio or television on Saturday night when the results begin to trickle in.
Victory or vanquish: People’s Democratic Party, or All Progressive Congress – tears of sadness or hoots of joy will fill the air by Sunday.
Your tax-deductible contribution can help support
Linus Okechukwu and other students of this nonprofit at