Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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The presidential two-horse race fallacy 18 Jan 2019

Every election in Nigeria is important, but even more so the 2019 general election, because it brings the country to a critical juncture. The Nigerian economy has tanked. Almost half of the population now live in extreme poverty. Public education has all but collapsed. Government institutions have become dysfunctional.
Instead of a reduction in the alarming number of out-of-school children, a recent  UNICEF report shows that the number has increased from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. Unemployment rate jumped from 8.9% in the second quarter of 2015 to 23.1% in Q3 of last year. And a lot of Nigerians know that the current trends cannot continue without catastrophic fallouts.

In choosing the candidates that we will vote for on February 16 and March 2, we have to bear in mind the long-term impact of their leadership on the well-being of the people and the development of our institutions. By now, it is clear to many Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari's administration has turned out to be a pig in a poke. The scorecards on the president's anticorruption war, national security and economic policies provide discouraging feedback.

The 2015 campaign season provided an opportunity for voters to scrutinize the policy proposals of the All Progressives Congress' candidate and engage in a debate about his core competence for the office of the president. But as many Nigerians paraded their bias against former President Goodluck Jonathan, they suppressed their doubt about Buhari, despite the certificate scandal he was embroiled in and his refusal to attend the presidential debate jointly organized by Channels Television, Arise Television and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).

The same suppression of doubt – a cognitive bias that makes an impression of a person influence our overall judgement of him or her – is, once again, on full display in the current election cycle, only this time it favours the candidacy of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. Sometimes, it is the media that perpetuates this bias as seen in the peddling of the 2019 presidential election as a two-horse race in which the People's Democratic Party's candidate is considered the viable opposition to the ruling party's candidate. For those who are "fully Atikulated," Abubakar's vast wealth, his visibility in the media and political machinery are seen as the tools he can leverage to potentially defeat Buhari at the polls.
But one of the defining attributes of the 2019 general election is the record number of relatively young candidates running for various offices. There are 72 presidential candidates. Many of them are in their 40s and 50s.
Contrary to the myth of a two-horse race, there is a deep field of presidential candidates in the 2019 election. The alternatives to the candidates of the two major parties, include Kingsley Moghalu, candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) and ex-Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Others are Obiageli Ezekwesili, candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and former Minister of Education; Obadiah Mailafia of the African Democratic Congress (ADC); Omoyele Sowore of Africa Action Congress (AAC); and Fela Durotoye, who is the candidate of Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).

Even if these alternative candidates fail to pick a consensus candidate to contest against the two front-runners, one of them can still be the next president of Nigeria. The key to that much-desired victory is in the hands of the electorate, which must put aside primordial sentiments, overcome its voter apathy in 2019 and decide to vote for him or her.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't believe the electorate can change the status quo. Voter turnout data from the 2015 General Election shows 43.65% of the 69,720,350 registered voters cast their votes, although 1.25% of those were declared invalid. This voter apathy is fostered by the culture of political clientelism – the system of giving material goods in return for electoral support. For this reason, many voters are disillusioned about the electoral system and they doubt their votes will be counted at the ballot.
The other challenge is the tendency of many Nigerians to act against our best interests. Nigerians are united in political activism on social media. We rant and complain about various political and economic issues. But we cannot coalesce around a common goal of defeating the ruling class. Our ethnic and religious particularisms are a major barrier to having an agreement on any number of issues, including our development goals and what we must achieve as a nation. In fact, many even doubt if Nigeria is a nation. The words of the national anthem, "one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity," remain an aspiration more than 40 years after it was adopted in 1978.
Nigerians are still far behind in the democratic practice of donating to political campaigns. Rather than judge candidates based on the policies they espouse, mobilize financial and in-kind support for their favourite candidates and expect public goods from them when they are elected into office, a large number of the Nigerian electorate expects money from politicians. This culture of clientelism puts the alternative candidates at a disadvantage financially. It is partly also responsible for putting the electorate in perpetual penury due to lack of accountability from the ruling class.  
If the fast-rising rates of joblessness and extreme poverty – caused by the misgovernance of the last 20 years – have not taken us to the tipping point, then we are our own worst enemy. The transformation of the Nigerian economy and a better outlook on governance in the next four years are contingent on the choices we make in the upcoming elections.