‘Nigeria Decides 2023’: A Brief Guide for Non-Nigerians

Tolu Ogunlesi
6 min readFeb 24, 2023

By Tolu Ogunlesi

Okay, so it’s that time when Nigerians gather to vote for a new President, Governors in 28 of 36 States (8 States are ‘off-cycle’, meaning their elections happen at periods other than the General Elections), 109 Senators, 360 Members of the House of Representatives (the Senate and the House of Representatives together form the National Assembly), and almost a thousand State House of Assembly (State Parliament) members across the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The elections will hold on Saturday February 25, 2023 (Presidential and National Assembly) and on Saturday March 11, 2023 (Governorship and State House of Assembly).

Election Days in Nigeria are curfew days — there is a total restriction on movement, with the exception of certain exempted groups (election officials, emergency services, etc). For the February 25 elections, the curfew starts at 12 midnight, until 6pm, on Election Day.

To vote, therefore, people will need to be close to the Polling Units to which they have been assigned (i.e. where they registered to vote, or have subsequently transferred their registration to).

Also, you require special identification cards known as Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC) — issued by the National Electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) — to vote.

Unlike the Americans, who have been doing this democracy thing unbroken for centuries (and from who we copied our Presidential system of government), ours is a much younger democracy:

  • 24 years — and 4 Presidents — in all, in this fourth Republic, and 4 years and 1 President in the 2nd Republic (1979–83).
  • In between, a third Republic that had its Presidential election annulled, exactly 30 years ago, in 1993, setting off a maelstrom that almost pushed the country off the brink, and pushed an emerging democracy back by six years, to 1999.
  • And the first Republic? That was under a Parliamentary system, inherited from Westminster, England, from Nigeria’s Independence in 1960 until the first military coup in 1966. Six years in all, of a Prime Minister, and a ceremonial Governor-General (later President), who represented the Queen of England until Nigeria became a Republic in 1963.
  • During the next attempt at democracy, we jettisoned that and went with the Americans.
  • In summary, the last 24 years, since 1999, form the longest unbroken stretch of democracy in the history of Nigeria. Coups are now firmly a thing of the past (but sadly not rumours of coups).

So, the 2023 Presidential Election:

  • Is the 7th consecutive Presidential election since democracy returned (the 4th Republic) in 1999
  • Is the first Presidential election in which there won’t be an incumbent on the ballot, since 2007
  • Is the first Presidential election under the new Electoral Act of 2022 (which repealed the 2010 Electoral Act)
  • Is the first Presidential election in which BVAS technology — the ‘Bimodal Voter Accreditation System’— will be used. BVAS is a system for verifying the authenticity of each voter’s Permanent Voter Card (PVC), using either fingerprint or facial recognition. The BVAS device is also used to upload election results from each Polling Unit, to the INEC Results Portal
  • Is looking like it will be the most open Presidential race in our history.

To be declared winner, a candidate will have to fulfill two conditions:

The Constitution of Nigeria

1. have the highest number of votes cast

2. have not less than one-quarter of the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)

— If both conditions are not fulfilled by any candidate, the stage is set for a run-off, which has never happened before, but which some analysts are suggesting is a strong possibility this time.

There are 18 Presidential candidates in all, most of them on fringe parties that will turn our anything from a few hundred votes to tens of thousands. The frontrunners are:

— Two main contenders, candidates of the two truly national parties in Nigeria today: Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)(holding Federal power since 2015) and Atiku Abubakar of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)(held Federal power between 1999 and 2015 when they were kicked out by the APC).

— A third-force contender, Peter Obi, who has in about 9 months built incredible momentum atop what used to be a fringe party, the Labour Party, and is now mentioned in the same breath as the main two candidates, with some polls actually touting him as the winner.

— A ‘fourth force’, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who commands significant support in the vote-rich States of the Northwest.

— Now, one interesting thing — all four are former elected-Governors, which for me is proof that Nigeria’s presidential democracy is a democracy of Governors: Tinubu is a 2-Term Governor of Lagos State (South West Nigeria), Nigeria’s former administrative capital and current commercial hub; Obi is a 2-Term Governor of Anambra State in the South East; Kwankwaso is a 2-Term Governor of Kano State in the North West, while Abubakar was elected Governor of Adamawa State (North East) in 1999 but gave it up before being sworn-in, to become Nigeria’s first 4th Republic Vice President.

The 2023 Election Season Numbers:

18 Political Parties

15,331 Contestants in all

93,469,008 Registered Voters

1,491 Electoral Constituencies

774 Local Government Area

8,809 Registration Areas/Wards

176,846 Polling Units in all, but elections will not hold in 240 of them, leaving 176,606 PUs where elections will hold nationwide.

1,642,386 Polling and Collation Agents nominated by the 18 political parties (comprising 1,574,301 Polling Agents and 68,085 Collation Agents)

— Total Number of Registered Voters in 2023 = 93,469,008, up by 9,464,924 or 11.3 percent from 84,004,084 in 2019.

— Of this total number of Registered Voters (93.4 million):

  • 49,054,162 or 52.5 per cent are male
  • 44,414,846 or 47.5 per cent are female
  • 37,060,399 or 39.65 per cent are between 18 and 34
  • 33,413,591 or 35.75 per cent are between 35 and 49
  • 26,027,481 or 27.8 per cent are Students — the largest ‘occupational’ subset
  • followed by Farmers/Fishermen who are 14,742,554 or 15.8 per cent
  • and then Housewives at 13,006,939 or 13.9 per cent.

But there’s an even more IMPORTANT number than “Registered Voters” — it is the actual number of Registered Voters who collected their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) — which is the document that actually entitles them to cast votes.

  • Total Number of Collected PVCs = 87,209,007
  • Total Number of Uncollected PVCs = 6,259,229

So, only 87.2 million Nigerians are actually eligible to vote in the 2023 General Elections.


There have been a number of widely-circulated Presidential Polls in this election, with varying methodologies, sample sizes, caveats and conclusions. Some obviously more credible than others, some appearing like thinly-disguised partisan attempts to manipulate public opinion. You can get anything done with numbers, indeed. Again, not surprisingly, Nigeria doesn’t have America’s long history of public presidential polling (even then, America has shown us the limits of polling, especially in recent years), so we are only now slowly building the culture, and I guess the results that emerge in a few days will allow us assess-adopt-discard.



Tolu Ogunlesi

Writer/Speechwriter, Former Communications Guy for the Nigerian Government, Journalist on Sabbatical