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Explained: How do Nigerians elect their president

Nigerians go to the polls on February 25 to choose a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is serving his second and final term in office. Nigeria is Africa’s largest democracy and economy, and the elections are closely followed internationally.

Nigeria has a population of more than 200 million. More than 93 million people have registered to vote in this year’s elections – the country’s highest-ever number of eligible voters. According to the election body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, 47.5 percent of the registered voters are women.

Nigeria’s population is mainly young– 39.65 percent are in the age group 18-34, while 35.75 percent are between 35 to 49.

Some of the most prominent contenders include a former governor of Lagos state, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling APC party, former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition PDP, a former governor of Anambra state Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano state who is the candidate for NNPP.

Here’s how Nigerians elect their top leader.

READ MORE: Cash and fuel crisis cranks up Nigeria election tensions

How does a president emerge? 

Nigeria is a multi-party democracy and has a unique formula for determining the winner of a presidential election. For any candidate to be declared victorious, he – or she – must hit two golden targets. 

According to the electoral law, he must score the highest number of valid votes as well as get at least 25 percent of the votes in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states, including capital Abuja. 

In a situation where none of the contenders has fulfilled these requirements, a second round of voting shall be conducted with the top two candidates standing. However, since the return of democracy in 1999, no second round of voting has ever been held – all previous presidential elections ended with a clear winner in the first round. 

When the electoral commission finally announces election results, candidates and/or their parties who suspect they have been cheated in the election have the right to challenge it at the country’s courts. 

Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, each presidential election result has been challenged – in some cases, the legal battle even reaching the Supreme Court. However, no results have ever been overturned. 

Elected Nigerian presidents are usually sworn into office on May 29 of the election year. 

The voting process

As Nigerians vote to elect a president on February 25, they also choose 109 senators and 360 members of the lower parliament, the House of Representatives, on the same day.

Later in March, they will vote for state governors and state legislators.

With nearly 177,000 voting centres across Nigeria where voters queue up, the polls usually open at 8 am local time (7:00GMT) when the accreditation of voters begins. The accreditation process involves the biometric verification of voters and their voting cards by election officials using electronic devices known as card readers. 

Accredited voters will then, in the afternoon, begin to cast their votes for the candidate of their choice in an open-secret voting system. This involves collecting the ballot papers containing the names of candidates and their political parties, going into a cubicle and thumbing for their candidates using ink. They then come out of the booth to drop the thumb-printed ballot papers into the ballot box in the open.

In addition to the electoral staff, security personnel and representatives are usually deployed at the polling stations to ensure a smooth process. 

READ MORE: One killed in attack on Nigeria polling office just weeks before vote

‘Hope for credible elections’

At the end of voting, the electoral officials at each polling station are expected to announce the results for that centre after sorting out and counting the votes cast. 

The results from the polling units are taken to the various levels of collation for computation and subsequently uploaded to the electoral commission’s website for the final national tally of the results. The election commission is expected to announce the final results a few days after voting. 

Both local and international observers usually monitor Nigerian elections. 

Dr Hussaini Abdu, an election observer who had worked in various observation teams from the European Union, the African Union and the West African regional group, ECOWAS, during previous Nigerian elections, tells TRT Afrika that such monitoring is necessary to ensure the elections “conform with accepted guarantees of democratic participation”. 

Dr Abdu says the deployment of improved modern technology in the election process, including verification of voters and the collation of results, is crucial in “curbing rigging” and enhancing the credibility of the elections,  hoping that “this year’s elections will be more acceptable than the previous ones”. 

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