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#NigeriaDecides2023: How old – or young – are the candidates? Where are the women? And who has a PhD? What the data shows

Nigeria’s electoral commission recently released data on the 2023 general election candidates. We took a closer look – and found some interesting facts voters should know.

Nigeria's 2023 general elections are just days away. The Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) recently released data on the politicians on the ballot for the presidential and national assembly elections scheduled for 25 February

At the end of 2022, Inec published the final list of candidates for the presidency and for each seat in the senate and the house of representatives. It includes the names of the candidates nominated by their political parties, their gender, age and educational qualifications.

There are far fewer parties on the ballot this time around. In 2019, 73 political parties fielded candidates for the presidency. Only 18 parties are contesting the 2023 presidential election.

The deregistration of political parties was the main reason for the reduced number, said Dr Otive Igbuzor. He’s the executive director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, a think tank based in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

In 2020, Inec delisted 74 political parties for their poor showing in the 2019 elections. These parties either failed to win any election, failed to win up to 25% of the votes in at least one state in the presidential election, or failed to win up to 25% of the votes in any local government area in the governorship elections. 

The supreme court upheld the commission’s decision.

“The lower number will make voting easier,” Igbuzor said. “In 2019, the ballot paper was so long that it was difficult for people to find the logo of their preferred party while voting. 

“It also made vote collation more laborious. Imagine having to count votes for dozens of parties, many of which have just one or two votes.”

Inec data also shows that there were more senate and house of representatives candidates in 2019 than there are in 2023.

Take the senate, where in 2019, political parties fielded 1,860 candidates for the 109 seats. In 2023, just 1,100 will be on the ballot. 

The age question in the election

President Muhammadu Buhari will be 80 when he leaves office in May 2023. He was 72 when he was first inaugurated in May 2015. His two terms have been punctuated by trips to see doctors in London. 

Critics say Buhari’s administration has been badly affected by his age and health. This has made age an issue in 2023. 

The two leading political parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have the oldest presidential candidates. Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC is 70, and the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar is 75.  So there’s a strong possibility that Nigeria could elect a septuagenarian – a person in their seventies – president in 2023, as it did in 2015 and 2019.

The other candidates with a chance of winning the presidency are 61-year-old Peter Obi of the Labour Party and 66-year-old Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People's Party (NNPP).

The ages of the 14 other presidential candidates range from 38 to 68. There are 18 candidates in all. Their average age is 57.4 (and their median age, if you are interested, is 59). The average age of their running mates is 51.7.

What are the chances of a youthful national assembly?

All 36 states have three senatorial districts and a varying number of federal constituencies. The federal capital territory of Abuja has one senatorial district and two federal constituencies.

Only 224 of the 1,101 senate candidates are aged 40 or younger. So there is a chance that around 20% of the upper chamber of Nigeria’s legislature will be made up of relatively young lawmakers.

But this chance is significantly reduced by the fact that only two of these 224 youthful candidates are from the APC and PDP, the two dominant parties.  

There are 26 septuagenarians in the senate race – and one octogenarian, 89-year-old Obinna Desmond Ihezie, the NNPP candidate for Abia South. There is no candidate in their nineties. In what may be a mistake, the age of Zira Manasseh Paul, the African Democratic Congress candidate for Plateau South, is given as 136.  

For the house of representatives, there are 3,122 candidates for 360 federal constituencies. Some states, such as Kano and Lagos, have as many as 24 federal constituencies, while Bayelsa has the fewest, at five.

Kano state has the highest number of house of representatives candidates with 202, followed by Lagos with 162. Oyo state has 138 candidates for 14 federal constituencies, and Rivers state 128 candidates for 13 constituencies.

Of the 3,122 candidates, 1,181 are aged 40 or under. This is about 38%. Northern states generally have a higher share of young house of representatives candidates than southern states.

Kano, in the north, has the highest percentage of candidates under the age of 40, at 58.4%. It’s followed by two other northern states, Borno (53.6%) and Zamfara (52.9%).

Any gains from ‘not-too-young-to-run’ law? 

The well-known “not-too-young-to-run” bill was signed into law in May 2018. It lowered the age limit for presidential and senate candidates from 35 to 30, and for house of representatives and state assembly candidates from 30 to 25.

The law was great and had removed a barrier, but youth participation in politics needed more than the law, Igbuzor told Africa Check.

“There is a need for political empowerment, inclusivity and economic empowerment of the youth. The monetisation of elections is a major issue. A person in his thirties is unlikely to be able to raise the amount of money and other resources required to run a successful presidential campaign.” 

He added: “It is not just in Nigeria. There is a need for reforms on campaign funds. The electoral law stipulates caps on spending during election campaigns, but monitoring is poor. Inec should monitor campaign spending in this election. The leading party usually exceeds the cap just on TV adverts.” 

(Read our explainer on how political campaign funding works.)

Still not a woman’s place 

The data shows that Nigerian women will continue to be under-represented in elected positions in 2023. And there are fewer women in the presidential race than there were in 2019.

In 2019, 28 of the 146 presidential and vice-presidential candidates were women. That's about 19%. In 2023, only one woman – so 2.8% – is among the 36 presidential candidates and running mates. She is Princess Chichi Ojei, the presidential candidate of the Allied Peoples’ Movement

In Inec’s final list, we counted 84 women out of 1,100 candidates standing for the 2023 senate election. This is less than 8%.

Northern states such as Kano, Sokoto, Yobe and Bauchi do not have a single woman running for the senate. And none of the states have six or more female candidates for the house of representatives. Northern states generally have fewer women candidates than southern states.

In the south, Akwa Ibom state has eight female candidates for the senate and 12 for the house of representatives. Lagos has five female candidates for the senate and, at 27, by far the highest number of female candidates for the house of representatives. Anambra and Rivers states each have five female candidates for the senate.

Our factsheet on the status of women in Nigeria shows that since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, the share of women in the federal legislature has remained well under 10%. Sadly, this will not change in 2023.

More women participating ‘but barriers remain strong’ 

It’s important to look at women's participation in politics in two ways: individual participation in the electoral process and representation on the ballot paper. That’s what Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, a lawyer and human rights activist, told Africa Check. 

Ibezim-Ohaeri is the executive director of Space for Change, a nonprofit organisation that researches and advocates on the issues of human rights, urban governance and gender inclusion in Nigeria.

“Women's participation in politics is increasing in terms of women getting involved in the electoral process as individuals. There is more awareness. Ahead of the 2023 elections, we have seen a lot more women participating in political rallies and debates on social media,” she said. 

“However, in terms of representation, in terms of women being put up for election by political parties, the gap is still too big. There are still a lot of barriers against women in politics in Nigeria.”

Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, president of the rights group Women Arise, agreed.  But she too said progress had been made. 

“Given the entrenched patriarchal nature of our society, we may not have reached the peak of women's participation in politics, but we are not where we used to be,” Okei-Odumakin told Africa Check. 

“For example, we have a female governorship candidate of a major party in Adamawa State, where it was taboo for a woman to be a leader in the society.”

Okei-Odumakin said female participation would get better with increased and sustained public engagement, education and awareness.

Igbuzor said a quota for political offices or seats in parliament would get more women on the ballot. 

“Across the world, women’s participation in politics is increasing, with Rwanda leading the way in terms of the number of women in parliament. But unfortunately, Nigeria continues to perform poorly in terms of women’s participation in politics,” he said. 

“Some countries have solved this problem by introducing a constitutional quota for women. Attempts to do this in Nigeria have failed.”

Barriers against women in politics  

Ibezim-Ohaeri said women had a long way to go before they had as good a chance of being elected in Nigeria as men. “But there is hope that as more women get involved, there will be more spaces for women to contest and win elections in Nigeria.”

Okei-Odumakin and Ibezim-Ohaeri described barriers women faced in Nigerian politics. These include:

  1. High cost of participation: Apart from the high cost of buying party nomination forms, campaigning is generally expensive in Nigeria. Many women can’t afford it.
  2. Violence during political campaigns: Nigeria has a long history of political assassinations and electoral violence. This scares many women.
  3. Political meetings often last past midnight: This is not convenient for most women, especially wives and mothers. 
  4. Lack of political “godmothers”: To get ahead in politics in Nigeria, many men rely on older, wealthier and more influential politicians known as “godfathers”. The godfathers help their protégés, mostly men, to get elected. Female politicians are rarely influential enough to be “godmothers”.
  5. Cultural prejudice against women in politics: In Nigeria, politics is still seen as a man’s business because of the cultural bias against women having authority over men. There is also a perception that politics is a dirty game. Female politicians are therefore viewed with suspicion.       
  6. Ignorance: Many women do not know how to get involved in political parties.  
  7. Sexual harassment: Women in politics are at risk of sexual harassment.

Much ado about education

A topic of debate in the presidential race is candidates’ educational qualifications. There have been claims that some are more qualified than others, and that one candidate does not have a school certificate

Inec’s data shows that all 18 candidates meet the qualification requirements.

Nigeria’s constitution requires that a citizen running for any public office, including the presidency, must be “educated to at least the level of a School Certificate or its equivalent”. This means that any citizen who has completed secondary school can run in an election. 

Federal lawmakers are considering a bill that would raise the minimum qualification to at least a university degree. The bill’s supporters argue that the requirement for a presidential candidate should not be lower than the requirement for employment in the public sector.

The NNPP’s Kwankwaso is the only one of the 18 presidential candidates with a PhD, giving him the highest level of education. 

Candidates of the PDP, Africa Action Congress, Boot Party, National Rescue Movement and Peoples Redemption Party have master’s degrees. Eight candidates, including the APC’s Tinubu and the Labour Party’s Obi, have bachelor’s degrees, while the rest have school certificates and diplomas.  

How much does the level of education matter?

There is no direct correlation between a person’s level of education and their success as a political leader, Kamilu Fage, a professor of political science at Bayero University in Kano, northwest Nigeria, told Africa Check. 

“You can’t really say a person who has a PhD will do better as the president of the country compared to one who has a bachelor’s degree,” he said. 

“I would prefer a more educated person in political offices because I don’t think it is proper to have a person without tertiary education elected as president while that is a requirement for any reasonable position in the public service. 

“But we have to follow the requirements of the constitution, and that is democracy,” Fage added. 

Silvanus Ebohon, a professor of political science at the University of Benin in southern Nigeria, agrees. He told us: “What matters is the level of commitment of the person to the development of the country.”

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