Nigeria embarks on an electoral marathon between April 2-16 with more than 70 million voters taking part in ballots to choose federal and state parliaments, state governors and, most importantly, its president.
President Goodluck Jonathan (l.) is expected to stay in power
Over three successive Saturdays, Africa's most populous nation will vote in what is expected to be fiercely contested electoral races which could shake up Nigeria's political kaleidoscope and lead to a fairer distribution of power.
President Goodluck Jonathan is seen as the favorite in the presidential race and is expected to hold onto power but his People's Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party in Nigeria, could see its decade-long parliamentary majority reduced and its regional dominance diluted.
The main challenge to Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, comes from Nigeria's former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari, a Muslim who enjoys strong support in the northwest of the country, seized power in a coup in 1983 but was overthrown two years later. He unsuccessfully contested the presidency in the last two elections in 2003 and 2007.
Buhari has been defeated in the last two presidential polls
For Jonathan to retain the presidency, he must win an overall majority and at least 25 percent of the vote in two thirds of the country's 36 states to secure a first-round victory. The best hope his challengers have is to rally their regional power bases and force a run-off, although few expect the race for the presidency to enter a second round of voting.
A recent opinion poll by Washington-based research group Ipsos put Jonathan ahead with 60 percent of the vote while support for Buhari was 22 percent.
While opposition parties are expected to make gains across Nigeria to weaken the PDP's hold over the country, the shake-up is not expected to force the PDP from power.
The elections will be monitored by observers from the European Union and the African Union in a bid to avoid the conflict and corruption which marred the 2003 and 2007 elections.
Sporadic violence has been reported ahead of the polls
While there have been reports of isolated bomb attacks, riots, sectarian clashes and a series of targeted killings blamed on radical Islamists in various areas of the country, the international observers claim that they have seen less intimidation and harassment of voters than in previous years.
"As far as I am concerned, scenarios like the ones during the elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007, where powerful local godfathers in conjunction with militias of different factions decided the voting in their areas by the gun, will not happen again during the forthcoming elections," Heinrich Bergstresser, a Nigeria expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, told Deutsche Welle.
Corruption has been a major problem in Nigeria for decades and it is again a buzzword in these elections, with all of the country's political rivals using the fight against it as a pillar of their campaigns. Nigeria has much to gain, not only domestically but internationally, from stepping up its efforts to stamp out corruption.
While the European Union has observers in Nigeria to monitor the elections for fraudulent activities and intimidation, it has more than just a political interest in fair elections in Nigeria. After the United States, the EU is one of Nigeria's most important trade partners. A peaceful and democratic Nigeria would therefore provide a more stable and transparent environment for European economic interests to expand in the country.
"African and Western diplomats are watching the Nigerian elections very closely," Richard Gowan, an Africa expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, told Deutsche Welle. "Nigeria is not only by far the strongest state in West Africa and the key to stability throughout the region, but it's a major energy producer."
German giant Siemens has a significant presence in Nigeria
Germany in particular enjoys strong trade and business tie with Nigeria and also has a vested interest in a stable Nigeria. Beyond the obvious petrochemical opportunities that one of Africa's biggest oil producers can provide, Germany has construction, telecommunications and service industry interests in Nigeria with construction group Bilfinger-Berger and electronics and chemicals giant Siemens just two of the many German firms with a strong presence in the country.
With trade between the two countries amounting to around three billion euros ($4.2 billion) last year, Nigeria is Germany's second-most important partner in Sub Saharan Africa behind South Africa.
"For Germany, the important sector is not the oil and gas sector which everyone immediately thinks of when you talk about Nigeria but the construction sector, in particular construction related to infrastructure," André Rönne, head of the German Trade Office in Lagos, told Deutsche Welle. "We of course profit from the oil income but the German strengths lie beyond the energy sector. We also profit from ancillary industries."
Rönne believes that the efforts to reduce corruption in Nigeria's elections and in the overall structure of the country are hugely important to Nigeria's economic future and its dealings with its European business partners.
The EFCC has been criticized for its work in Nigeria
He praised the efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria's anti-corruption authority, for not only bringing Nigerian officials into line but also foreign investors who have been brought before the courts on charges of corruption since the EFCC started work in 1999.
"The EFCC not only fights against corruption in the economy, be it from the Nigerian or foreign side, but it also pursues corrupt politicians, he said, adding that while Nigeria continually rates toward the bottom of Transparency International's corruption index, the EFCC's work has had a positive effect. "Despite continuing corruption, the EFCC is still a very efficient organization," he added.
"We have seen some serious reform efforts from the government, especially in the energy sector which must be of course one of the conditions of economic development in Nigeria," he said. "We hope that if Jonathan wins the election, he will continue to follow this course with lasting effect."
Author: Thomas Mösch, Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge