Standing at a busy Lagos intersection, a young girl lifts her cell phone to her face and snaps a picture of herself and a billboard. When the image appears on the screen, the presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari appears to be standing right next to her. In what looks to be tightest elections since military rule ended 16 years ago, the candidates have taken to social media and apps to attract young cellphone savvy voters in the big cities like Lagos.
For Buhari, who at 72, is running for the fourth time, it's crucial to win youth support in a country where two thirds of the population is under 30, and millions of first-time voters might be enough to swing the election. Many were not born when Buhari took power in a military coup in 1983. Many are also Christian who says they are increasingly willing to vote for a Muslim, like Buhari.
The country heads to the polls on Saturday. Former general and military dictator Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is taking on current president Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). An incumbent government has never lost an election in Nigeria. This time around, however, there is a strong sense that the opposition has a chance.
Buhari ruled Nigeria from January 1984 until August 1985, taking charge after a military coup in December 1983. Many Nigerians remember his 20 months in power for a strict campaign against indiscipline and a clamp down on corruption, but also for its human rights abuses.
"If Buhari returns we will all end up in jail. Civil servants will be doing frog jumps in public if they turn up late for work. People who don't stand in line waiting for the bus will be beaten," Femi Kuti, artist and son of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti told VICE News. Fela was arrested during Buhari's military regime, breaking a ban on Nigerians carrying large sums of foreign cash and sentenced to five years in prison.
A Muslim from the village of Daura in Katsina State, Buhari is seen as a core northerner. While he's often pictured in a suit and tie in his social media profiles, he's best known for wearing the kaftan and babban riga common to the region. He's considered by some as an honest man and disciplined leader with zero tolerance for corruption. The fact that he doesn't own a house in the capital Abuja is seen as an example of his high moral.
"Buhari has been in power many times before, as petroleum minister and a short stint as president. Not once has he tried to enrich himself," political reporter Alkasim Alkadir told VICE News.
Calling for "change," Buhari is once again promising to deal with corruption, which together with security, has been a top priority during his campaign. His opponent Jonathan has chosen "continuity" as his slogan. A southerner and a Christian from the oil-rich delta region, Jonathan had a swift climb to power. In 2009 he was a deputy to President Umaru Yar'Adua, a northerner. When the president was taken to hospital in Saudi Arabia in November 2009, Jonathan saw his chance and took it.
After months of political wriggling he was accepted as the acting leader. When Yar'Adua died in May 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president. In 2011 he ignored the tradition of swapping presidential power between north and south after two terms of office and won his first election. Yet Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the governor of Kano State, told VICE News that as Jonathan seeks another four-year term "his luck is running out."
The president's four years in office have not been easy. The Nigerian economy, Africa's largest, is stumbling. Falling global oil prices have exposed the country's dependency on petroleum exports. The falling naira and the devaluation of the currency is taking its toll.
In the northeast, Islamist militants Boko Haram have increased their territory during Jonathan's time in power. When more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok were kidnapped in April 2014 — an event that caused an outcry at home and abroad — the president was criticized for not trying to hard enough to find them. Human Rights Watch reported on Thursday that Boko Haram has so far killed over 1,000 civilians in 2015.
"Insecurity, corruption, and the economy collapse have brought the nation down. Sixteen years of PDP rule has destroyed the country," Buhari said recently. Jonathan's first term also saw several high-level corruption scandals.
The president and his administration have enjoyed some successes, however. Last year authorities quickly contained an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Lagos. Militants in the Niger Delta in the south remain quiet. In recent weeks, Nigerian security forces appear to have driven militants out of several key towns and cities in the northeast. On Friday, the army claimed that it had retaken the town of Gwoza, believed to be the headquarters of Boko Haram.
The Nigerian forces have not achieved these gains alone, however, but with the assistance of armed forces from neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, as well as foreign mercenaries.
The recent success have not increased Jonathan's popularity in the north, according to political analyst Jide Ojo. "The president upset many northerners when he decided to run for a full term in the 2011 election and defeated Buhari," Ojo told VICE News. In 2011 Buhari lost to Jonathan with a large margin. This time around Buhari has a chance to even the score.