As Nigerians prepare to pick a president and Parliament members, the oil market is bracing for the insecurity and violence that have historically marred elections in Africa's largest crude producer.
Early Saturday, Nigeria's electoral body announced that nationwide elections that were scheduled for Saturday would instead be delayed until February 23. Regardless, the election will take place under the shadow of violence: Only days ago, militants issued a new threat to "cripple" the economy with devastating attacks on the nation's oil infrastructure. Between 2006 and 2009, a wave of sabotage disrupted global supplies, which deepened Nigeria's worst recession in nearly 30 years in 2016.
Next Saturday's contest could also determine the fate of reforms to the nation's lifeblood oil industry. Legislation to overhaul the sector — in development almost since democracy took hold two decades ago — aims to address problems that have fostered the nation's notorious corruption, and kept many Nigerians trapped in a cycle of poverty despite their nation's fantastic oil wealth.
Nigeria is home to Africa's highest population and the continent's largest economy. But with an estimated 91 million people living on less than $2 a day, Nigeria has overtaken India as the nation with the most people living in extreme poverty.
It makes the country a textbook case of resource curse, an economic phenomenon in which countries blessed with fossil fuel and mineral reserves often fare worse than resource poor nations.
To be sure, no one expects a single election to turn the tide for the nation. Oil production peaked in 2005, and the energy sector continues to be undermined by militant violence, widespread theft and regulatory uncertainty. Meanwhile, other West African nations like Ghana and Mauritania have become more attractive to international oil and gas companies.
"Regardless of who wins, I think you are going to still see a lot of the drivers of insecurity," said Imad Mesdoua, a Nigeria-raised senior consultant at Control Risks. "The reasons for that are structural. There are underlying issues like lack of infrastructure and bad governance at the state level, uneven distribution of resources."
Yet depending on how Nigerians cast their ballots, analysts say the presidential and parliamentary elections could produce very different outcomes for the energy sector.
The presidential ballot pits incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, who represents the All Progressives Congress, against former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party. Buhari currently leads in the polls, but the race remains close, and violence at voting booths makes Nigeria's elections difficult to forecast.
Analysts say Buhari's reputation as an anti-corruption crusader is bolstering him in polls, particularly with Nigeria's vast rural poor. However, the president has struggled to deliver on the three pillars of his 2015 campaign: Fighting graft, delivering security and creating a more inclusive economy.
Meanwhile, Atiku primarily appeals to voters discouraged by Buhari's handling of the economy, which has seen unemployment more than double. Yet while Atiku primarily identifies as a businessman — he has been involved in oil services firms, property development, farming and education — he has also been tainted by accusations of corruption.