Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Peter Obi, and Atiku Abubakar
Here's what to know about Nigeria's presidential election
03:30 - Source: CNN
Abuja, Nigeria CNN  — 

Nigerians will head to the polls Saturday in a fiercely-contested presidential vote that analysts say is too close to call.

It will be the largest democratic exercise on the continent as Africa’s most populous nation picks a new president.

The crucial election comes as the country battles myriad economic and security problems that range from fuel and cash shortages to rising terror attacks, high inflation, and a plummeting local currency.

For the first time since the country’s return to democratic rule in 1999, none of the candidates is an incumbent or a former military leader.

Outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari is term-limited and will step down amid a patchy legacy that has brought “a lot of frustration and anger” to Nigerian voters, analysts say.

Who are the candidates?

Eighteen candidates are in the running for Nigeria’s highest office, each confident they can turn the country’s fortunes around if voted into power, but opinion polls suggest three are leading the race for the popular vote.

One of the key contenders is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Another is the main opposition leader and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Nigeria’s presidential elections have typically been two-horse races between the ruling and opposition parties, but this year’s vote has a third strong contender, Peter Obi, who is running under the lesser known Labour Party.

Tinubu, 70, a former governor of Nigeria’s wealthy Lagos State, wields significant influence in the southwestern region where he is acclaimed as a political godfather and kingmaker.

The affluent political veteran, boasts of aiding the election of Buhari to the presidency on his fourth attempt in 2015, after three previous unsuccessful bids.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, foreground right, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Nigeria ruling party, during an election campaign rally.

After decades as a political puppet master, Tinubu declares it is now his turn to emerge from the shadows into the presidency; his campaign slogan is “Emi Lokan,” which translates to “it is my turn,” in his native Yoruba language.

The ruling party candidate has, however, been dogged by allegations of graft which he strongly denies. Critics say he has also not convincingly addressed concerns about his health, and has, at times, appeared confused and incoherent on the campaign trail. He has also made gaffes that have made him the butt of jokes and viral memes on social media.

Tinubu has also come under criticism for abstaining from presidential debates and delegating questions about his manifesto to members of his team during a recent outing at the UK think tank Chatham House.

One of Tinubu’s main challengers is the opposition party’s Abubakar, who is running for the sixth time following five previous losses.

Candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar during a campaign rally in Kano, northwest Nigeria.

Abubakar, 76, who served as vice president from 1999 to 2007, is a staunch capitalist who made his fortune investing in various sectors in the country. The tycoon has been investigated for corruption in the past. However, he denies any wrongdoing.

Many believe Abubakar’s presidential ambition might usurp an unofficial arrangement to rotate the presidency between Nigeria’s northern and southern regions, since he is from the same northern region as the outgoing leader, Buhari.

Peter Obi is a two-time former governor of Anambra State who is being touted as a credible alternative to the two major candidates.

Obi eschews the excesses of the typical ‘African Big Man’ leader He shuns a large entourage, flies economy class and carries his own luggage. His “no frills” approach has attracted hordes of supporters, mostly young Nigerians who call themselves ‘Obidients.’