Two analysts attached to the Africa Programme of the Chatham House say President Muhammadu Buhari's performance in the last six months of his tenure will determine if he gets reelected in 2019.
The duo also said the ability of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) to cushion the effects of the gales of defections that has hit it in recent days will also play a determining factor for Mr Buhari's aspirations.
They said this will determine if he retains his seat in the midst of rising opposition not only from other political parties but a cross section of Nigerians.
The researchers, Matthew T. Page and Sola Tayo, in a research paper titled: 'July 2018 Countdown to February 2019: A Look Ahead at Nigeria's Elections' and published on Chatham House website said the roles of security agencies and foreign nations in ensuring peaceful polls are also crucial.
Mr Buhari, who will be running for a second term under the platform of the APC, is in the eye of the storm as his party battles to curtail mass defections to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which it seized power from at the polls in 2015.
About 37 members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday defected from the APC.
Of this number, 32 joined the PDP while four joined the African Democratic Congress (ADC). One later announced he was also leaving the APC but did not state his new party.
Announcing their defection on Tuesday during plenary, the first 36 lawmakers cited division at all levels of the APC as the reason for their defection.
Earlier in the day, 15 senators announced their defection from the APC, majority moving to the PDP.
The political terrain is at present witnessing coalitions of parties and realignments on its firmament as the opposition seeks to unseat the president, who himself defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 polls.
"A few key factors will determine whether the APC will repeat its 2015 victory or risk defeat. The first is the degree to which the party either remains united behind Buhari's candidacy or sees additional high-level defections and a widening of existing factional divisions. The second is the president's performance in the last six months of his term, and his party's performance in off-cycle governorship elections," the researchers said.
"A number of political groupings are now emerging that are keen to exploit popular disillusionment with the APC and PDP. They are raising awareness of the power that citizens hold, and calling for an end to political impunity by encouraging the electorate to hold political leaders to account," the analysts added.
The duo warned the security operatives to be proactive so that unscrupulous elements would not disrupt the elections.
"Security conditions during the pre- and post-election period will greatly impact INEC's ability to ensure credible and well-executed polls. A number of security crises have intensified across the country: these could be exploited by unscrupulous politicians and their supporters to disrupt pre-election logistics or the voting process itself," they said.
The researchers said Nigeria as usual has entered a volatile pre-election period in which politicians will be, as Nigerians would say, 'be heating up the polity'.
"Across the country, politicians and officials build up personal or party 'war chests' - some of them using public funds. They will use these resources to build up their political machines, mobilise youth, and distribute patronage to influential individuals and voting constituencies. After party congresses and primaries conclude, some jilted politicians will decamp to other parties in the hope of reviving their campaigns elsewhere. Just prior to the election, governing party officials may well look to ensure that sympathetic officials are posted to top security and INEC postings in must-win states."
They however projected that the 2019 polls "in all respects, will follow the pattern of other recent national polls".
"Although the prospect of renewed military involvement in politics should never be totally discounted, on the surface at least it appears that Nigeria's democratic trajectory will continue without interruption. Now that the PDP monopoly has been broken, legitimate questions are being asked about the manner in which politics is conducted in Nigeria," they said.
The researchers urged foreign countries not to abandon Nigeria as it prepares to undergo the crucial polls.
"US policy towards Nigeria, in particular, has been weakened by a shift in emphasis away from democracy and governance towards counter-terrorism and trade. To make up for the lack of interest in Washington, the UK, the EU and their Nigerian civil society partners will need to redouble their efforts to support - but also closely and objectively scrutinise - INEC's performance in the run-up to and during the elections. Just like Nigerians' all-important participation in the democratic process, international engagement will be critical to the success of Nigeria's elections."
Mr Page is a consultant and co-author of 'Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know'. He is also an associate fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House, a non-resident scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a nonresident fellow with the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja.
Mr Tayo is a London-based broadcast journalist at the BBC, and is also an associate fellow with the Chatham House Africa Programme, specialising in Nigerian politics, media and elections. She previously worked as an interview producer for Al Jazeera.