Nigeria: The Highs and Lows of Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election

While some logistics challenges, malpractices and violence in some locations undermined the election, PREMIUM TIMES believes it is excessive and inaccurate to describe the exercise as totally flawed.

Reactions from across the world have followed the 25 February presidential election, which produced old guard politician, Bola Tinubu, as Nigeria’s next leader. Mr Tinubu was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the platform on which outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari has governed Nigeria since 29 May, 2015.

While a number of world leaders have congratulated the president-elect, some Western media have echoed the views of the Nigerian opposition and a section of the local media, which have been very critical of the election.

Mr Tinubu was announced winner of the hard-fought contest with 8,794,736 of the over 24 million votes cast in the election. His tally represents only 37 per cent of the votes, the lowest by a winner since 1979. Yet, it is 8 per cent higher than that of his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) was further behind with a 25 per cent share of the ballots.

Not unusual in Nigerian elections, the opposition has refused to concede defeat, and the two closest contestants have launched a formal challenge of the results in court. They are alleging electoral fraud. In addition, they are lamenting the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to upload screenshots of polling station results to a web portal, IReV, created for the purpose. Even at that, though quite ironic, some of the election results at the national legislative levels favourable to these parties have been endorsed and celebrated.

PREMIUM TIMES believes that INEC’s failure to upload the results, as promised, is a major flaw that has cast doubt on the credibility of the election. The electoral commission’s explanation for the failure, offered two days after the election, was that technical glitches hindered it from uploading the results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV). The agency has since uploaded and published over 90 per cent of the results.

Some opposition politicians have also questioned INEC’s interpretation of the law on the national spread of winning results. The Constitution requires the winner of the presidential election to secure at least a quarter of the votes in each of two-thirds of the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Mr Tinubu crossed that threshold in 29 of the nation’s 36 states, but his challengers are saying he also needed to have done so specifically in the FCT, where he didn’t. INEC believes that is a wrong interpretation of the law.

Some media organisations, as well as a number of local and international observers, have corroborated the opposition’s claims of lapses in the conduct of the election. In its interim report, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which deployed 1,000 members from its 128 branches to monitor the poll across the country, identified some of the challenges it observed. These include “late arrival of INEC officials and ballot materials at the polling stations, malfunctioning of the biometric voter accreditation system (BVAS) machines, limited or non-transmission of results from polling units to the INEC Result Viewing (iReV) portal, insecurity at some polling units, including violent attacks on voters and officials, voters’ intimidation, snatching and destruction of voting materials.”

Despite these observations, the NBA said about 92 per cent of the voters its Election Working Group interviewed said they were either “somewhat satisfied” or “excellently satisfied” with the conduct of the polls. What the report suggests is that respondents do not consider the observed lapses significant enough to damage the integrity of the election.

It is noteworthy that since INEC began uploading the results to the IREV portal, a number of voters have alleged discrepancies between what they witnessed as votes that were collated at polling units on Election Day and what was published on the result portal by INEC. But such observations are not widespread.

YIAGA AFRICA, a non-governmental organisation which did a parallel tabulation of the results from many states, reported variations between its results and those of INEC in Rivers and Imo, two states also flagged by the media and some of the opposition parties for significant levels of electoral irregularities.

While some logistics challenges, malpractices and violence in some locations undermined the election, PREMIUM TIMES believes it is excessive and inaccurate to describe the exercise as totally flawed or as the worst in Nigeria’s history, as some want the world to believe. If anything, the election demonstrated appreciable progress in the nation’s electoral process, in comparison to past ones.

An analysis of media reports on Election Day indicates a reduction in reported cases of ballot box snatching and vote buying, compared to previous elections. It is unclear to what extent the scarcity of cash, due to the implementation of the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, contributed to this.

The results of the poll, more than anything else, also support our own assessment of the election. Although the ruling APC runs the federal government and 21 of 36 states, Mr Tinubu won in only 12 states. He lost in some of the party’s historical strongholds, some with large voting populations. These include his home state, Lagos, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi, Yobe and Gombe, all of which have APC governors.Aside from the President-elect who lost his home state, the National Chairman of the party, Abdullahi Adamu, and the Director-General of Mr Tinubu’s campaign organisation, Governor Simon Lalong, were also trounced in their Nasarawa and Plateau States, respectively, by the Labour Party. President Buhari’s home state, Katsina, as well as Kaduna, Kano and Kebbi, which have governors fiercely loyal to Mr Tinubu, all fell to the opposition.

The Labour Party, which had no elected official in its ranks and had been derided by opponents throughout the campaign for lacking political structures across the country, recorded a stunning victory in Lagos, polled nearly 90 per cent of the votes in Mr Obi’s home South-East zone and disrupted long-established voting patterns in the South-South states of Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers. It is difficult to explain how a completely rigged process would deliver such outcomes. At no other election in Nigeria’s history has so many shocking upsets been recorded, including the loss of seven sitting governors seeking election to the Nigerian Senate.

The governors who lost Senate bids include Darius Ishaku of Taraba (PDP), Simon Lalong of Plateau (APC), Samuel Ortom of Benue (PDP) and Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi (APC). The others are Ben Ayade of Cross River (APC), Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia (PDP) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu (PDP). They were all defeated by lesser known politicians in their states.

The National Assembly elections, which were held at the same time as the presidential poll, have delivered perhaps the most diverse parliament in Nigeria’s political history. This can be seen from the tabular summary below, presented by INEC before issuing out certificates of return to 98 senators-elect and 325 representatives-elect:

Senate House of Reps Party Seats Party Seats

APC 57 ADC 2

APGA 1APC 162

LP 6APGA 4

NNPP 2LP 34

PDP 29NNPP 18

SDP 2PDP 102

YPP 1SDP 2

YPP 1

We believe two main factors account for this new and refreshing electoral picture. The first is the deployment of technological solutions, such as the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS), which has firmly ousted the use of crude force in rigging elections. Now it is impossible to stuff ballot boxes or manufacture voting figures, as the number of accredited voters must match the number of ballot papers cast. The BVAS, which also instantaneously transmits accreditation data directly to INEC’s central server, has been a game changer in this respect.

The snapping and sharing of declared results by voters from the polling units by phone have also strengthened transparency and substantially contained the collation of fictitious figures. Even the results belatedly uploaded to the iREV platform by INEC is now being used by citizens to vet the results declared by the electoral body.

The other critical factor appears to be the insistence of President Muhammadu Buhari that the elections must be free, fair and credible. This is despite his faux pas of violating the Electoral Act on Election Day when he openly displayed his ballot paper for the world to see who he voted for in what was supposed to be a secret ballot. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is the only other elected Nigerian president to have conducted a presidential election for his own exit. In 2007, he declared the election a do-or-die battle for himself and his party, determined the party’s choice of candidates, and is alleged to have blatantly manipulated the poll to ensure a favourable outcome.

In contrast, sixteen years later, President Buhari not only rejected any role suggested to him in the nomination of the APC standard bearer, but some of his decisions and policies were also celebrated by the opposition under the assumption that they were targeted at stopping Mr Tinubu. A few days before the election, the governors of Kaduna and Kano states had publicly accused the president of deliberately sabotaging the electoral prospects of his own party.

PREMIUM TIMES believes that while the observed lapses certainly affected many aspects of the poll and must be comprehensively addressed, the 25 February presidential election does not qualify as a sham and is definitely not one of the worst in Nigeria’s history. The election rather points towards the direction of a fairly free, fair and credible one.

It is important to assert this, remembering that the military cited failed elections as impetus for the coup d’├ętats of 1966 and 1983 that ended Nigeria’s earlier experiments with democratic civil rule. This election, on the contrary, should be taken as another step forward in Nigeria’s democratic journey. Any dispute arising from it must therefore be effectively addressed through the established judicial process.

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