#NigeriaDecides2023: the people Vs the elections

After the polls held on 25 February many Nigerians, at home and abroad, wonder what is next
di Weyinmi Orighoye

Nigerians went to the polls on 25 February to elect a new president, vice-president, 109 members of the Senate and 360 members of the Federal House of Representatives.

Eighteen political parties presented candidates for the various offices and over 93.5 million adult Nigerians were registered to vote.

The elections were expected to be conducted at 176,606 polling stations spread across the 774 local government areas of the country. It was Africa’s biggest election and presented huge logistical challenges for the Independent National Electoral Commission, the electoral umpire.

Many media houses and experts have published several articles on the elections and here is one of many.

The 2023 general election in Nigeria was the seventh since the current wave of democracy from the military regime started in 1999. In the last 24 years, Nigeria’s democracy has witnessed some growth, but there have been challenges too. These challenges often affect the way voters react at the polls as ethnicity, history, money, religion, and insecurity have been some of the forces that play crucial roles as voters elect the next set of leaders.

Since the start of the country’s current democracy wave in 1999, Nigeria’s elections have been the affairs of two major political parties, with power alternating between the indistinguishable All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). However, what matters in these parties is the balance between ethnicity and religion. It comes in a somewhat rotation of power that the politicians presume works to maintain sentimental peace and unity.

Nigeria had three main presidential candidates who ran for the number one office in Nigeria: political “kingmaker” Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); and businessman Peter Obi of the Labour Party – arguably the most interesting candidate in the race.

The King Maker - Bola Tinubu

A major contender was Bola Ahmed Tinubu popularly known as Jagban. He was a first-time contender for the number one office in Nigeria, but Tinubu is widely believed to have been the political kingmaker responsible for the rise of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

His campaign slogan in this election was an unashamed “Emi Lokan” (It’s my turn). Tinubu is a Yoruba Muslim from the southwest, Lagos State. He defied tradition by picking a fellow Muslim, a former governor of north-eastern Borno State, as his running mate.

He was a former governor of Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, between 1999 and 2007, Tinubu was said to have nominated Yemi Osinbajo for the role as the current vice-president. He is sometimes described as the godfather of politics in Lagos and, by extension, in some parts of Nigeria. With the electoral commission declaring Tinubu as the President-elect of Nigeria, he is referred to as the Kingmaker who has become the King despite several controversies about him.

The long-time contender: Atiku Abubakar

One of the leading contenders for the office of the Nigerian president was Atiku Abubakar. The former vice-president (1999-2007) was the candidate for Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party.

Atiku is no newcomer to the race for Nigeria’s presidency. He has been running since 1992, so this was his sixth attempt. He was on the ballot in 2007 and 2019, and lost in party presidential primaries in 1993, 2011 and 2015. Atiku, is also a Muslim and a northern Fulani like the current president Buhari.

It is argued that the religion and ethnicity of these two candidates, Tinubu and Atiku, are irked predominantly by southern Christians. Unlike, Tinubu who picked a Muslim as his running mate, Atiku, picked a Christian, the current governor of Delta State from the South, as his running mate.

The Gamechanger: Peter Obi

Peter Gregory Obi is a businessman and former governor of Anambra State, in the south-east region of Nigeria. He was the presidential candidate for the Labour Party. It was argued to be a “structure less” party because it was new to contesting for Nigeria’s number one office.

With a large and unexpected youthful and internet-savvy support base, Obi started off the campaign as an underdog. As the campaigns continued, he made an impact on the youth especially with words like, “go and verify”. He referred to his past achievements as governor of Anambra state.

Obi’s supporters coined the word “Obidient” and have used it to maximum effect for this first-time contender. He is described as an enigma by some academic experts. Unlike Atiku, he is little known in the north, the country’s largest vote bank. He picked his running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, a Muslim who served as Senator for Kaduna North from 2011 to 2012 and member of the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2007.

Nigeria before the elections

Apart from the fuel scarcity, a “no cash” crisis emerged weeks before the elections. Everyone in Nigeria was affected as people were not able to carry out their day-to-day transactions with cash. In December, the government introduced redesigned bank notes, but the process was stalled with a very short exchange deadline. There was failure to print sufficient new bills for the country leading to a horrible cash scarcity that resulted in pockets of protests in a few states in Nigeria.

Vote buying is another problem and has over the years compromised Nigeria’s elections and the legitimacy of elected officials. The redesign of the naira and the limit on cash withdrawals were two policies that allegedly affected the extent to which vote buying occurred in the elections.

Nigeria elections have a long history of violence. It has been a predominant feature of all Nigerian polls since independence. It could result in votes being cancelled, no elections held to killings of citizens and sometimes a re-run of the elections in some parts of Nigeria.

It is the first time Nigeria would have an increasing political awareness and involvement of youths. This is said to be a change that has influenced the political space and the overall outcome of the election. However, at the same time, the undue stress the naira redesign and fuel crises caused many Nigerians to be discouraged.

Nigeria has come a long way from the open ballot system, used pre-2007, to the permanent voter’s card and electronic voter’s register in 2011. However, these cannot be compared to the changes announced by the Electoral Act of 2022. Apart from issues like logistical problems and the lack of inclusivity for persons with disability, the Electoral Act licensed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to provide ballot boxes, electronic voting machines, or any other voting devices for the conduct of elections.

The legislation saw the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Registration System (BVAS), which has already received significant attention, but deserved careful examination as the outcome of the 2023 elections depends on its implementation.

Nigeria on election day

A technological challenge faced by the BVAS technology was in the transmission of results due to its over-reliance on 4G connectivity. This is a major weakness of the BVAS technology, particularly in the Nigerian context. Currently, Nigeria has a global internet speed ranking including upload and download the speeds of which is more 3G connectivity than 4G or 5G.

Another challenge was that in some polling unit, the BVAS struggled to recognize voters who had aged since their PVC capture. This was due to the technology’s heavy reliance on AI facial recognition algorithms. This led to voters’ disenfranchisement among Nigeria’s ageing population.

On 4 February, the INEC held mock accreditation exercises in 436 polling units nationwide. This was done on a small scale, though commendable, and it seems to have put the BVAS on overload on the election day as it was used in more than 436 polling units. This influenced the successful use of BVAS across the states nationwide putting a strain on the efforts made by INEC.

Result from polling units were mandated to be uploaded to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time and to the INEC central server for collation. It was said that if the polling centres did not have sufficient internet connectivity, there would be inconsistencies in the numbers. Uploading election results for public viewing prevents manipulation of results during collation and the pressure often put on INEC officials to tamper with actual results since Nigeria has a long history of results manipulation.

Despite this and with voters sharing this information as widely as they could, only 45% of Nigeria’s election results were available on IReV three days after the elections closed. It brought the credibility of INEC into question and reduced public confidence in the results.

INEC blamed these delays on technical hitches. The commission said, “The problem is totally due to technical hitches related to scaling up the IReV from a platform for managing off-season, state elections, to one for managing nationwide general elections.”

With only 45% of election results made available publicly on INEC’s results viewer, hours before a winner was announced, it will take another couple of days for many voters to determine if the right results were transmitted.

Results have been challenged even by a few party agents like Dino Melaye, who alleged that the move by INEC to announce the results manually, without the result copies from polling units uploaded online, was an attempt to compromise the process.

The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria – which was invited by INEC to provide an independent and impartial assessment of the electoral process – issued a preliminary statement yesterday declaring that, although the election had been held on schedule, INEC’s lack of “transparency and operational failures reduced trust in the process and challenged the right to vote”.

Nigerians queued in the sun and rain despite recurrent fuel crisis, epileptic power supply, and a painful cash crunch. Yet hundreds of voters experienced some form of intimidation and violence as noted by election observers. Across the country, thousands of weary voters were seen waiting to cast their votes despite delays or absence of INEC officials in the polling units. INEC representatives reported the delays were due to stolen BVAS and logistical issues. Voters were seen voting up on the second day and even until late evenings in some parts of Nigeria, like in Warri South Local Government Area.

While the 2023 elections mark the first time that elections have not been entirely postponed since 2011, INEC still faced the issue of alleged operational challenges, logistics and electoral violence usually reported in every electoral cycle.

In 2015, under then-INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, the commission postponed the presidential elections over security concerns. In 2011, the national assembly elections scheduled for 2 April had already started in a few states when Jega announced the postponement over the late deployment of electoral materials.

On 1 March, at 4:00 am, The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the presidential candidate of the All-Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, as the winner of the 2023 general elections, Nigeria’s seventh democratic election since 1999. Tinubu scored a total of 8,794,726 votes, meeting the constitutional requirement to be declared the winner. He scored over 25 per cent of the votes cast in 30 states, above the 24 states constitutionally required. Atiku came in second with a total of 6,984,520 votes, Peter Obi of the Labour Party came third with 6,101,533 votes.

President-elect Bola Tinubu will be succeeding President Buhari whose time in office ends on 29 May, and who promised to fix the economy and tackle corruption and insecurity. Under Buhari’s watch, Africa’s largest economy has seen two recessions in the last five years, and the value of the naira has dropped to one-third of its value.

According to Tinubu, “This is a shining moment in the life of any man and affirmation of our democratic existence. From my heart, I say thank you. Whether you are Batified, Atikulated, Obidient, Kwankwasiyya, or have any other political affiliation, you voted for a better, more hopeful nation and I thank you for your participation and dedication to our democracy. You decided to place your trust in the democratic vision of a Nigeria founded on shared prosperity and one nurtured by the ideals of unity, justice, peace, and tolerance. Renewed hope has dawned in Nigeria”.

While there are mixed emotions about the outcome of this election, citizens are gearing up for the 2023 Nigerian gubernatorial elections to be held for state governors in 31 out of 36 Nigerian states. All but two will be held on 11 March—two weeks after the presidential election and National Assembly elections—while the other states elections will both be held around November.

The question of what is next lingers in the hearts of many Nigerians at home and abroad.

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