On February 25th, Nigeria held its seventh presidential election in 24 years of democratic governance. The election took place against a backdrop of deep economic hardship, high rates of unemployment, naira cash crunch, inflation, fuel shortages, and worsening security conditions, particularly for the country’s youth.
Perhaps as a result of the teeming challenges, the stakes were higher and tensions mounted as millions of voters, some even living outside Nigeria returned to their home country to cast their votes for the future of Africa’s most populous nation.
The results are in, and the implications are far-reaching – not just for Nigeria, but for the world as Bola Ahmed Tinubu popularly known as Asiwaju, the flagbearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), garnering 8.87 million votes – roughly one-third of the total, was announced President-Elect in the early hours of March 1. While his main contenders, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in his sixth attempt, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), received 7 million and 6.1 million votes, respectively.
The announcement came as a seemingly contrary denouement to most popular opinion polls prior to the elections, including polls conducted by ANAP Foundation and Kwakol Research, which had seen first-time contender for the office of President, Peter Obi, emerge as the preferred choice to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari after the elections scheduled for February 25. Many upheld that the electoral process turned out to be a case of clear contrast between our expectations and the reality despite the N305 billion budgetary allocation to the elections. Contrary to the INEC’s promise of free, fair elections, the process was flawed as votes on the newly introduced Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) could not be uploaded automatically at some polling units. This resulted in some areas still being subjected to ballot snatching as well as other forms of electoral discrepancies, and videos surfaced on social media corroborating this.
Notably, internationally acclaimed Nigerian actress Chioma Chukwuka Akpotha who was live on Instagram at her polling unit unexpectedly captured thugs who arrived at her polling unit to snatch boxes but were disrupted by army soldiers who arrived to restore calm to allow the voting process to resume. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, DG, the World Trade Organization also noted that when she and her husband arrived to cast their votes, the polling officers who were expected to be stationed at 8:30 am that day for whatever reasons did not arrive until after midday.
An Associate Fellow, Africa Programme, Dr Leena Koni Hoffmann at Chatham House wrote, “The INEC’s performance and controversies over these results mean that the electoral reforms and lessons declared to have been learned were not fully applied and, as an electoral body, it was significantly less prepared than it claimed.”
There was a lot of suspense across the nation as the collation of election results commenced and people called for the annulment of the elections. However, the electoral commission turned a deaf ear and continued to collate results for over three days at the National Collation Centre in Abuja before announcing the winner.
In the midst of it all, APC, or BATified loyalists rejoiced over the victory of the APC camp at the presidential polls. Mr Asiwaju while receiving his certificate of return and giving his acceptance speech noted that “I shall be a fair leader to all Nigerians. I will be in tune with your aspirations, charge up your energies and harness your talents to deliver a nation that we can be proud of.”
Following the announcement, protests began for twin reasons — one, the announcement of the president-elect and concerns that there were allegedly cases of outright rigging, snatching of ballot boxes, voter intimidation and/or buying and other electoral discrepancies which ultimately resulted in 7- People’s Democratic Party led states lodging complaints in Nigerian courts. The other reason was the cash crunch, as many Nigerians were hopeful that after the elections, there would be a bit of ease in the circulation of the new naira notes since the arbitrary discontinuance of the old naira notes by the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) leading up to the elections had caused huge economic strains. However, this was not the case as it was only on the 15th of March that the CBN eventually announced that old naira notes remain legal tender until a more proper phasing out on December 31 2023.
Meanwhile, the two other most prominent contenders at the presidential polls — Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter ‘Okwute’ Obi of the Labour Party (LP), have assembled their legal teams led by Joe Gadzama (SAN) and Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN respectively. Petitions have been laid to a Justice Joseph Ikyegh-led three-member panel of the Appeal Court of Nigeria challenging Mr Asiwaju’s win. The world wonders what the outcome of these petitions would be as this is the first time Nigeria’s presidential electoral proceedings will be challenged on such a grand scale. Particularly as Mr Obi’s application marked: CA/PEC/09m/23 requesting leave to carry out a digital forensic and physical inspection of BVAS, and to obtain the Certified True Copy of all the data in the BVAS, as at the time of writing this article, is still being held back by INEC insisting that they will be required to reconfigure them ahead of the governorship and State House of Assembly elections.
As the governorship polls draw closer after being suddenly postponed a few days before the initially scheduled date by the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria; the world wonders if the BVAS, so surreptitiously ineffective during the presidential elections, will offer people their preferred mandate for both the Governorship and State House of Assembly Representatives.
In conclusion, the task before Mr Asiwaju pending the conclusion of the court proceedings is no easy one. It requires not only a significant amount of political capital but also a great deal of goodwill and consensus-building to bring together a fractured and volatile Nigeria. However, if he is successful in this endeavour, the rewards for the nation could be immense. A united and focused Nigeria has the potential to achieve great things and to become a shining example of what a diverse, multi-ethnic society can achieve when it comes together with a common purpose. It is a challenge that will require all of Mr Asiwaju’s leadership skills, but if he rises to the occasion, the impact of his efforts could be felt for generations to come.