On Wednesday, March 1, one week after Nigeria’s presidential elections, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Mahmood Yakubu declared Bola Tinubu as the winner. Representing the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Tinubu garnered a total of 8,794,726 votes, or about 35 percent of the whole. Tinubu defeated his two main rivals: Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who secured 6,984,520 votes, or about 29 percent; and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, who received 6,101,533 votes, or about 25 percent.
The three leading candidates won in one-third of the states (twelve states each). But the twelfth for Obi was the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). This election tells the essential truth about Nigerian elections—no hegemonic party can emerge in a credible election. This was the situation in all of Nigeria’s founding republican elections in 1959, 1979, and 1999. Following these elections, the ruling parties abused their powers of incumbency. They made themselves hegemonic in subsequent elections through rigging.
Those dismissing the 2023 election and calling for its cancellation are doing a great disservice. They are doing a disservice to the efforts made by political parties and citizens to disrupt the powers of incumbency and reestablish the truth of Nigeria’s electoral geography. The victories by opposition parties in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, among others, show this.
The second truth about Nigerian elections is that there is always a variable level of fraud. This can upturn outcomes in a number of constituencies. Nigerians are politically perceptive, and they see it. The story of rigging would normally be the defining narrative of every election. It would be so even if there is insufficient evidence to show that in spite of rigging, the overall outcome would have been different.
The 2007 election is notorious for being one of the most heavily rigged elections in Nigerian history. But there is no evidence that Buhari would have defeated General Olusegun Obasanjo (elected president from 1999 until 2009) had the election been free and fair. 2007 is also the main example in which the organization of electoral fraud implicated the national leadership of the Electoral Commission.
The norm is that the 774 electoral officers at the local government level actually organize elections at the operational level. Sometimes Resident Electoral Officers coordinate this at the state level. But the blame always falls on the INEC Chairman. When we scholars orient ourselves towards studying what happens to elections at the local government level, we shine more light on what the results mean.
The third truth about the 25 February election is that the leadership of INEC is guilty-as-charged for eroding the credibility of the election. It did so by proposing an integrity test for the elections—the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV)—and failing to deliver on it. The main technology innovation, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), would ensure that only those eligible to vote could participate. Additional “votes” could not be added subsequently.
Recalling the 2019 presidential debates, there cannot be fabricated votes subtracted or added by any INEC server. At the end of voting in each polling unit, the results would be counted in the presence of voters. It would then be entered into the poster EC 60E (a results sheet), which will be pasted on the wall.
A scan was to capture this result and be sent through BVAS directly to the INEC viewing portal so that all citizens and voters can see it live. This transparency means everyone will be seeing the results as they come in. Citizens, candidates and parties can cross check that the results on the portal reflect what was compiled at the polling station.
Citizens would have therefore all participated in confirming that the portal results replicate what was counted. But the IReV component of the integrity test failed. Therefore the credibility of the election was lost using the definition of the integrity test crafted by INEC itself. This failure is really catastrophic because it created the basis for the loss of confidence by citizens in INEC and its processes.
The fourth truth about the election is that voter suppression is the underlying reality. There are 93,469,008 registered voters in Nigeria but only 23,377,466 turned out to vote. This gives a voter turnout of only about 27 percent of eligible voters. This continues the downward trend of voter engagement as apathy deepens. This was, however, the election that had the potential to turn the tide of voter apathy in the country.
In the lead up to the election, 9.46 million new voters had registered, 70 percent of them youth between the ages of 18 and 34. They showed a lot of enthusiasm about the elections. They campaigned and were ready to vote. Many could not vote due to violence and ethnic profiling, late commencement of elections, malfunctioning of technology and lack of transport money to their polling units due to the naira scarcity. In other words, voter suppression worked.
The final truth about the election is that even without naira, vote buying occurred through bank transfers, offer of food parcels and yes, distribution of the scarce new currency. While citizens could not access cash from their banks and businesses, politicians could and did, even if there was less of it than was the norm.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reported someone in Lagos with N32.4 million (US $70,500) and another in Rivers with US $500,000 for vote buying. Denying citizens access to their own money in the hope that politicians would not be able to bribe voters needs a lot of naivety to think it would be effective.
For all these reasons, many candidates have good reason to feel the elections were rigged against them. Some of them have already indicated that they will go to court, and they should. The Nigerian police need to rise to the occasion and arrest actors who organized violence and electoral fraud. Such behavior continues to mar our elections due to lack of accountability. People who are involved in criminal activity almost never get arrested. They almost never get prosecuted for their crimes so they continue. We must learn to stop them.