Aafter the chaos Nigeria’s incumbent ruling party candidate, Bola Tinubu, has been declared the winner of the closest presidential election in decades after an organized vote and chaotic counting. Mr Tinub, 70, a former Lagos governor and longtime supporter of Nigerian politics, won 37 percent of the vote, the electoral commission said on March 1. This puts him ahead of Atiku Abubakar (29%), a tycoon representing the People’s Democratic Party (plasma display), the main opposition party and the wildcard third-party candidate representing Labor, Peter Obie (25%).
Mr Tinubu’s victory confounded most pollsters, who saw Mr Obi as a distant leader in the race to lead Africa’s largest economy and most populous country. (Though some pundits have questioned the predictive power of multiple polls because of the large number of respondents refusing to say who they would vote for.) It also expanded the rules for the All Progressive Congress (armored personnel carrier) party, which has been in power since 2015. Nigerians have become poorer on average during this period, while violence, separatism and insecurity have risen. The election result rattled financial markets — Nigeria’s international bonds fell — on fears of instability caused by opposition claims of vote rigging.
Thanks to new technology used by the Independent National Electoral Commission, the election is expected to be the cleanest and most transparent ever in Nigeria. Its system is designed to unambiguously identify voters and transmit photos of results directly from 176,846 polling places to a central collection point, where the public can see and verify those results.
The idea is to increase trust in the democratic process. Many Nigerians have fond memories of the 2011 presidential election, when some 800 people were killed in clashes after the losing party spoke out. However, the electoral commission’s repeated failures have again opened the door to allegations of manipulation and malfeasance. Opposition parties have called for a fresh election. There are fears that violence may ensue, with the result almost certain to be dragged to court.
There were problems from the beginning.An hour after polls opened on Feb. 25, a third of polling stations were still closed, according to monitors from the Center for Democracy and Development non-governmental organization Headquartered in the capital Abuja. At some stations, officials did not have enough material. In battleground states such as Lagos, Kano and Rivers, some polling stations were attacked by militants. There were also reports of voter intimidation, ticket buying, ballot boxes looting and ballot burning. All of this undoubtedly reduced turnout. Only a quarter of registered voters turned out, down from 35% turnout in the last election in 2019.
Counting is also arbitrary. The system for transmitting the results suffered widespread failure. At the time of publishing this article, not all results have been uploaded. Many of them are illegible and mislabeled. Some agents accidentally sent selfies instead of the tally slips they should have sent.
Disgruntled voters have flooded social media with photos of the results announced at their polling stations in an attempt to show discrepancies with those announced by their superiors. Party officials also shared photos of handwritten forms that appeared to have been scribbled. At a checkout center in Lagos, a Labor official complained that her colleagues had signed off on the results at gunpoint. In Rivers State, election officials suspended vote counting after receiving death threats.
The parties backing Mr Abubakar and Mr Obi have called for re-election and the resignation of Mahmoud Yakub, chairman of the electoral commission. “The next government will be based on utter illegality,” Labor vice-presidential candidate Dati Baba-Ahmed told a news conference ahead of the final count. Ifeanyi Okowa, plasma displayThe vice-presidential candidate said Mr Yakubu had a “moral duty to save the country” by stopping the vote count. Election officials said the process was “free, fair and credible.” Mr Tinubu said the reported breaches were “insignificant in number and inconsequential to the end result”. International observers said in a preliminary report that the election “falls well short of the reasonably reasonable expectations of Nigerian citizens”.
As is often the case in Nigerian elections, the opposition will almost certainly turn to the courts for redress. Evidence from social media and independent monitors could be crucial to their cases. Some close results may be subject to special scrutiny in states where Mr Tinubu has barely crossed the 25 percent threshold, which any candidate would need to cross in at least two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the federal capital, to avoid a runoff. Mr Tinubu, who achieved this in 29 states (but not the capital), got just 25.01% in Adamawa state and 25.8% in Bayelsa state.
The close results reflect a close race — and a country split in three elections, with each of the three primary candidates leading in 12 states. That division, along with questions Mr Tinnub (pictured) has faced about the legitimacy of his victory, could hamper his ability to unite a country still divided by religion, language and ethnicity.
Mr. Tinubu’s reputation as a self-serving kingmaker has not helped his cause. His campaign slogan was “Emerald Kan“, which means “it’s my turn” in Yoruba. After a hard fight, it seems so, but it is so. ■