In March 2023, Nigeria held its presidential elections, deciding the country’s President and Vice President for the next four years. The previous administration’s poor economic management created a sense of anticipation, particularly among the youth, who regarded the elections as a long-awaited opportunity for change.
Apart from the dominant People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), several other political parties showcased significant strength during their campaigns. As a result, the elections were highly competitive and fiercely contested by these parties.
The political landscape underwent a significant shift eight years ago when the APC party emerged victorious in the 2015 elections, replacing the PDP as the ruling party. Muhammadu Buhari, the APC candidate, secured wins in 21 out of Nigeria’s 36 states, garnering a comfortable 53.96% against the PDP’s candidate, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
While the 2015 presidential election was considered free and fair, President Buhari’s 2019 re-election was widely perceived by voters as rigged.
Buhari, however, was not eligible for a third term. Consequently, his party put forth Bola Ahmed Tinubu as their candidate.
The electoral process and candidates
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is in charge of planning, overseeing and administering the elections, presided over the proceedings.
By law, possessing a voter card issued by INEC is a requirement to exercise one’s voting rights. Traditionally, this card has served as the entry pass to the polling stations. However, INEC took a significant step forward by introducing the Permanent Voter Card (PVC), which eliminates the need for revalidation. This created two groups of voters: those who validated their existing voter card and those who did not possess any prior card. A substantial 96.3 million voters registered for the 2023 presidential election. Registration was made more convenient with online options, ensuring accessibility, while biometrics were only conducted at authorized centers.
The electoral process hasn’t seen any significant alterations In recent years besides the introduction of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). The primary elections for each political party took place between April 4 and June 9, 2022. The primary winners earned the right to choose their running mates for the vice presidential position.
Among the various candidates who participated in the primaries, a few prominent figures stood out. Bola Tinubu selected Kashim Shettima, a former governor of the northeastern state of Borno, as his running mate for the APC. Tinubu himself had previously served two terms as the governor of Lagos.
Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State, won the Labour Party (LP) nomination. He chose Yusuf Baba-Ahmed, a former senator from Kaduna State, as his running mate. Ifeanyi Okowa, a former vice-president of Nigeria, was the PDP’s vice-presidential candidate. Also noteworthy was Rabiu Kwankwaso, the New Nigeria People’s Party candidate and a former governor of Kano State in the northwestern region.
Execution of the vote
The registration and retrieval of the PVC posed initial challenges for both new and existing users. INEC’s chairman, Mahmud Yakubu, announced the start of Continuous Voter Registration on June 28, 2021, across the country. The collection of PVCs occurred from December 12, 2022, to January 22, 2023. However, there was a subsequent extension of the PVC collection deadline until February 5, 2022. Out of the total issued PVCs, which amounted to 87.2 million, over six million remained uncollected. Late registration, distance from PVC collection centers and failings on the part of INEC and its officials contributed to this situation, obstructing citizens’ ability to vote.
The issue of uncollected cards remained unaddressed on the day of the election. That day, February 25, reports on social media, complete with photographs and videos, that accused INEC officials of refusing to provide ballot boxes to receive votes at certain polling units. Many voters alleged that INEC deliberately did so to cause delays, discouraging citizens from voting. They alleged that corrupt politicians, in collusion with INEC, did so because they anticipated a high voter turnout in support of Peter Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party. Despite these challenges, voters demonstrated resilience, enduring the rain and waiting until nightfall to cast their votes.
INEC failed to apply adequate security measures to ensure a free and fair election. Social media was abuzz with reports of voter intimidation. The perpetrators took it upon themselves to instruct that no one was to vote for any other candidate except the one they wanted. These acts created fear among voters, as refusal could be met with severe consequences. Punch reported cases where thugs attacked polling units, caused injuries to the voters and eventually made away with ballot boxes.
Despite INEC’s promises that votes would be counted in the presence of voters at the conclusion of the polling session in each respective unit, the violence limited transparency.
Due to poor security structure, transparency was limited even when INEC vividly assured voters that their votes would be counted in their presence at the end of the voting session in the respective polling units. Results were electronically transmitted to the commission, which posted them online for voters to view. By the next day, only 176,606, out of a total of 176,846 polling units, reported voting; 240 of the total figure had no registered voters according to INEC records. Of these results, only 25,719 were relayed to INEC, mainly due to delays in commencing the voting processes.
Meanwhile, as the results were uploaded online, curiosity spread across the country. Young individuals with internet access closely followed the release of results from various polling units, along with parents and other citizens who preferred to stay informed by watching television broadcasts. However, the tension was brought to an end when Tinubu, was declared the winner of the election at approximately 4:10 AM on the first day of March.
What’s the current situation?
Many Nigerians, including the other presidential candidates, were shocked and puzzled by the announcement. Before the results were compiled, the results from every state in the country were uploaded at random. Some of them, according to local voters, were fraudulent. Citizens didn’t need any more evidence that the election was being manipulated.
The outcome of the election has given the Igbos, who come from the southeast area known as Biafra, a clear indication that other areas and tribes will not support one of their members as the nation’s next president. Members of this group have been spread across Nigeria due to poverty, especially concentrating in the nation’s largest city, Lagos. Some observers had hoped that, if the president were to be from the southeast, the central government could mobilize its resources to develop the region economically by building infrastructure, allowing residents to return to their homes. Disappointed by the result, the Igbos are now likely to return there anyway, abandoning the investments they had made into the local economies of the places they had gone. The sense of distrust is strengthening for a people that still bears the scars of Nigeria’s 1967 civil war, fought over the attempted independence of Biafra.
LP candidate Peter Obi, hailing from the southeast, has refused to accept the perceived manipulation and has initiated legal action to challenge what he considers a stolen victory.
I fear that the disillusionment stemming from the perception that young people’s votes no longer hold significance is likely to result in a significant decline in voter turnout and engagement during future elections.
Obviously, the choices made by the Nigerian voters through their ballots, with appropriate behavior from electoral authorities, were meant to determine the outcome of the election. Regardless of what has transpired, voters must continue to take part in the democratic process, remain knowledgeable about the candidates and their platforms, and exercise their right to vote respectfully and responsibly.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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