Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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Subjects of Interest

  • Governance
  • SMEs
  • Social Development

Takeaways from Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election 10 Mar 2023

The announcement of Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria was a bitter pill for many people to swallow. The disappointment was not surprising. Virtually every opinion poll before the election showed Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) was ahead of Tinubu.

But voters were not relying on preelection surveys that only try to provide a scientific guess of the outcomes of electoral votes. They mobilised and went out to vote their candidates. What really sent a lot of Nigerians into despair were the several irregularities reported on Election Day and the next three days before INEC's announcement of the result.

The opposition parties, including People's Democratic Party (PDP) and LP, have rejected the result and asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh presidential election. One major reason the parties are aggrieved at the outcome is INEC’s failure to electronically transmit results from polling units (PUs) to a central online portal for the purposes of transparency and efficient administration.  

This and other irregularities are matters the courts will most likely address. In the meantime, there are a few points to ponder as debates about one of Nigeria's most consequential elections rage on.

The first is that the APC is a withering political party. In 2015, the party’s candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, carried 21 states, and he was re-elected by 19 states four years later. According to the result declared by INEC, Tinubu won in only 12 states. The INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu declared Tinubu the winner saying he had met the constitutional requirement of winning a simple majority of all votes cast and at least a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja.   

The total vote count for Tinubu in the entire country was 8.80 million votes, representing 36.61% of total valid votes. This is also fewer than Buhari's 15.43 million votes in 2015 and 15.19 million votes in 2019. The current president won both elections by more than 53% of the votes. His winning margins were also unmatched by Tinubu's.

Buhari's past electoral victories are the only thing that glamorises the APC. His failure in office has become an albatross for the ruling party. As the election got underway on 25 February 2023, Nigeria was in the grip of a months-long petrol scarcity. Cash shortages had ground several businesses to a halt. Findings from a Stanbic IBTC Bank survey showed deterioration in business conditions in February was "the sharpest since the survey began in January 2014, excluding the opening wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the second quarter of 2020." Kidnappings have become an epidemic in the country. The poor performance of APC in this year's election is simply an indication of how dissatisfied Nigerians are with the eight years of the Buhari administration.

The president-elect may have strung together a majority of the votes across the country; but the size of his party is no longer decisive. The loss of two of its stronghold states – Lagos and Kano, which are also Nigeria's economic powerhouses – should be jarring for the party.

Much of the ground that was lost by the APC in the presidential election was gained by Obi and his LP, which went from winning a paltry 5,074 votes in 2019 to garnering 6.10 million votes in 2023. The party edged out the APC in Lagos and Nasarawa, and overran Abuja and Plateau, where the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, held sway in the previous election. Moreover, LP came second in four other states, including Benue and Taraba, Atiku's own backyard.      

The LP also won seven seats in the Senate and 17 in the House of Representatives, based on early parliamentary poll results. However, the results showed the APC was on track to retain control of the National Assembly. But the LP's momentum is likely to see some major upsets in the March 11 elections for the executive and legislative branches of government at the state level.

The second noteworthy point arising from the contentious official election result is that voter apathy in Nigeria remains a major concern. Various commentators had predicted the 2023 election would buck the trend of declining voter turnout. The enthusiasm among the youth, who ramped up voter registration and the rate of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) collection, was the key factor for the prediction of high voter participation.    

When Election Day came and anecdotes of large crowds at PUs were seen on social media, we felt ecstatic. But as the official data on accredited voters started to trickle in, a different picture – not so amusing – began to emerge.

INEC data show out of the 93.47 million registered voters for the 2023 election, 87.21 million collected their PVCs. This represents a very high collected-PVCs-to-all-registered-voters ratio of 93.62%. Nevertheless, turnout at the poll was a different story. The voter accreditation data for Lagos, which has the highest number of registered voters, was a paltry 19.09%. The accreditation data for the other four states with the highest eligible voters, namely Kano, Kaduna, Rivers, and Katsina were 29.89%, 32.71%, 17.11%, and 31.21%, respectively.

However, this data is of dubious integrity for a number of reasons. First, voting was delayed for several hours in many PUs due to the late arrival of INEC officials. In some PUs, INEC said voting should continue the next day. Second, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) malfunctioned in many instances, which could have led to the disenfranchisement of many people who wanted to vote. Third, there was voter intimation and violence, including ballot box snatching and vandalisation, such that even some who were accredited ended up not voting. In the end, 69.44 million registered voters did not vote, partly due to INEC’s incompetence or the ruling party having its thumb on the scale.

The immediate implication of this development is that Tinubu was deemed to be duly elected by 9.41% of registered voters. Little wonder the announcement of his victory was greeted with a sombre mood in the entire country. Had he been elected by the majority of registered voters, there would have been widespread jubilation.

The other implication is that as long as large numbers of eligible voters fail to exercise – or are denied – their right of enfranchisement, the power that belongs to the people will continue to elude the citizens. Many Nigerians will feel no sense of ownership in the decisions that their leaders make; consequently, the incentive for government accountability will be weak.     

A third observation from this election is that a different type of justice unexpectedly came for EndSARS protesters, especially the victims who were reportedly shot by some soldiers of the Nigerian Army on 20 October 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. The state government denied the brutal killing even took place.

In the immediate aftermath of the two-week protests, I had written a piece, wondering whether in the evolution of people power, EndSARS represented a critical juncture. It turned out to be the case as the social movement that underlay EndSARS and the youth became the galvanising force behind the campaign for getting out the vote for Obi.

This has ensured that the protesters who lost their lives for the movement are not footnotes in Nigeria’s history. So, no matter how disappointing the 2023 election has been for a lot of people, the long march towards social justice and economic progress in Nigeria will not be vain.

Nigerian youths should see victory as an iterative process. The first iteration was the remarkable courage they displayed in championing EndSARS and making it a global phenomenon. The LP’s presidential election win in Lagos and elsewhere serve as another iteration of victory, which should be savoured for the time being. One thing is certain: the political establishment now knows the youth have arisen and any candidate they back will give them a run for their money.

In one of the episodes of the popular TV series, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, High King Gil-galad told Elrond, "Hope is never mere, even when it is meager." Nigerians now know that electing transformational leaders in government is not a utopian dream. Obi's electoral success in as many states as his APC and PDP rivals and his strong performance in the North Central and parts of the North East has effectively dented the dominance of Nigerian political overlords. It has also shown we can overcome the imaginary barriers of tribe and religion.

We can build on these gains and continue believing, mobilising and organising through innovation; and going out of our comfort zones to make a difference.

Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.