The People’s Choice or INEC’s Choice? Opposition Parties Contest Nigeria’s Presidential Election | The African Exponent.
• APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared president-elect of Nigeria
• Opposing candidates Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi both claim they won the election and allege gross electoral malpractice and corruption
• Atiku and Obi plan to legally contest election result, may or may not see victory considering their history with the courts
• There have been international and national calls for peace during this critical time
The new month ushered in a new era for Nigeria as All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared winner in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, 1st March.
According to data reported by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the National Collational Centre, Tinubu secured the win on the two counts of the constitutional requirements.
He polled a total of 8,794,726 votes, the highest of all 18 candidates, and scored at least 25% of votes across 30 states—the constitution requires at least 25% in at least 24 of the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Tinubu secured 12 state wins, most of which were from the South-West region where he is from.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar came second with 6,984,520 votes and met the 25% mark in 21 states.
Atiku also secured 12 state wins, most of which were from the North region where he is from and which forms the larger part of the country.
Labour Party (LP) candidate Peter Obi came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes and met the 25% mark in only 16 states.
Obi secured wins in 11 states and the FCT, scoring landslide victories in the South-East region where he is from. However, Obi’s most surprising win was in Lagos State, which is still widely dubbed “Tinubu’s Lagos” due to Tinubu’s continued political influence since he left the seat of governor in 2007.
“A Sham of an Election”
From the election days till now, there has been a staggering amount of electoral fraud allegations directed at both INEC and the ruling and winning party APC, who are said to be in cahoots.
Both the general public and political party members have contested some of the reported results.
Just a day before the president-elect was declared, the PDP and LP held a press conference at which their vice-presidential candidates Ifeanyi Kowa and Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, respectively, were present.
Both Kowa and Datti claimed the election was a sham and “never free and fair”.
The main issue brought forward was that INEC failed to upload all of the election results at the 176,606 active polling units (PUs) from the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to the INEC Election Result Viewing Platform (IReV), thereby making the election “irretrievably compromised”.
INEC’s failure to upload the results was in violation of their own Electoral Act which was updated in 2022 to include the use of technologies such as the BVAS and IReV to ensure free and fair elections.
Section 60 of the Electoral Act states that “The presiding officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling unit, enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed by the Commission as the case may be”.
Subsection 5 goes on to say “The presiding officer shall transfer the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the Commission”.
The form or manner “prescribed by the Commission” refers to the use of the BVAS to take a picture of the PU results and then upload them to the IReV before the results are announced at the National Collation Centre.
Consequently, the PDP and LP demanded that INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu step down over the “electoral irregularities and malfeasance” and that the election be cancelled and rescheduled.
In response, INEC said Yakubu would not step down and that any grievances with the election should be taken up in court.
On the other hand, some experts opined that the election did not need to be cancelled completely but rather, rerun in areas where there were clear irregularities in the results.
This is in accordance with Section 47 of the act which allows for cancellations and reruns in the event that the technology (BVAS) used for voter accreditation fails to work, which was the case in several PUs.
Many citizens took to social media to contest some of the results that were posted on the IReV, showing picture evidence of the mismatch between the results at their PUs and the IReV results.
In one PU in Rivers State, pieces of paper with a low vote count written on them were pasted over the original result for the LP presidential candidate Peter Obi.
In other parts of the country, there were claims of INEC officers being held under duress to record false results.
Some citizens reported cases of the Senatorial and House of Representatives results being posted in place of the presidential results at their polling units.
Additionally, PDP and LP members cited discrepancies in the results calculated by party agents, who were present at PUs, and INEC’s reported results.
For example, INEC reported that Obi narrowly beat out Tinubu’s 572,606 votes with 582,454 votes in Lagos.
However, a spokesperson for PDP shared that the results from the party’s situation room showed that Obi actually won with 983,069 votes, Tinubu scored about 155,000 votes and Atiku scored 101,039 votes, as opposed to the declared 75,750 votes.
LP spokesperson Kenneth Okonkwo claimed INEC’s, particularly Yakubu’s, actions were a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election in order to declare Tinubu the president-elect.
“Anybody telling you there was a glitch in BVAS is the first liar of this election. There were three elections conducted on the same day, no BVAS malfunctioned [for the Senatorial and House of Representatives elections]… Then in the presidential election, they are telling their own fools, not us, that BVAS suddenly started malfunctioning,” Okonkwo stated empathically.
Moreso, there were several reported cases of violence and intimidation at PUs which resulted in voter suppression.
Yet, both the incumbent president and president-elect as well as other APC members claim that none of the issues raised undermine the “free and fair” status of the presidential election.
At the LP-PDP press conference on 28th February, LP Chairman Julius Abere called for the international community to “note that the results being declared at the National Collation Centre have been heavily doctored and manipulated and do not represent the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians expressed at the polls on February 25th, 2023.”
Both the UK and US have noted the concerns of opposition parties while congratulating the president-elect Tinubu. They called for a peaceful and careful resolution of the issues and for improvements to be made in the upcoming gubernatorial elections on March 11.
Meanwhile, president of war-torn Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated Tinubu and expressed hopes of strengthened bilateral relations between Ukraine and Nigeria, including in the area of food security.
Obi and Atiku, and their Judicial History
Both PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and LP’s Peter Obi claim that they are the true winners of the presidential election and are seeking to prove it in court with separate cases.
They filed motions with the Presidential Election Court in country capital FCT to review the materials used for the election.
They also have to file their election petitions in the Court of Appeal within 30 days of the result announcement and thereafter, the Court will have 180 days to hear and judge the case.
However, experts believe the chances of the verdicts going in either Atiku’s or Obi’s favour are slim, considering the Nigerian judiciary has never overturned a presidential result.
Nevertheless, Atiku stated in a Thursday press conference in Abuja that just as he trusted the judiciary to do its job when he took then President Olusegun Obasanjo to court in 2007, he is willing to test the judiciary’s adherence to justice in this matter.
The former vice president, who went as far as calling the election a “rape of democracy”, has run for the presidency 5 consecutive times and lost.
Obi was Atiku’s running mate in the 2019 presidential election, before he decamped to LP last year in light of his own presidential ambition.
That year, Atiku lost to President Buhari by over 3 million votes, but claimed that the INEC server showed that he was actually 1.6 million votes ahead of Buhari.
Just as he did for the 2023 election, Atiku dubbed the 2019 election “the worst election conducted in the country’s history”.
Consequently, Atiku and PDP filed a petition challenging Buhari’s win on five grounds, including alleged corrupt practices and INEC’s non-compliance with the 2010 Electoral Act.
The petition sought for INEC to either re-conduct the election or hand over the Certificate of Return, an electoral document issued to the winner of an election, to Atiku.
However, Atiku did not experience the same victory with the judiciary as he did in 2007.
On September 11, 2019, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal ruled against PDP and Atiku in favour of the legitimacy of Buhari’s re-election.
INEC stated that there was no such server as Atiku had claimed.
The following month, the Supreme Court dismissed Atiku’s appeal, stating that there was no merit in it.
Peter Obi and the LP also held a press conference on Tuesday to encourage their supporters and declare their plans to take legal actions.
“This election, as you know, did not meet the minimum standard expected of a free, transparent, credible, fair election. It will go down as one of the most controversial elections ever conducted in Nigeria…It is my belief that if you must answer “his excellency”, the process through which you arrive to office must be excellent,” Obi asserted.
When asked if he had evidence to back his claim of winning, Obi responded “We were asked to go to the court…so let’s go there. Remember that I am obedient, I am going to go where I am directed to go and then you will see where and how.”
His describing himself as obedient was an allusion to the “Obidient” movement which his supporters—most of whom are from the younger demographic—started.
The heart-wrenching outcome of the protests seemed to stir an unquenchable thirst for better governance in many Nigerian youths.
Obi then went on to give some key electoral data trends over the years to support his claim.
“In 2015, the number of registered voters, if I can remember, was about 67 million and 29.4 [million] voted. In 2019, that tally increased to about 84 million and about 28.4 million voted. And then we were told that about 11 million registered in 2022 which brought the registration to about 95 but 87 collected their PVCs, because of the issue of not being able to collect their PVCs, but only 23.3 million voted. You can see how Nigeria works; so we have an increase of 11 million and the voters dropped by sharply by over 20% instead of increasing. The reason was due to manipulation and reduction and removal and inputs of votes here and there, because otherwise the number is supposed to have increased”, he explained.
Although Obi’s data was slightly inaccurate, the trend described was.
Nigeria saw a record number of 93.5 million registered voters for this election, yet there was also a record low turnout rate of just 27%, down from 2019’s 35%.
The number of registered voters in 2015 was actually 68.8 million, while the number of votes in the 2019 election was 28.6 million. Also about 25 million people voted in 2023’s presidential election.
Just like Obi, many posit that the low turnout rate cannot be attributed to just voter apathy but also data manipulation and suppression by INEC and some political parties.
In a bid to curb voter apathy amongst his frustrated young supporters, Obi urged, “This is a long-distance journey and they have to know that I am committed to going through this journey with them…No matter how long the night is, there will be day and I want to show them that I will be there. That structure of criminality can’t go out overnight…I know the court will do the right thing, their children are involved, the futures of their children are involved.”
Obi also has a rather interesting history of contesting electoral decisions with the court, albeit at a lower executive level.
In the 2003 gubernatorial election in Nigeria’s south-eastern Anambra State, Obi’s opponent Chris Ngige, the PDP candidate, was declared winner.
Obi, running under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (AGPA) party, contested the case and after a nearly 3-year legal battle, Ngige’s victory was overturned by the Court of Appeal and Obi took the seat of governor in March, 2006.
8 months later, Obi was impeached by the state House of Assembly under controversial conditions. He successfully contested his impeachment and was reinstated in February, 2007. The Court of Appeal dubbed the impeachment “irresponsible and illegal”.
Obi’s impeachment was said to be politically motivated and years later, Obi revealed that they ganged up against him because he chose to follow certain due processes which were a roadblock to the widespread corruption in the political system.
This was around the time Atiku also contested his unlawful dismissal by Obasanjo.
Obi left office on 29th May, 2007 for Andy Uba who won the gubernatorial election. However, having only ruled for about a year in total, Obi took to the court again, this time to appeal for the completion of full 4-year tenure.
On 14th June, Supreme Court ruled in Obi’s favour and returned him to power, thereby ending Uba’s reign.
These two major victories are perhaps the reason for Obi’s unflinching hope in the judicial process.
Meanwhile, APC spokesperson and lawyer Festus Keyamo (SAN) called Obi’s claims of winning “outlandish”.
“Mr. Obi KNOWS HE COULD NOT HAVE WON having broken out as a fragment of the main opposition, the PDP and all he could hope for was to harvest a portion of the votes of PDP in a section of the country and the results do NOT tell a lie,” Keyamo said in a press statement.
He also lambasted the union of Obi and Atiku to contest the election result, citing his tweet which read, “This is the first time in my entire life that I am seeing people who came 2nd and 3rd in an exam both claiming they took first and then agreeing to protest together to the examiner to record that both of them took first, yet they are not seeing the contradiction in their actions.”
Keyamo advised Obi to embrace the “hand of fellowship” extended by the president-elect Tinubu, who reportedly set up a committee to appeal to both Obi and Atiku.’
Many believe Tinubu’s decision to set up such a committee is indicative of guilt and an attempt to dissuade them from rightfully pursuing legal action.
Journalist David Hundeyin wrote an exposé that sparked immense curiosity around the case in July.
Electoral Malpractice and Resultant Violence in Africa
Several Nigerians, irrespective of party affiliations, have commended Obi’s and Atiku’s calls for peace at their respective press conferences.
Amidst high tensions and widespread anger over being “robbed of their democracy”, it is not uncommon for the aggrieved to lash out with violent protests.
This was the case in Kenya between December 2007 and February 2008.
After then incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the East African country’s presidential election held on 27th December, 2007, opposition voters—who supported Ralia Odinga—alleged electoral malpractice.
Odinga encouraged his supporters to carry out mass protests via local television and radio stations.
Subsequently, they came out in large numbers to protest and the police shot at hundreds of violent protesters, thereby stirring more violence.
Eventually, the protests evolved into targeted ethnic violence which was first directed at the Kikuyu people—of which Kibaki is part—living outside their traditional settlement areas.
More than 1,000 tragic deaths were recorded nationwide, as well as destruction of property, theft and vandalism.
The violence continued intermittently for months.
Then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had to step in to mitigate the crisis. He successfully brought Kibaki and Odinga to the negotiating table and on February 28, 2008, they both signed a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008.
The Act, which created a coalition government and placed Odinga in the office of Prime Minister, was sworn in on April 17, 2008 after extensive negotiations and amendments.
The hope is that Nigeria’s electorate takes a cue from such examples and holds out hope for the judiciary to mete out justice, rather than taking matters into their own hands.
Sources: The Guardian, Channels TV, Arise News, Premium Times, Reuters.