Marzo 6 2023
Elections in Nigeria: opposition does not recognise President Tinubu

On 1 March, the victory of Nigeria’s new president was announced, which was followed by criticism and demonstrations

Bola Tinubu is the new president of Nigeria. Announced as the winner of the 25 February elections, the progressive party leader will rule Africa’s largest democracy. Leader of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Tinubu reached 35% of the almost 25 million voters, beating Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in second place with 29% and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), given as favourite by most of the country, in third place with 25%.

The victory, announced on the 1st of March by the Nigerian Electoral Commission, was contested by the two opposition parties, which denounced fraud and irregularities. New elections were therefore called for the federal state, after the two opposition parties refused to recognise the result.

Who is Bola Tinubu?

The leader of the Progressive Party is one of the richest politicians in the country. After being elected senator of the western district of the city-state of Lagos, he became governor of the commercial capital between 1999 and 2007. A militant past in the Social Democratic Party forced him to live in exile between 1994 and 1998, when the country was still ruled by the late dictator, Sani Abacha.

Already in those years, rumours were circulating about his propensity for corruption. “Godfather” was the nickname by which he was known, because he was believed to be directly involved with a heroin trade between America and Nigeria. Even as governor of Lagos Tinubu was accused of embezzling tens of millions of dollars intended for local infrastructure.

It was precisely in the city-state he administered for years that he founded his campaign for these presidential elections, carrying out numerous reconstruction and urban innovation works in the capital.

During his post-victory speech, broadcast on state TV, Tinubu addressed the defeated candidates personally, asking for their cooperation. «I take this opportunity to appeal to my competitors to unite. This is the only nation we have. It is our country and we must build it together».

Elections in Nigeria: opposition does not recognise President Tinubu
Supporters of Labour party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi attend a campaign rally, ahead of the Nigerian presidential election in Lagos, Nigeria, February 11, 2023. REUTERS/ Nyancho Nwanri

Defeat in Lagos State

Unexpectedly, the majority of voters in the city-state of Lagos favoured Christian candidate Peter Obi, a political outsider able to mobilise young people, who accounted for 40 per cent of the total voters in this election. Obi, a representative of the Labour Party, was able to shake up the country’s two-party system, bringing to the ballot a third party other than the two that have ruled the Nigerian political scene for years. «A third force, the Labour Party, also showed up in these elections and gained a lot of popularity thanks to its candidate, who has always been outside the political world». This is how Paul Azemata Amune, a Nigerian from the city of Igarra, who has been in Italy for six years, commented. «The rise of this new party, together with e-voting, managed to involve young people and make them believe that change was really possible».

Map of Nigeria divided into states

Disputes over victory

It is precisely the electronic voting system that has been at the centre of disputes about fraud in this election. Used for the first time to make the counting faster and the voting system more transparent, it seems that it did not work properly. In fact, several election observer groups pointed to «various logistical hiccups» with respect to the malfunctioning of the digital election system that was supposed to speed up the waiting for the results.
The elections should have been broadcast live on the voter portal and would have arrived in real time. «Instead, it took a long time before the results were visible on the portals», commented Emma Ik Umeh, a member of the People’s Democratic Party.

A first disappointment coming from a system that had restored confidence in the electorate of a country characterised by rampant corruption like Nigeria. «Thanks to the law passed in 2022 by the Independent National Election Commission, called the “Electronic Act”, hope in the voting process has been reborn. Indeed, through remote voting that was to be directly sent to a national database, the Nigerian people believed that the possibility of irregularities was extremely reduced». These were the words of Paul, who emphasised that thanks to this electronic system, the voter base was greatly expanded to include young people who decided to actively participate with their vote to invoke the need for change.

«The electoral process is a fundamental part of a democratic state», Paul commented. «Nigeria has a long history of voting irregularities, but for this election there was a lot of hope for real and possible change».

In recent days, protests have taken place in several states in Nigeria against alleged fraud and the use of violence and intimidation to prevent voting last Saturday. Videos of these irregularities are circulating documenting what happened. Although voting was undisturbed in some areas, several polling stations across the country opened hours late and in some, voting could not take place until Tuesday. EU observers also intervened, saying that the lack of transparency and technical problems had reduced confidence in the electoral process. At least 6 million ballot papers were not collected, while an unknown number were found abandoned shortly before the elections. Besides acts of obstruction of voting and fraud in the counting of results, it appears that a significant number of Nigerians were disenfranchised.

Responses to the allegations did not take too long to arrive. The Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) admitted delays and some technical glitches, but denied that there were any irregularities in the process of collecting and counting votes.

What lies ahead for Nigeria now?

The unexpected defeat of Obi, on whom so many had placed their trust for real change, has increased disappointment and the idea of fraud and irregularities on the part of the ACP. Demonstrations have been going on for days, mostly in front of the Electoral Commission headquarters, calling for a return to the polls.

Some 90 million people are expected to cast their votes in Africa’s largest democracy and the continent’s largest economy, which has been plagued by rampant corruption, political insecurity and financial crisis for years.

Out of 87 million potential voters, only 25 million went to the polls, resulting in a low turnout of around 29%. This is a consequence of disillusionment on the part of Nigerian citizens with electoral processes and political leaders who usually end up disappointing the expectations placed in them.