The Nigerian predicament

Haitham Nouri , Tuesday 28 Feb 2023

Nigeria’s delayed election results reflect an ailing political and economic landscape.

The Nigerian predicament


As of Tuesday morning, 25 of Nigeria’s 36 states had reported their electoral results, and ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu was leading with 44 per cent of the 6.7 million counted votes so far. He was followed by the main opposition party candidate, Atiku Abubakar and third party candidate Peter Obi with 33 per cent and 18 per cent of the vote, respectively.

The results of Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections were still to be announced in what was a clear indication of confusion in “Africa’s largest democracy”, according to Western media reports, however.

Tempers flared on Monday in Abuja where representatives of all the major parties awaited the results. The two leading opposition parties claimed there were disparities between the election commission report and what their representatives learned at the polling stations.

“We are Nigerians and must defend our rights,” said Dino Melaye, a representative of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, led by Abubakar. Nigeria’s electoral law allows party representatives or agents to raise concerns about results while they are being announced by the election commission.

Since then, there have been concerns that the electoral process might boil over into violence. Several factors have contributed to the delay in the results of the sixth election since the end of military rule in Nigeria — with a population of 200 million, Africa’s most populous country — in 1999.

The polling stations in many regions opened late due to the late arrival of employees, and several stations were also attacked. Nigeria’s security apparatus made no mention of any “terrorist” attacks. Rather, the local newspapers said the attacks were acts of “thuggery” that included the looting of several stations in Lagos, the country’s economic capital. The independent electoral commission — set up to improve transparency — oversaw people voting in 141 centres nonetheless.

Many political activists criticised the electoral commission for not publishing the results online. Many incidents of vote rigging have gone unchecked in Nigeria’s short history of democracy, and there have been such incidents in the current election resulting from economic hardship. The commission said its heavy web traffic would’ve made that difficult, indicating that web service was not strong enough in many parts of the country.

Some 52,000 polling stations — nearly 30 per cent of the total — have handed over the results to the commission. Votes were sorted manually. According to local and international media reports, it is expected the final results will be announced within the next few days.

In Nigeria there are over 87 million eligible voters (52.5 per cent male) choosing among 18 presidential candidates hoping to replace outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who over two terms “failed to make Nigeria more secure,” according to his opponents. His supporters in the ruling “progressive” party, however, claim he “gave everything he could.”

The strongest presidential competitors include Atiku Abubakar, 76 years old, from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Abubakar is a former vice president who had run for the presidency five times before. He hails from the northern Fulani where a Muslim majority is in control.

Another contender is Paula Tinubu, 70, a Yoruba Muslim from the southwest, who is a parliamentarian and the former governor of Lagos. Tinubu is representing the All Progressives Congress.

It was surprising to see the leader of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, 61, competing in the presidential race. Obi was the governor of the southeastern Anambra state for two terms. He is a Christian Ibigo from the southeast.

Nigeria is divided roughly evenly between northern Muslims and southern Christians, and voting is often based on ethnicity and religion.

Nigerians vote in 176,606 polling stations, distributed over 774 centres with another 240 where elections are not held due to security reasons. The elections require the supervision of more than 720,000 employees, and about 530,000 security officials. During elections, the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria distributes 200,000 voter identification devices. Election results are supposed to be announced within 14 days of voting.

The winner in Nigeria’s presidential elections is announced after he wins the majority of votes, provided that he obtains 25 per cent or more of the votes in two-thirds of the country’s states as well as in the capital, Abuja. This condition is intended to ensure the president is popular in the majority of Nigerian states and that voting is not conducted on an ethnic or religious basis.

However, if two candidates receive the same number of votes, which has never happened in the history of Nigerian elections, another vote is held within 21 days.

The Peoples Democratic Party accused its rival, the All Progressive Party, of exerting pressure over the Independent National Electoral Commission over the results in the southeast and in parts of Lagos, a hotly contested state with more than seven million eligible voters. The Peoples Democratic Party accused its rival of “doing everything it can to cheat in Lagos.”

Following the announcement of the presidential election results in 2019, Buhari’s rival Abubakar submitted a complaint to the supreme court accusing Buhari and his party of rigging the results. The court rejected his appeal. The Labour Party also accused the election commission of omitting votes in parts of Lagos that were in favour of Abubakar.

For decades Nigeria has been living with financial and administrative corruption. The local media levelled accusations of corruption that have not been proven by the judiciary against the candidates of the All Progressive Party and the Peoples Democratic Party.

The country also suffers from organised crime, high rates of inflation, which, according to the National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria has reached 20 per cent, as well as poor liquidity, which prompted many observers to accuse the competing parties of buying votes in a number of impoverished areas.

Terrorism is also rife in Nigeria, where one of Africa’s bloodiest terrorist organisations, Boko Haram, operates. Africa suffers from terrorism in several regions, including Somalia, northern Mozambique, and the Sahel countries, which comprise Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso.

Clashes erupt in many regions in Nigeria between herders and farmers due to the effects of climate change on pastures. In the south, activists of the Niger Delta nationalities are leading a widespread insurrection against oil and gas exploration operations that affect their way of life.

The new Nigerian president will have to deal with all these challenges for which there is no political solution on the horizon.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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