Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election and Problematic Magouilles: Foreign Policy Implications

Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election and Problematic Magouilles: Foreign Policy Implications

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election, held on Saturday, 25th February, 2023, was fraught with many problems contrary to the pretentious submission of some international election observers. The Independent Foreign Observers Mission (IFOM) was quoted in The Nation of Wednesday, March 1, 2023 as saying that there was a large turn out and that the election was ‘peaceful and transparent.’ The IFOM was also quoted as having commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for doing very well. This report can be admitted to the extent that it was given as a preliminary report of the IFOM. Largely, it can be posited that the election was peaceful in some areas, but it was still largely characterized by transparent electoral magouilles and violent destruction in many other areas. This fact necessarily neutralized the alleged peacefulness of the election. 

Besides, one major problematic aspect of the election, which is often ignored, is that most Nigerians strongly believe in the promises of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) that he would ensure a free, fair and credible election. As a result, they are generally tolerant. In the same vein, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, also consistently told Nigerians that the INEC was ready for the election to take place, hence glitches were ruled out. However, there was nothing to suggest that efforts were consciously made to ensure free, fair, and just election. This partly explains the rejection of the election results by some opposition parties and their decision to go to court. 

Without doubt, the election was, stricto sensu, between a northern candidate and a southern candidate, on the one hand, and between a sexagenarian and a septuagenarian, on the other. The four leading candidates were Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the standard-bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) who are both from the North, while Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progessives Congress (APC) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) are southerners. Hence the choice is either a northerner or a southerner.

In the same vein, Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu are 76 years and 70 years old respectively while Peter Obi and Kwankwaso are aged 61 years and 66 years respectively. Again, the election was a choice between the 60-year-old generation and the 70-year-old generation candidates. For Candidates Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, the election was  a must-win or a do or die contest, hence the readiness to engage in sharp electoral malpractices. With the declaration of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Wednesday March 1, 2023, at about 4.10am, the President-elect of Nigeria, the electoral choice is older generation and a southerner to succeed PMB. This is in spite of very serious allegations of electoral magouilles by the INEC.

Problematic Electoral Magouilles

The first expression of electoral magouilles, that is wuruwuru in Yoruba language, is a resultant of constitutional contradictions which have prompted many questions on whether the INEC has consciously disregarded the provisions of the Electoral Act. Explained differently, the main problematic is the determination of the extent to which the election can be considered credible and generally acceptable. In this regard, it is argued that the collation process as engaged in, was in violation of Section 64(4) of the Electoral Act, which stipulates that ‘a Returning Officer at an election can only collate and announce the result of an election subject to verification and confirmation that the accreditation number and votes stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with votes or results recorded and transmitted from the polling units.’ 

In this regard, who has the responsibility to verify and confirm the consistency of the accreditation number and votes stated on the collated result? Naturally, the answer cannot but be the INEC. However, what happens if the INEC is seen and believed to have been compromised? Have the party agents not the right to be convinced that there is consistency? If not, what is the opposition parties complaining about? For instance, the opposition elements argued that the collated results were not transmitted directly from the polling units, hence their call for the stoppage of the collation process and the cancellation of the election results.

Related to this is how to interprete Section 134 in relationship to Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Section 134 provides for the conditions to be met in the event there are only two presidential candidates (vide Section134 (1) (a) (b), and when there are more than two candidates (see Section 134 (2)(a)(b). As there are more than two candidates in the 2023 presidential election, it is Section 134(2) that is applicable. It provides that ‘a candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election, a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.’

The first problematic here is whether the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) should be equated as another constituent State of Nigeria to which the electoral laws should be applied in the mania of other States. The law says a candidate must obtain ‘at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the FCT’ whether the clause is interpreted conjuctively or disjunctively, the implication remains the same. Conjunctively, there will be 37 territories or States in which a presidential candidate must obtain two-thirds of votes cast. If considered disjunctively, there are 36 States plus the FCT because the law specifically mention ‘and FCT’. The intendment of the law is to ensure that a presidential candidate obtains two-thirds of votes cast in every constituent State and also in the FCT. Because the FCT is not considered a State, that is why it is specifically mentioned. Consequently, if a candidate does not have two-thirds of the votes cast in the FCT, he or she does not qualify to be considered for the office of the President, regardless of whatever number of votes already scored in the various States.

In other words, whatever is the interpretative position of the learned people on this issue, the FCT is a territory and not a State but the regulatory electoral law applies to it, meaning that every presidential candidate must obtain at least one quarter of the accredited votes as part of the qualifying conditions for the office of the President. In this case, the APC candidate, declared as President-elect, is not on record to have obtained the necessary number of votes in the FCT as constitutionally required. 

A school of thought has tried to justify the action of the INEC based on Article 160 of the 1999 Constitution which stipulates that the INEC, which was created under Section 153 of the Constitution as one of the 14 Federal Executive Bodies, is empowered ‘to make its own procedure’ which ‘shall not be subject to the approval or control of the President.’ All the other 13 bodies established at the same time with the INEC can regulate their own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions but subject to the approval of the President of Nigeria. 

In this regard, the INEC regulation and guideline is that results should be scanned and uploaded to the server from each polling station after authentication by the party agents and election officials. But this guideline could not be complied with because of what the INEC Chairman has called ‘technical glitches’ and for which he has tendered apology. This is seen as magouille per excellence. Can any apology remove the perception of electoral injustice and unfairness? Does it solve the problem of interpretation of the technical glitches as a calculated attempt to rig the election result in favour of the APC presidential candidate? Expectedly, in a joint PDP-LP press conference, the PDP Vice-Presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa, and his Labour Party counterpart, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, argued that it was either the Biomodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was down or the INEC had connived with the APC to rig election in favour of the APC. 

As raised by Governor Okowa, ‘if the system was down and they knew it was down, then they ought to have postponed the election. If the system was not down, and they didn’t allow the upload of the results in (the BVAS), it means that they have connived, and they are no longer neutral and impartial.’ Based on this reasoning the PDP and the LP have decided to refer the issue to the court for possible adjudication and justice. They have seven days within which to file their objections to the INEC’s declaration of Senator Ahmed Tinubu as President-elect.

In a preemptive manner, the President-elect and the APC have urged the Federal High Court in Kano to restrain the PDP, LP and the Action Alliance and any other persons from taking any step or steps, be they judicial or extrajudicial, that is capable of preventing the INEC from completing the process of the conduct of the presidential election held on February 25. Justice A.M. Liman granted an accelerated hearing and ordered that ‘parties shall within 24 hours of the hearing of the motion on notice be availed with meeting and access code.’

There are still other problematic areas: complaints of non-holding of election in some polling units, and yet, results were still collated and announced for the same polling units, money laundering, financial inducement of voters, bribery and conspiracy, snatching of BVAS machines, willful destruction of ballot papers, forgery of election results, under-age voting, dereliction of duty by electoral officers and party agents, misuse of voter’s card, presentation of old election results as new ones in 2023, declaring election results for what election officials announced as ‘inconclusive’ as it was the case with the senatorial election in Abia South, reducing the vote count of one candidate to add to that of another candidate, and asking aggrieved candidates to go to the court for not accepting the declaration of election results of polling units where election never took place, etc.

There is also the problem of political philosophy  that whatever is possible to win election should first be done and then leave the rest to the court to determine, a situation that largely explains the resort to destructive political thuggery often with impunity. More important is the political belief that the judicial system can always be manipulated to unnecessarily delay cases to the extent that whoever might have been illegally elected could be allowed to end his or her term before the cases could be heard. Thus, it is not only the integrity and credibility of the whole election process, but also that of the judicial system that is being called to question.

Again, when Femi Falana, SAN, and Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) called for the arrest and prosecution of electoral offenders, because, as reported by Adebisi Onanuga in The Nation of March 1, 2023, page 6, ‘the activist-lawyer said this has become imperative because the INEC, empowered by Section 145 of the Electoral Act, 2022 to prosecute electoral offenders has said it cannot combine the conduct of elections with the trial of electoral offenders.’ With the foregoing perception of bias, conscious technical incompetence, deliberate disregard for the Constitution and self-made guidelines and the resultant tension being generated, what is the foreign policy implication, and quo vadis?

The Foreign Policy Dimensions

One important foreign policy dimension to begin with is the three-point direct message from former US President, Barack Obama, to all Nigerians: first,  to eschew violence; second, to confront the Boko Haram which wants to destroy Nigeria; and third, to make keeping Nigeria united as a task that must be done. He assured Nigerians that in sustaining democracy as an instrument of national development and working strenuously to advance security, prosperity, and human rights, all Nigerians can always count on him, and on the people of America as a whole, as friends and partners.

As Barack Obama put it directly to Nigerians, ‘Nigeria is a great nation and you can be proud of the progress you have made. Together you have won your independence and emerged from military rule and strengthen the democratic institutions. You strived to overcome divisions and turned Nigeria’s diversity into a source of strength. 

You’ve tried to improve the life of your families and build the largest economy in Africa. Now, you have the historic opportunity to help write the next chapter of Nigeria’s progress by voting in the upcoming elections.’ This statement constitutes the first chapter for Barack Obama. It is a chapter that recalled the gallant efforts already displayed by Nigerians in liberating themselves from the mainmise of colonialists and military dictators. In the eyes of Barack Obama, efforts at democratic development have been so far so good.

Regarding the next chapter, Obama pontificated that, ‘for elections to be credible, they must be free, fair, and peaceful. All Nigerians must be able to cast their votes without intimidation or fear.’ Consequently, he called ‘on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections and that they will not excite, support or engage in any kind of violence, before, during or after the votes are counted.’ He called on all Nigerians to peacefully express (their) views and to reject the voices of those who call for violence.’ More importantly, he said ‘when elections are free and fair, it is the responsibility of all citizens to help keep the peace no matter who wins. Successful elections and democratic progress will help Nigeria meet the urgent challenges you face today. Boko Haram, a brutal terrorist group that kills innocent men and women and children must be stopped. Hundreds of kidnapped children deserve to be returned to their families. Nigerians who have been forced to flee deserve to return to their homes. Boko Haram wants to destroy Nigeria and all that you have built. By casting your ballot, you can help secure your nation’s progress. I am told that it is the same in your country. To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.’ In essence, Barack Obama ‘urged all Nigerians, from all religious or ethnic groups to come together and keep Nigeria one. In this task of advancing security, prosperity, human rights of all Nigerians, you will continue to have a friend and partner.’ 

Now that the election has come and gone and there is nothing to suggest that the election has been in any way transparent, fair and credible, how will the former US president, Barack Obama and the people of America perceive Nigeria and Nigerians: dependable ally or what? A good democratic country? The US government once warned that whoever undermines the election would be denied access to US visa. To what extent can the denial of visa help to prevent election rigging and electoral thuggery in Nigeria that has actually been systemically entrenched in electoral magouilles? Can fairness, justice and peace ever reign in Nigeria without cancellation of the election results that were not uploaded directly from the polling units into the BVAS?

Secondly, the intervention of the leader of the ECOWAS election observers, former President of Sierra Leone, Mr. Ernest Koroma, and the former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta-led AU observer missions is similarly relevant. It appears that the election monitors from the ECOWAS and the African Union knew well in advance that Nigeria’s 2023 general elections would not be fair, just and peaceful, hence their insistence and plea to all Nigerians not to make the elections a matter of do or die. As explained by Ernest Koroma, the ECOWAS and the AU observers were in Nigeria to ensure a peaceful transition. Had he already foreseen a non-peaceful transition? 

In his words, ‘we appeal to Nigerians to remain peaceful and calm, listen to the official sources of dissemination of result and do not listen to the general social media platforms. They are disinformation and can cause problems. That is why as the AU and ECOWAS, beyond observation, we have now been transformed to a preventive diplomacy engagement. And we will continue to engage the stakeholders, INEC, political parties until the whole process is concluded and there is a peaceful transition to a new leadership.’ The AU observation team leader had it that the only thing he could do was to ‘join President Koroma in appealing to INEC to recognize the mood and see what the situation is to speed up the process of accountability and credibility that they have maintained so far.’ 

More important, President Koroma said ‘we have no reason whatsoever to doubt the integrity of INEC. For us, it is to continue to appeal that those glitches they are having be rectified. The sooner the process is brought to a transparent conclusion, the better.’ And most importantly, he said, ‘the only appeal we will have over and above that, is to all stakeholders, political parties, the candidates to have the patience to await the final authority to speed up the process and ensure that process of accountability and credibility that they have maintained so far.’ 

The Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State, His Excellency, General Embalo, conveyed the ‘heartfelt congratulations to His Excellency Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu on his election as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’ He also appealed to all ‘the stakeholders to promote peace and to use constitutional means to address any grievances they may have.’ The message is good but does not address the environmental conditionings. The British also did not bother much about the societal conditionings in their congratulatory message to the Presdient-elect. The British Prime Minister was only much concerned about looking ‘forward to working together to grow our security and trade ties, opening up opportunities for businesses and creating prosperity in both our countries.’

Grosso modo, the understanding of the international election observers is that the environment of election is generally peaceful, that there were several irregularities and that the February 25 2023 electoral processes are below international standard. With the afore-analysed electoral magouilles, and the observations of the election monitors, can it be said that Nigeria’s 2023 presidential was fair, just, peaceful and therefore credible? If the elections are not credible, why is it that the international leaders are quick in congratulating the President-elect and do not want to wait until the final determination of the case in court?

For examples, the United States government, in a press statement issued on March 1, 2023 by the US Department of State, not only congratulated the President-elect, but also ‘join other international observers in urging INEC to improve in the areas that need the most attention ahead of the March 11 gubernatorial elections.’ More importantly, the US, while commending ‘the active participation of civil society and the media for advancing electoral norms and political discourse on issues of importance to citizens, also noted ‘with concern reports that numerous members of the media were attacked during the course of the election, and we urge the government, security forces, political actors, and all citizens to respect the media’s critical role by refraining from any damaging acts against them and ensuring accountability for such acts when they do occur.’

In international diplomatic practice, when a government is noting ‘with concern’, it simply means ‘noting with seriousness.’ It is another way of complaining and saying the matter is of a major interest that should not be carelessly ignored. This is why the US government has asked the Nigerian Government and its agencies, as well as all the citizens of Nigeria ‘to respect the media’s critical role…’ And without any jot of doubt, Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution as amended,

Above all, it cannot be sufficient to have good intention in political governance. What will be sufficient is to have political governance largely predicated on honesty of purpose, which has always been far-fetched in the governance of Nigeria. True, Nigerians have been made to believe that providing a homeland for the Fulani ethnic group coming from Central and West African regions to Nigeria is a desideratum and a task that must be done. Nigerians have been told that cabals rule Nigeria and not ruled by thosed elected by the people. Nigerians have been told that national unity is not by negotiation and popular consent, but by manu militari and use of force. Nigerians have also been told that there is nothing wrong with presidential nepotism and that any possible means must be used to win election, no matter the extent of the crookedness of the means. This situational reality cannot in any way help nation-building. It only enhances the agitation for regional separation. In fact, for as long as the INEC is defiantly dependent on the President of Nigeria who appoints the INEC Chairman, never will there be a truly independent INEC. Based on the Nigerian electoral experiences, the only electoral method that can nip in the bud election rigging, ballot snuffing and snatching, as well as vote buying, is to revisit Professor Nwosu’s Option A4 model. It was an open balloting that sustained electoral transparency and honesty of purpose, without which a Nigerian nationahood can be possible in an enduring manner.The implication cannot but be obvious. Already, the image being presented of the President-elect is that of a drug baron in an Austrian newspaper and yet international leaders are purporting to be happy with his election.  

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