Now That Nigeria Has a President-elect…

The emergence of the presidential flag bearer of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as Nigeria’s President-elect did not only raise fundamental questions about its political future, but largely signals a new era for the nation, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes.

Amid deep-seated discontent in the ranks of the leading opposition parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) penultimate Wednesday pronounced the presidential candidate of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu the winner of the 2023 presidential poll. The contest is purely a four-horse race, though 18 political parties participated in it.

Apart from the flagbearer of APC, prominent among the contestants are former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and his Kano State counterpart, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

Each of the contestants earnestly fought tooth and nail to win the race to the Presidential Villa. The election is perhaps the most keenly contested election in the history of Nigeria, though voters’ participation significantly dropped when compared to previous elections held between 1999 and 2015.

As indicated in the official results of the INEC, only 25,286,616 registered voters were accredited to participate in the process. Of the figure, INEC declared 939, 277 votes invalid for alleged non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022. The rejected votes further brought the total valid ballots down to 24,025,940.

In the contest, Tinubu comfortably polled 8,794,726, which represented about 36.6 percent of the total valid votes. He secured the votes in addition to 25 percent in the two-thirds of the country’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory as required under Section 131(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Trailing Tinubu behind is the flagbearer of PDP with 6,984,520 votes, which earned him the place of first runner-up. Compared to the votes he secured, the flagbearer of APC polled 1,810,206 higher than the first runner-up, who garnered about 29.07 percent share of the overall valid votes.

Of the total valid votes, also, Peter Obi secured 25.4 percent with 6,101,533 ballots; Kwankwaso too garnered 6.23 percent with 1,496,687 votes and 14 other presidential candidates shared the remaining 8.93 percent, which analysts claimed, attested to the competitiveness of the contest.

However, the outcome of the presidential election stoked more critical questions about Nigeria’s electoral culture than previous election results. The process recorded the lowest voters’ turnout since the coming of the Fourth Republic in 1999, which according to election experts, was a disturbing trend to the country’s budding democracy.

Of 93,469,008 voters that registered to participate in the 2023 elections, only 25,286,616 turned out to exercise their suffrage. The turnout only translated to 27.05 percent of the total registered voters. This was a sharp contrast to the level of voters’ participation recorded in the previous election years as analysed from INEC’s records,

In 1999, for instance, 52 percent voters’ participation was recorded; 69 percent in 2003; 58 percent in 2007; 54 percent in 2011; 43 percent in 2015 and 35 percent in 2019. But the pertinent questions remain: where were the registered voters who refused to partake in the process? Why did they abstain from the process that would largely define their future?

Some election experts identified diverse reasons that triggered the gnawing trend, ranging from diverse intra-party intrigues to inter-party dynamics that ensued during the electioneering campaign. The experts, first, linked the trend with a tense political environment, which Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim argued, apparently bred fear of violence nationwide.

This fear, as Ibrahim pointed out, formed part of voters’ suppression strategies that the leading political parties adopted to discourage massive voters’ participation.

In its 11-page preliminary report, the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) alluded to the fear of violence as a critical factor that negatively impacted the country’s electoral environment that spawned the country’s lowest voters’ participation in its recent history.

On election day, specifically, this fear was further confirmed across the federation as shown in diverse viral videos. But it was more pronounced in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Rivers than other states of the federation, a situation most analysts attributed to their highly diffused demographics.

In his recent intervention, also, Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Prof. Ebenezer Obadare, attested to how fear of violence affected voters’ turnout across the country. He presented diverse empirical evidence to justify the outbreak of violence in some parts of the federation. For him, the presidential election recorded scattered incidents of violence with numerous cases of voter intimidation by party agents and miscreants.

Second, election specialists identified a prevalent crisis of confidence as another trigger that put off millions of registered voters from participating in the process.

Ibrahim explained the crisis on the premise that the registered voters were either poorly mobilised or inadequately motivated to participate in the process.

He also attributed their refusal to exercise their suffrage to the limited choices of candidates that pertook in the contest, which they believed, had already been skewed to subvert the popular will. In their joint report, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) also subscribed to this challenge, which they argued, explained why the process fell well short of citizens’ legitimate and reasonable expectations.

The report further identified failures of logistics, voter registration hitches, voter card distribution constraints, inadequate communication by INEC, lack of transparency in the publication of election data and unchecked political violence before and during the elections as basic cogs that undermined the credibility of the process.

Among others, these challenges, as diverse observers’ reports have shown, obviously overshadowed nearly all incremental administrative gains achieved in the pre-election period and impeded a substantial number of citizens from participating in the presidential poll.

The third is the ethnic dimension that the process took in Lagos and South-east states, which analysts claimed, is evident in the pattern of voting.

With what happened in Lagos, an Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Prof. John Ayoade, concluded that institutionalisation of ethnicity in national politics “is a source of danger.”

He likened this dimension to what led to the 1960 pogrom in Kano, which cost the country lives and undermined its corporate existence.

Emphasising ethnicity in the way citizens exercise their franchise might elicit actions and reactions, which the university don believed, could endanger the future electoral process unless the stakeholders failed to exercise self-restraint in the run-up to the next elections

Despite administrative, logistics and technical constraints that were recorded before and during the process, Commonwealth Observer Group adjudged it “largely peaceful nationwide.”

In the same way, the ECOWAS Observation Mission described it as “generally peaceful and transparent” when compared to the previous elections

But now that the process has produced the president-elect, what are the options before the next government to surmount the country’s declining trend of voters’ participation?

Experts largely agreed that overcoming these challenges should be the preoccupation of the electoral umpire immediately after the 2023 elections.

In their separate reports, both national and international observers acceded to this position as a condition to deliver better outcomes in the future elections. Among others, they challenged critical stakeholders to work together to improve election administration; enhance accountability in campaigns, increase transparency; build confidence in results; reduce election violence; ensure inclusive elections and improve the electoral information environment.

In his honest assessment, the president-elect equally acknowledged flaws in the process that produced him as the country’s next leader.

But he observed that the lapses were “relatively few in number and immaterial to the final outcome.”

Rather than heating up the polity, he encouraged the aggrieved candidates and parties to seek redress in the courts of law and not on the streets in line with the extant laws.

Beyond fundamental questions that marked the process, the president-elect promised to be “a fair leader to all Nigerians” and pursue pragmatic reforms that will distinguish Nigeria as “the true giant of Africa.”

With the dawn of a new era, the president-elect agreed that political competition “must now give way to political conciliation and inclusive governance.”

But this remains to be seen as Nigerians consciously await the renewed hope  of a better, greater Nigeria.

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