The much awaited presidential and National Assembly election may have come and gone, but the echoes of the poll and its effect on voters, especially first-time voters, will continue to linger. In this piece, OLATUNJI BUHARI takes a look at the poll and the impressions of selected election observers: Some pointed at mistakes made and suggested the way forward for future elections
On February 25, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the presidential and National Assembly elections, across the states of the federation for citizens to democratically elect their president and parliamentarians that will govern the affairs of the nation for the next four years. The exercise was adjudged successful in some states and results of the National Assembly were announced within 24hrs in most parts of the country, but not so for the presidential which took a number of days before the results from each state started trickling in. Even at that, voters raised concern on why the presidential election results were not transmitted on time.
Outcome of polls
Four days after the presidential election, the electoral body announced the result and since then, controversies have continued to trail the results by the commission declaring the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as President-Elect. In the result declared by the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, the APC candidate Tinubu had a total vote of 8,794,726, while the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, polled a total vote of 6,984, 520 and the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi had 6, 101, 533 votes. And so, INEC at exactly 4.10am on Wednesday, March 1, declared Tinubu as presidentelect and presented a certificate of return to him and his running mate, Kassim Shettima. Expectedly, the declaration of Bola Tinubu as the winner and the presentation of a certificate of return to him generated a lot of debates among public affairs analysts, including lawyers and political commentators who feel that INEC is wrong to have declared Tinubu as winner of the exercise. They argued that Tinubu did not meet the necessary requirement to occupy the highest office in the land as stipulated by the Nigerian constitution. While some analysts said it was constitutionally required that a winner to not only score 25 percent in two third of the states in the country, but should also score 25 per cent in the FCT. Others say it is subject to interpretation and the constitution does not require that a candidate must win FCT before he is declared as a president-elect, because FCT is not regarded as a state.
Lawyer’s stand on 25%
in FCT A former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), argued that before a candidate can be declared winner in a presidential election, the candidate must score 25 per cent of the votes cast in the election in 2/3 of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Aondoakaa also stated that the requirement had been the law and has not changed since the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in 2008 during a suit involving the current President Muhammadu Buhari, and the late President Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. For the purpose of clarity, section 134 (2) clearly confirmed the position of the former Attorney General as captured below: Section 134 (2) states: “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 (b) 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, Abuja.” According to the senior lawyer, “the interpretation was that the states and the Federal Capital Territory shall be construed conjunctively. In order words, you must get 25 percent in 2/3 and 25 percent in the FCT if you go by the interpretation of the Supreme Court in 2008. “But I know the Supreme Court has a right to depart from his previous decisions if the justices of the case demand so. “I don’t know if confronted with a similar situation they will follow their own decision or depart from it,” he added. In the same breath, human rights and constitutional lawyer, Prof. Mike Ozekhome also faulted INEC for declaring Tinubu as the winner of the keenly contested election, since he failed to win the required 25 percent in the FCT as many suggested was required by law. According to the learned silk, “The Constitution says you must get 25 percent in 24 states, and the FCT, Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not score 25 percent in the FCT, and since he didn’t score 25 percent in the FCT, he should not have been declared president as INEC wrongly did,” he said. The senior lawyer said in seeking 25 percent in 2/3 of all the states of the federation and the FCT, the constitution clearly distinguished the FCT as a separate entity or a special territory, wherein the presidential candidate needs to obtain at least 25 percent of the total votes cast in the election. “The framers of the Constitution certainly desired for Nigeria a President that is widely accepted with a national spread and not one that has only the support of his tribe or region.
Hence they provided in the Constitution the sections relating to the election of the president because of our peculiarities as a multidiverse and multi-faceted nation. “The provisions contained in Section 134 of the Constitution are meant to reflect this. In the same light, the framers of the Constitution viewed the FCT as a melting pot, a sort of mini- Nigeria. Thus, as a commentator posited, the position or status of the FCT assumes that of a compulsory question that a presidential candidate must answer in the electoral examination. “The only logical conclusion is that sections 134 and 299 are not mutually exclusive or contradictory. Rather, Section 299 supports and complements section 134. To show this distinctiveness, FCT has never conducted any elections, either for gubernatorial candidates or state Houses of Assembly members, as done by states. Rather, under Section 301 of the Constitution, the FCT is governed by the President with an appointed Minister as his proxy in the form of Minister of the FCT. Likewise, the FCT does not have its own state House of Assembly, but legislates through the National Assembly. This, therefore, speaks to its distinct status, which is not affected by section 299.” However, many stakeholders still believe that whether or not a presidential candidate must win the FCT before being declared as winner of the election remains an issue that the Supreme Court must rule over to have a definite stand.
Major opposition party’s verdict
Following the outcome of the election, the candidates of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, and that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, have both decided to challenge the result in court, saying there were a lot of irregularities, ranging from non-compliance, non- uploading of results in real-time and other issues. On March 3, the Appeal Court granted the request of both the candidates of LP and PDP for permission to inspect the materials used for the election, including the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). However, on Wednesday, March 8, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party claimed that INEC had refused to allow his party to inspect the electoral materials and as such he was heading to court with his lawyers. It is going to be a legal battle of SANs as all the candidates laying claim to the presidency have assembled teams of highly and eminently qualified lawyers to defend them. APC has assembled a team of 13 SANs led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi, Labour Party 20, and Atiku Abubakar listed 19 SANs.
Observers and civil society’s reports
Local and international observers that monitored the presidential and National Assembly elections stated in their different reports that the exercise was largely marred by irregularities and that some pockets of violence were recorded in some parts of the country. According to the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), the outcome of the election was not surprising to them as it claimed to have earlier observed undemocratic tendencies during the pre-election phase. The group in a report issued after the exercise and signed by its chairman, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) said their observation was centered on the level of peace and security, BVAs, iReV, and voting process among others witnessed during the election. On peace and security, the group said that the general conduct of the election across the country was peaceful in most parts, as voting occurred without recourse to violence. Notably, this was also largely occasioned by the deployment of security personnel across the country. Despite these gains, TMG in some cases observed incidences of voter intimidation and suppression, particularly in Lagos and Rivers states. In Lagos for instance, voters were threatened by thugs to vote for a certain party and candidate or stay away from voting completely. Voter intimidation and suppression were also evident in the violent conduct and disruption of polls as recorded in these two states where political thugs carted away, burnt or destroyed election materials. On the voting process, BVAs and iRev, the group reported that the voting process was smooth in some polling units, there were reports of widespread polling irregularities bordering around malfunction of the BVAS device, poor deployment of sensitive materials, late commencement of the proceeding and outright absence of INEC staff in a number of polling units across the country. The group also said that they noticed some level of compliance with the electoral act provision for voter accreditation using the BVAS device, however, it noted that there were widespread reports of failure to transmit polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal. The group further observed on the credibility level of disparity in the National Assembly and presidential election outcomes. They noted that the National Assembly election where incumbent governors and serving members of parliament contested and lost across political parties and across the country, from that of the presidential elections points further to the efficacy of the system applied as it should be. TMG believes that this was a direct manipulation of the outcome of the presidential election. In moving forward, TMG recommended to INEC in achieving free, fair, credible, and transparent elections in the future. Some of the recommendations listed by the group include: strict adherence to the Electoral Act 2022, punishment of electoral offenders under the law to dissuade others from perpetrating electoral offenses, review all evidence of electoral malpractices presented before it and that impunity of state governments during elections must be addressed through legal means to reduce their electoral malpractices and political party and processes must be reformed to tackle issues of money bags and godfatherism in Nigeria’s politics. The election monitoring group in its judgment concluded that the conduct of the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections was poor, especially the insistence of the commission to jettison immediate result transmission from polling units across the country. This singular act they said has given room for suspicion of human interference and manipulation of results and could truncate the will of the people as freely expressed at the poll. Also, other civil society organisations that monitored the exercise condemned INEC for not sticking to its earlier promise that the results of the votes cast will be uploaded in real-time to the iReV. In a chat with New Telegraph, Philip Jakpor, director of programs, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) said a lot of people, especially the youths who have high expectations about the election and who are first-time voters relied largely on what INEC said that votes collated will be uploaded, but which did not happen in many polling centers during the presidential election. According to Jakpor, there were cases of thuggery, ballot box snatching, intimidation, and delay in uploading the collated results. He said all these contributed to deflating the hopes that the election would be free and fair. He, however, noted some level of improvement in the election that must be commended. “Even though there were cases of financial inducement, it was not widespread as it used to be, all thanks to the naira redesign and swap policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).”
Governorship election postponed
In his view, Jakpor said INEC still has time to redeem its image by ensuring that the governorship and state houses of assembly elections that have now been postponed to March 18 are held in line with its promise to upload the results in real-time as this would re-assure citizens, especially the youths that they can trust the system. For improvement in subsequent elections, he said INEC could start with massive education on the details of the Electoral Act as well as its own guidelines. He also urged the commission to ensure that errant INEC staff faces sanctions and this should be done transparently and must be seen to be transparent. For the citizenry, he said that they should cling to hope that a free and fair election is still possible.
For YIAGA Africa, the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections was a missed opportunity for the electoral body and Nigerians at large. The group which claim to have deployed 3, 014 observers in pairs to a representative random sample of 1,507 polling units, 822 mobile observers in all 774 local government areas (LGAs), in the 36 states and the FCT said the factors like serious logistical and technological shortcomings, non-compliance with the electoral guidelines, lack of transparency and manipulation of election results undermine public confidence in INEC and the overall outcome of the elections. According to the group, INEC failed to deploy and conduct elections in 13 of the sampled polling units across Adamawa, Taraba, Jigawa, Katsina, Anambra, Imo, Cross River, and Delta states, a situation the organization said the inability of the INEC to conduct elections in that polling unit denied voters the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. The group also expressed concern about the delay in uploading polling unit results for the presidential election on the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV). According to the group, only 73% of the polling unit-level results have been uploaded as at March 1, the inability to have 100% of results uploaded, cast doubts on the credibility of the results management process resulting in broken public trust in electoral technology. According to the election monitoring group, the failure to upload results on the iRev is a flagrant disregard of INEC’s regulations and guidelines
Inconsistencies in election results
The Head of Election, YIAGA Africa, Mr. Seun James, said there were inconsistencies and discrepancies in results obtained at the state level and the one declared by INEC for the presidential results in Imo and Rivers State. According to him, in Rivers, INEC announced 231,591 votes for APC or 44.2% , 175, 071 for LP or 33.4% and 88, 468 for PDP or 16.9%.
This they said is in sharp contrast with WTV estimates for Rivers which are: APC 21.7% ±5.0%; LP 50.8% ±10.6%; and for PDP 22.2% ±6.5%. For Imo, INEC announced 66,406 for APC or 14.2%; 360,495 for LP or 77.1%; and 30,234 for PDP or 6.5%.
Again, this is at variance with the YIAGA Africa WTV estimates for Imo which are: APC 5.1 ±2.3%; LP 88.1% ±3.8%; and PDP 5.7% ±2.3%. James said with the outcome of the exercise, INEC cannot justify the essence of receiving the humongous sum of N355bn that it got to conduct the election, while also stating that the turnout of voters was the worst in the history of Nigeria. He said out of the 93.4m registered voters with 87.2m Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) collected, only 25. 2m voters voted representing 26% of the total registered voters. He attributed the low turnout to the late commencement of the election in most polling units, the inefficiency of the working performance of the BVAs, unfriendly attitude of some of the INEC staff.
A comprehensive audit and investigation to unravel the factors that led to the delay in the upload of election results on the online portal is critical. Persons found complicit in sabotaging critical aspect of the election should be sanctioned. According to YIAGA Africa, “INEC should clarify the inconsistencies in some of the results especially Presidential election results from Rivers and Imo states “INEC should provide clarifications on its interpretation of key aspects of the legal framework on issues like results collation and transmission process, the threshold for determining the winner in an election, and the commission’s power to review election results declared under duress or in contravention of the Electoral Act, INEC guidelines and Manual.” Once again, incremental reforms have failed to inspire confidence in the electoral commission and the electoral process. The inconsistencies in presidential election results for states like Imo and Rivers make abundantly clear drastic steps are now needed and INEC must be fundamentally reformed. “INEC must have authority over its state structures and have ultimate responsibility for the conduct of elections.”
Despite the position of some civil society organisations and election observers who are not happy with the conduct of the election, there are also some stakeholders who are sharply opposed to their position. Some observers believe that the presidential and National Assembly elections was well organised and an improvement on previous elections conducted by the electoral umpire. According to Adepeju Adeogun, a development expert, at Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), the election was very peaceful in her location and the violence expected that created some initial apprehension from the citizens, didn’t happen. She said despite the cash crunch people still came out en masse to exercise their franchise without any form of harassment or intimidation. Olu’Seun Esan, Senior Program Advisor, Kimpact Development Initiative (KIMPACT)- an election monitoring group, said the introduction of BVAS and iRev into the electoral process was a good initiative by INEC and should be commended. Esan said he was impressed by the electoral umpire for keeping to their words and not postponing the election as some people had anticipated. According to him, there were less incidences of human rights abuse during the election as compared to what usually happen in the past where cases of human rights violations, arrest of innocent voters, and maltreatment of citizens were rife. He commended INEC for the level of security witnessed during the exercise as the combined 240,000 security officials brought into the system, covered the polling unit sufficiently, adding that most of the security officials got to their polling units as early as 7 am to get ready for the business of the day. It was the same situation for Giwa Qudus, an independent observer, who said the election was rancor-free and no form of voter suppression was noticed in the polling units he observed. According to him, it was a peaceful exercise and there was no exchange of money for votes in the polling units he observed.
World leaders congratulate president-elect
World leaders including the President of France, the Prime minister of the United Kingdom, and presidents of Kuwait, Ukraine, South Africa, among others have congratulated the president-elect, Ahmed Bola Tinubu The government of the United States of America also congratulated Tinubu on his victory and urged the electoral body to fix lapses observed in the election so as to forestall recurrences.
“First, the United States congratulates the people of Nigeria, President-elect Tinubu, and all political leaders following the declaration by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, on the results of the February 25th presidential election. This competitive election represents a new period for Nigerian politics and democracy.
“Each of the top three candidates was the leading vote-getter in 12 states, a remarkable first in Nigeria’s modern political era, reflecting the diversity of views that characterised the campaign and the wishes of Nigeria’s voters,” Ned Price, US department of state spokesperson said in a statement. “We understand that many Nigerians and some of the parties have expressed frustration about the manner in which the process was conducted and the shortcomings of technical elements that were used for the first time in a presidential election cycle in Nigeria. “Nigerians are clearly within their rights to have such concerns and should have high expectations for their electoral processes. We join other international observers in urging INEC to improve in the areas that need the most attention ahead of the March 11 gubernatorial elections.”