Even before the Nigerian presidential election results were released, the process had been denounced as flawed by some political leaders. After the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) subsequently declared that the ruling party’s Bola Tinubu had won, few were surprised that his two main rivals, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, announced they would lodge petitions against the results with the Court of Appeal. Both had good grounds for suspicion.
During the campaign, Tinubu appeared to be struggling. Unable to fully “inherit” the vote of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, successive opinion polls showed him in second place – with Obi often in the lead. Contrary to these projections, the official results gave Tinubu almost 8.8 million votes – 1.8 million more than Abubakar and 2.7 million more than Obi.
This raised serious questions about how Tinubu had been able to win a commanding victory from such a precarious position. Then there was the election itself. Far too many polling stations opened late, disenfranchising voters who wouldn’t or couldn’t queue all day.
According to the Yiaga domestic monitoring group, INEC officials arrived at 7:30 AM – when they were due to start setting up – in only 27% of cases.
The Centre for Democracy and Development also identified a range of problematic developments, including vote buying, violence and voter suppression. Worse still, Yiaga found significant discrepancies between their estimates and the official results in Rivers and Imo state.
Along with the fact that the digital portal set up to allow citizens to check polling station results failed to work effectively – with only 83% of results uploaded five days after the election – this made for a compelling narrative of manipulation in favour of Tinubu.
Short of expectations
The numerous problems led to unusually forthright statements by international observers. The US-based joint mission of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute concluded that the “election fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ reasonable expectations”, noting that overcrowding at polling stations meant that “the secrecy of the ballot was compromised”.
While recognising the challenging environment, the NDI/IRI group also laid considerable blame squarely at INEC’s door, saying “inadequate communication and lack of transparency” had “created confusion and eroded voters’ trust in the process”
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