Familiar challenges, but a new political landscape? - Reflections on the 2023 Nigerian presidential polls
The much-anticipated Nigerian presidential elections went ahead as planned on 25 February 2023. Domestic and international observers highlighted shortcomings in the process, particularly around logistics and technology, but acknowledged the relative lack of violence. Its aftermath sees Nigeria left with a president with a contested mandate, a redefined electoral landscape and increased citizen distrust in the electoral process.
Controversy surrounding the election results has led to both the second and third place contestants in the presidential race promising to continue their challenge in the courts and a wider loss of confidence in the electoral process, and the body in charge of managing it. The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) recruitment shortcomings and logistical challenges were apparent in the conduct of the elections.
Centre for Democracy and Development observers highlighted that officials were present before they were scheduled to open at 0830 in just 36.7% of polling units leading to delays in the start of the process. Challenges were also recorded as they related to the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, although resolutions, were on the whole, quickly found. However, the continued failure of INEC to overcome its logistical and capacity gaps, is also partly due to the structural issues the country faces, with fuel and naira scarcity, along with widespread insecurity impacting on planning and deployment during this election.
Nonetheless INEC did not do enough to reassure Nigerians of the integrity of the electoral process, which has led feelings of disillusionment among the populace to grow. New technology did not deliver a more transparent process, particularly during the collation of results. By 1100 on 9 March, over a week after the president-elect was declared, only 164,838 (93.21%) polling unit results out of a total of 176,846 were publicly available on INECs results viewing platform (IReV) despite the expectation and assurance that results would be uploaded to the platform as soon as they are declared at the polling unit level. The delayed reaction led to a concern that since evolved into fears of electoral malpractice.
INEC has borne the brunt of the information disorder online throughout this campaign, with efforts primarily focused on undermining its credibility. For example, one falsehood that circulated post-elections, proven to be false, was that after INEC uploaded results to IReV that showed Peter Obi was winning, it was forced to take them down and produce different results. However, INEC has also carried out poor crisis communications, and it has led to a proliferation of news and assertions about the process that has clouded the information landscape and helped with information disorder.
An altered landscape
Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, won the most votes in 11 states plus the federal capital territory (FCT) to come third in the election with 25.4% of ballots cast. The same number of states were also won by both winner, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and runner-up Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The three main parties each received at least 25% of the votes in 15 or more states, although only the APC reached the two-thirds constitutional threshold needed, in addition to the majority share, for victory.
This division reflected important shifts in the political landscape. States such as Rivers, Plateau and Yobe, which had voted for the same party in presidential polls since 1999 were won by a different party – APC, Labour Party and PDP respectively – for the first time in 2023. It is too early to say that these changes will be sustained, and National Assembly results give important nuance to suggest that presidential and sub-national votes may be cast differently, but they are notable nonetheless.
Will the performance of the Labour Party in the presidential elections influence the outcome of the gubernatorial polls in 28 states on 18 March? Despite its victory in 11 states plus FCT in the presidential poll, it has so far only won 35 House of Representative and seven Senate seats – less than 10% of the total – with 41 seats still to be declared. But could its strong performance in the presidential polls galvanise its supporters in gubernatorial races such as the one in Lagos, a state that Obi narrowly defeated Tinubu in on 25 February? There also remains the prospect of other state houses flipping to match the presidential result – which was already keenly divided in the first place. Such a change would lead to a more sustained re-alignment in national politics and, coupled with the resultant change in access to the revenues of several of the states, could change the fortunes of these parties and lead to a brave new world for Nigeria’s political parties.
Chukwuma Chinye Jnr. is a Researcher at the Centre for Democracy and Development