President Buhari promised Nigerians that he was going to leave them with a farewell gift- a free, fair, and credible election. This pledge coupled with the passage of the new electoral act into law excited many people and they were determined that these assurance was enough reasons for their votes to count.
The report from previous polls had always been that there was widespread voters’ aparthy in the country, because no election has recorded anything above a 60% turnout from the electorates. This time around, the narratives were different as several political parties combed the length and breadth of the country canvassing for votes, urging people to come out en-masse and vote for the candidate of their choice.
The electoral umpire, INEC, having secured an unprecedented budget of N300 billion promised to conduct the best-ever election in the nation’s history. The commission’s chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, stressed that BIVAS machines would be employed at the polls to curb rigging and other electoral malpractices. The device scans voters’ identity cards and accreditates them before they can cast their ballot. Also, he added that with the new electoral law, it was mandatory that INEC transmits results electronically from the polling unit to the commission’s server – iREV.
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Furthermore, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and other security outfits assured citizens that they were fully prepared to provide adequate security cover at all the polling units in the federation. A few days before the presidential election, members of the armed forces moved in their droves, alongside their armour tanks, to various states of the country, including potential hot spots like Lagos and South-Eastern states. Citizens were overjoyed with all these preparations and show of force displayed by the nation’s security apparatus, and they believed that a credible election was indeed possible. How wrong they were!
In contrast to what Nigerians expected at the polls, it was a big shock when voters realised how ill-prepared INEC was for an election they had four years to plan for. Electoral materials arrived very late at some locations in the country, and in some places, elections didn’t take place at all because INEC officials were nowhere to be found. At other polling units, INEC ran out of ink for voters to thumbprint with, and there were also reported cases of underage voting in the north.
To add insult to injury, INEC officials refused to transmit results from the polling unit, as enshrined in the electoral acts and as promised by the commission’s chairman on many occasions. Results were taken to the local government collation centres, and later to the state’s collation centres before they were manually collated at the national collation centre, Abuja. Before results got to each of these centres, the obvious thing had happened – the results had been tampered with.
I remember arguing with INEC officials at my polling unit about why they were not uploading the results to the server, but before they could offer any tangible response, they were whisked away by security details who took them to the local government. Similar reports emanated from other polling units where the polling officers complained of not having the password to the iREV portal. In other places, the report was that superior officers ordered them not to transmit results from the polling unit.
The first day of March 2023 was a rather gloomy day for most Nigerians after INEC announced the candidate of the APC as President-elect while telling aggrieved parties, Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, and others, to go to court. A kind of cold shocking waves passed through the entire country, and it felt like the citizens were mourning.
There was a lot of tension in the country as members of the opposition parties, including PDP, LP rejected the election outcome. Some others called for the resignation of the INEC chairman over what many consider a flawed election. Civil society groups were not left out as they questioned the integrity of the electoral umpire, accusing it of votes allocation instead of votes collation. Tempers boiled, and Nigeria was on the edge.
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However, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party addressed a press conference, pleading with his followers to shun violence insisting that he was determined to contest the result of the polls. He petitioned the courts, asking INEC to grant him access to inspect electoral materials.
Meanwhile, in a twist of events, INEC prayed the court to grant the commission permission to reconfigure BIVAS ahead of the governorship elections; a move which saw the gubernatorial elections postponed by one week. There were fears from some quarters that INEC was going to tamper with the information in the BIVAS, but the court granted INEC permission anyways.
During the governorship election in Lagos state and a few other places, there was widespread violence, with political thugs maiming and intimidating voters who did not support the ruling party. When Babajide Sanwo-Olu thanked Lagosians for reelecting him as governor, famous musician and activist, Fal-Z replied, “you selected yourself.”
The Department of State Security (DSS) also raised an alarm of a plot by politicians who are against the swearing-in of Bola Tinubu to setup up an interim government. The vast majority of stakeholders have condemned this.
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The Labour Party and other aggrieved political parties are in court to contest the 2023 election results. It remains to be seen whether justice would be served on not, as allegations of the Chief Justice of Nigeria flying into London and disguising to hold a secret meeting with the president-elect flooded social media. The CJN office reacted quickly, stating that Chief Justice Olukayode Ariwoola was only in London for a medical trip but was back in the country.
INEC’s credibility has been called into question time and time again. There is a lot of doubts surrounding the emergence of Bola Tinubu as President-elect since he didn’t meet the statutory 25% in the FCT. Without a doubt, no well-meaning and truthful Nigerian would call the 2023 election anything near free, fair or even credible.
INEC’s performance was shambolic to say the least, after spending N300 billion. It shows that the nation still has a long way to go in conducting credible polls. Will the verdict of the election petition tribunal restore the lost confidence Nigerians have in the judiciary? Only time will tell.