Last year, in his speech at Chatham House, the London-based international affairs think tank, Bola Tinubu made a profound statement that has come back to haunt him, casting a dark cloud over his recent declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as the winner of February’s presidential election.
In the speech, Tinubu said that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, required under the Electoral Act 2022, would deliver “the fairest and freest election” in Nigeria’s history. Then, he added: “This is particularly important because the next president of Nigeria have some tough choices to make and will not be able to do so with questionable electoral mandate.”
That was profound and true. But here we are. Despite what’s widely acknowledged as a fundamentally flawed presidential election, devoid of the anticipated use of BVAS, Tinubu says he has a “serious mandate” just because he’s the beneficiary of the sham poll, the worst presidential election since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999.
But, here’s the truth. As Tinubu said in his Chatham House speech, because INEC failed to use the BVAS technology as intended, both for voter authentication and electronic transmission of results, and because, as a result of this failure, the presidential election of February 25 was not free and fair, let alone being “the fairest and freest” in Nigeria, Tinubu has a questionable mandate, and lacks legitimacy to govern this country.
We will return to the legitimacy issue in a moment. But first, a flashback. As regular readers of this column will recall, I repeatedly warned that a Tinubu victory would bring Nigeria huge international embarrassment. Well, I was right. The reactions of the international community, especially of Western media, have been quite negative. Take a few examples.
Sadly, Nigeria’s Supreme Court lacks the independence and courage, it seems, to cancel a presidential poll, however fundamentally and materially flawed
In the London Times, Tinubu was described as “a wealthy kleptocrat”, whose election means that Nigeria “has replaced Muhammadu Buhari, an ailing northern octogenarian Muslim with a reputation for financial propriety, with an ailing southern septuagenarian Muslim with a reputation for lavish spending and corruption.” In the Financial Times, a report says Tinubu “faced allegations of corruption and questions about his vast wealth”, as well as a drug-related criminal forfeiture in the United States. In diplomatic circles, there are talks about doubts over his pedigree; his age, origins and education.
Of course, such negative global perception of the integrity and character of Tinubu, a putative president, will hugely tarnish Nigeria’s international reputation and significantly damage the confidence of foreign investors in this country. But the adverse global perception of Tinubu and its negative impact on Nigeria would now be worsened by the abysmal conduct of the presidential election and Tinubu’s questionable electoral mandate.
Which brings us back to legitimacy. Now, we mustn’t confuse constitutional technicalities with legitimacy. Something can be technically constitutional but lack legitimacy. But, ultimately, it’s legitimacy, not mere constitutional technicalities, that guarantees lasting peace and stability in a country. So, what’s legitimacy?
Scholars distinguish between process or input legitimacy and outcome or output legitimacy. The former relates to the fairness, transparency and credibility of a process; the latter concerns the equity, justice and reasonableness of an outcome. On both counts, Tinubu’s purported victory in last month’s presidential poll woefully fails the most basic tests.
Take process legitimacy. Every objective observer agrees that the process of the presidential election was fundamentally flawed, with INEC’s failure to use the BVAS as anticipated, particularly failing to transmit results electronically and upload them on the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal. INEC itself has admitted that “issues of logistics, election technology and behaviour of election personnel at different levels” (for which read their connivance with electoral fraud) adversely affected the presidential election. Consequentially, the manifold irregularities eroded the credibility of the poll and the official results.
At just 27%, the turnout was the lowest since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999. Why? Well, blame widespread voter suppression by political thugs, INEC’s operational failure and, of course, President Buhari’s misguided currency redesign policy, which, rather than stopping politicians from bribing voters and INEC officials and mobilising political thugs, actually stopped countless people from voting due to a cash shortage.
But beyond the voting disarray, there were significant irregularities with the counting of votes and transmission of results. The common view is that many of the results announced by INEC didn’t match those from the polling units.
For instance, Yiaga Africa, the election-monitoring NGO, said that Peter Obi, not Tinubu, won Rivers State. It said Obi won 50.8% of the votes, not INEC’s figure of 33.3%, while Tinubu won 21.7%, not INEC’s 44.2%. So, if you take Rivers State from Tinubu’s tally and add it to Obi’s, then Tinubu’s only won 11 states, while Obi won 12 plus Abuja. Truth is, images suggesting that many of INEC’s official results didn’t match those at the polling units fundamentally undermine the credibility of the election and the legitimacy of Tinubu’s mandate.
The Economist magazine says that Tinubu won “a flawed election after a chaotically organised vote and messy count.” In an editorial titled “Nigeria’s badly flawed election fails to set an example”, the Financial Times says that “if Tinubu’s victory is challenged, the court should take a long hard look.” But would the judiciary?
In 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified a presidential election even after world leaders had congratulated the “winner”, yet heavens didn’t fall. The same thing happened in Malawi in 2020. Sadly, Nigeria’s Supreme Court lacks the independence and courage, it seems, to cancel a presidential poll, however fundamentally and materially flawed.
Which brings us to outcome legitimacy. Truth be told, even if the court upholds Tinubu’s “victory”, he doesn’t have outcome legitimacy. Think about it. He won only 37% of the vote, the lowest winner’s share since 1999. More people voted against him (16m) than for him (8.8m). He won only 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. He lost Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre, and Abuja, Nigeria’s political capital. Tell me, where’s Tinubu’s “serious mandate”?
Now, does Tinubu have a mandate for a Muslim-Muslim presidency? Absolutely not. You need massive support to claim a mandate for something so divisive in a diverse country. Yet, across the country, North and South, Nigerians overwhelmingly rejected Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket: 16m voted against it; 8.8m for it. Even Kashim Shettima, Tinubu’s Muslim running mate was humiliated. Tinubu won only one of the six states in the North-East, Shettima’s zone; only two of the seven states in the North-West, the core Muslim North!
Read also: What should Tinubu’s agenda be?
Of course, those relying purely on constitutional technicalities would say Tinubu has a mandate for a Muslim-Muslim presidency. But how can 8.8m, who voted for his agenda, be more important than 16m, who rejected it? The Muslim-North, Christian-North, Christian-South and, indeed, Muslim-South (take Osun and Lagos States, with large Muslim populations) rejected Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim agenda. So, where’s the legitimacy?
Similarly, Tinubu, a Yoruba, lacks inter-ethnic legitimacy. He won no state in the South-East; only one (Rivers), by hook or by crook, in the South-South; and just seven of the North’s nineteen states, some marginally! Tinubu was overwhelmingly rejected across Nigeria. So, where’s his “serious mandate”?
Those “elder statesmen” who rushed to congratulate Tinubu, instead of warning him about his flawed “mandate” and the moral burden he carries, are utterly misguided. General Ibrahim Babangida described Tinubu’s election as “a new dawn in Nigeria.” Really? The “evil genius”, the “Maradona”, was typically calling evil good, and good evil! He’s utterly wrong!
Truth is, if, after the court challenge, Tinubu eventually becomes president, he will face monumental, hydra-headed national crises, deepening Nigeria’s instability. Unfortunately, beyond constitutional technicalities, he lacks moral authority that comes from genuine mandate, from real legitimacy. Pity him!