After relatively free and fair elections in March 2015, which saw the All Progressives Congress (APC) assume power for the first time, it has been one scruffy and distasteful election after another since then.
Determined to hold on to the power that was uneventfully relinquished to them by former president Goodluck Jonathan, who conceded victory after being defeated in the polls that year, the APC and its leadership have shown nothing but contempt for transparent elections ever since.
The 2023 general elections that brought Bola Tinubu into office as president along with a wave of governors and legislators into government, have long been ridiculed as nothing but a travesty; an assault on everything moral and decent about elections and electioneering in Nigeria.
It was nothing but a disgraceful outing by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu who failed to organise transparent elections after collecting N355 billion ($780 million) from taxpayers, and vowed to organise elections Nigerians would be proud of.
Just as in 2019, Yakubu and his INEC failed to fulfil its very expensive promise to Nigerians. The outcome of INEC’s failure left many without any sense of an achievement, or of hope. Celebrations were quiet and unenergetic.
A day after the February presidential vote, former president Olusegun Obasanjo alleged that some INEC officials had sabotaged the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Server for transmission of results from polling units.
“It is no secret that INEC officials, at operational level, have been allegedly compromised to make what should have worked not to work and to revert to manual transmission of results, which is manipulated and the results doctored.
“The chairman of INEC may claim ignorance but he cannot fold his hands and do nothing when he knows that election process has been corrupted and most of the results that are brought outside BVAS and Server are not true reflection of the will of Nigerians who have made their individual choice,” Mr. Obasanjo had warned.
International observers including the Joint Election Observation Mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), led by former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, declared that the election fell short of the reasonable expectations of Nigerians.
According to the 40-member delegation of the two United States institutes, logistical challenges and multiple incidents of political violence overshadowed the electoral process and impeded a substantial number of voters from participating.
“At the close of the polls,” the delegation posited, “challenges with electronic transfer of results and their upload to a public portal in a timely manner, undermined citizens’ confidence at a crucial moment of the process.
Inadequate communication and lack of transparency by INEC created confusion and eroded voters’ trust in the process
“Moreover, inadequate communication and lack of transparency by INEC created confusion and eroded voters’ trust in the process,” they had further said.
Undaunted by the repertoire of criticisms, the ruling APC and INEC, dismissed local and global excoriation of the polls as jaundiced and the bellyaching of political opponents of the party and its presidential candidate.
The final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission, EOM, that monitored the February 25th national and March 18th state elections was released in the last week of June.
The report affirmed the prevailing sentiments of the mainstream electorate that the elections were tainted by fraud and violence. It also called out INEC for ill-managing the votes.
According to the EOM, “the 2023 general elections did not ensure a well-run transparent, and inclusive democratic process as assured by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged during the presidential poll and was not restored in state level elections, leading civil society to call for an independent audit of the entire process. The pre-poll environment was volatile and challenging, affected by economic crises.
“Fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were broadly respected, yet the full enjoyment of the latter was impeded by insecurity in some parts of the country. Abuse of incumbency by various political office holders distorted the playing field and wide-spread vote buying detracted from an appropriate conduct of the elections. Incidents of organised violence shortly before and on election days in several states created an environment deterring voter’s participation
“The overall outcome of the polls attests to the continued underrepresentation of marginalised groups in political life. Positively, candidates and parties disputing outcomes took their complaints to the courts, although the number of such cases was extensive,” the EU report said.
Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital was the cynosure of disquieting attention as state-affiliated violent groups attacked voters of Igbo origin and those who looked like Igbos. During the election, some thugs believed to be loyal to the APC, warned Igbos against coming out to vote.
Bayo Onanuga, a spokesman for Mr. Tinubu shockingly yet shamelessly telegraphed vituperative and acidic anti-Igbo messages after Mr. Tinubu had lost the state to the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi in the presidential elections.
“Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027. Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, and any Nigerian state. It is not No Man’s Land, not Federal Capital Territory. It is Yoruba land. Mind your business,” Onanuga had pointlessly threatened.
MC Oluomo, a close associate of president Tinubu was recorded on video threatening Igbo voters, about the dire consequences of not voting the APC.
INEC’s failure was exasperating to voters and to most Nigerians. It was a woeful outing by an organisation that many suspected of collusion and corruption, but were willing to give the benefit of doubt. Armed with N355 billion, INEC promised bulky sweet nothings and delivered in microscopic proportions.
In November 2022, Mahmood Yakubu, vowed that INEC will not reverse its decision to use Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) for the 2023 general elections. The introduction of BVAS and IReV, a technology to upload election results in real time, he said, was to ensure a free, fair and credible election.
“There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 General Election,” Mr Yakubu had said.
The introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV), the European Observer Mission noted, “was widely seen as an important step to ensure the integrity and credibility of the elections. In practice, multiple missteps and lack of transparency before the polls, compounded by severely delayed display of presidential result forms, dashed the public trust in election technologies used.
“INEC failed to give a timely and comprehensive explanation for the failures on 25 February, hence the improved online display of results forms from the 18 March state elections just fuelled further speculations about what exactly caused the delays after the presidential poll.
President Bola Tinubu has since rejected the report of the European Union Election Observation Mission, describing it as “a product of a poorly done desk job.”
According to Presidential spokesperson Dele Alake, the EU did not provide any substantial evidence viable enough to question the integrity of the 2023 election outcomes.
“We strongly reject, in its entirety, any notion and idea from any organisation, group and individual remotely suggesting that the 2023 election was fraudulent,” Mr. Alake said. He further said the 2023 general elections, most especially the presidential election, won by Mr Tinubu were credible, peaceful, free, fair and the best organised general elections in Nigeria since 1999.
Most Nigerians would not agree with his jaded conclusion about the 2023 polls. While Mr. Tinubu is duty bound to defend his conquest in the court of public opinion, his opinions do not however align with the facts on the ground.
Many would also define his objections to the EOM report as immoral and amoral.
It was a poorly conducted election characterised by violence and fraud. Mr. Tinubu and the ruling APC benefited from the violence and fraud. This was well memorialised.
As the EOM observed, “overall, divisive rhetoric with ethnic and religious undertones led to increased polarisation. The EU EOM recorded 101 violent incidents during the campaign, including at least 74 fatalities. Assassination attempts and killings increased closer to the polls, creating a particularly insecure environment in the southern states. In several northern states, systematic attacks by political thugs on rallies and political opponents were observed. Use of violence obstructed the campaign, disturbed the elections, and suppressed voter participation.
“Campaigning was also distorted by an influx of unrecorded money and despite campaign finance being comprehensively regulated the law appears largely ineffective. EU EOM observers received reports of and saw widespread distribution of goods and vote buying. Several state agencies tried to tackle corrupt practices, yet their results were modest. This is evidence that political will, enhanced institutional capacity, and robust enforcement synergy are needed to ensure transparency and genuine accountability”.
The EOM report, like other major reports of observers that monitored the 2023 general elections, speaks loudly against Nigeria and Nigeria’s penchant for corrupting its elections. It is a loud censure that aligns with the denunciation of the outcome especially of the presidential elections as well as the governorship elections in some states.
It is unlikely that the government will take the reports as teachable lessons to aid the conduct of future elections in the country.
After all, Nigeria’s politicians and election managers never learn.