The controversy surrounding the conduct and outcome of Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election showed no sign of abating last week, just as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) disagreed over who won the election.
Lawal, a former close ally of President Bola Tinubu, had stated in a strong worded statement last week that available factual data as aggregated from several independent sources indicated that Peter Obi, candidate of the Labour Party (LP) got the majority votes, while Atiku Abubakar candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came second and Tinubu was third.
The APC in a swift response disagreed with him, the party said Lawal’s claims were biased and fuelled by personal sentiments.
The APC believed that Lawal’s bitterness stemmed from a previous matter, stating that it was from the his failure to land the vice president ticket during the lead-up to the February poll.
But reacting to the scathing remark, the former SGF carpeted Tinubu and the APC for allegedly transitioning the ruling party from its national party status at inception to the present Islamic party.
He added that some key allies of President Tinubu had reached out to him following his statement that Obi won.
Lawal’s comment has elicited mixed reactions across the country in recent days.
Some Nigerians who are supporters of President Tinubu took to social media to berate the former SGF for his comment, saying that he appeared to have lost his mind.
But some supporters of Obi agreed with him that the election was rigged.
The comment by the former SGF added fuel to a lingering controversy which trailed the conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Currently Tinubu’s two main opponents are in the Supreme Court challenging his victory.
Despite promises by INEC, many Nigerians felt disappointed that the 2023 election fell short of their expectations.
Meanwhile, considering that Lawal was a member of the inner caucus of Tinubu before his emergence as APC presidential candidate, he may have understood the operational modus of the caucus and how they must have perfected their plans to win the general election.
However, political analyst Kunle Okunade said Lawal’s recent comment was mainly of personal battle rather than Obi’s battle.
“His recent remark which sparked reaction from the APC, for me, was mainly of personal battle rather than Obi’s battle. I want to believe that Babachir is still nursing the wound of not being considered as running mate in the general election.
“And I want to believe that is why the Obi/Datti movement did not interfere in their controversy. You know, politicians always want to leverage on sentiment when fighting their own personal battle,” Okunade said.
He added that although Lawal’s said the truth about the state of the nation and how the Tinubu’s administration has led the nation so far, his recent comment on the insensitivity of the administration and the ruling APC concerning religion, ethnicity and nepotism are genuine concerns.
“There are points of concern from what he said, but the fact remains that Babachir is still nursing the pain of not being nominated as running mate,” he added.
Dotun Femi, public affairs analyst, noted that Lawal should be commended for coming out to say his mind on the outcome of the presidential poll, even though it could be because his candidate lost out.
The public affairs analyst said some of the issues raised by the former SGF were a source of concern.
“He said before the election that same-faith was not fair to Northern Christians considering the discrimination they are facing, but no one cares.
“I respect him; how many top politicians or leaders have come out to speak on the manipulation that took place in the presidential poll?” Femi asked.
Similarly, Onuke Obinna, public affairs analyst, said the issues raised by Lawal in his statement should be a source of soul searching for the ruling party and the Tinubu’s administration, noting that it was obvious that the APC had been hijacked.
“Some of the issues raised by Lawal are worth pondering by the ruling party, I don’t think the ruling party is on the right track, obviously you can see that some people have hijacked the party and you can see where it is headed.
This administration does not appear to know what they are doing either, he was part of them, so he may know what he is saying,” Onuke said.
Lawal had fallen out with the APC and threatened to leave the party, after it became obvious that President Tinubu had settled for Kashim Shettima as his running mate in a same-faith ticket, he subsequently joined the LP to work for Obi’s presidential bid.
The former AGF had lamented that he and others backed Tinubu to emerge as the APC flagbearer, but they later realized he had been hiding his decision to pick a Muslim running mate from them.
He had asserted that Tinubu would not win the 2023 presidential election as a result of the Muslim-Muslim ticket fielded by the ruling party.
He had lamented about the discrimination Northern Christians were currently facing.
“The discrimination shown to Christians in the North is too much for them, and you still went ahead to do Muslim-Muslim ticket; that is double blows on us.
“You see the problem of the northerners, If you say you are a Christian, it is difficult for us to get a job.
“You see, of the 27 universities in the North, there are only two Christian VCs and of 27 polytechnics there are only two Christian rectors, that’s federal, but not to talk of state-owned.”
Lawal was suspended as the SGF by former President Muhammadu Buhari on 19 April 2017, and was officially relieved of all duties on 30 October 2017, for misappropriating funds intended for alleviating the food crisis in Nigeria’s North East, caused largely by Boko Haram.
He was subsequently tried at the Federal High Court in Abuja by the Economic and Financial Commission EFCC, who accused him and six others of stealing N500 million in the so-called grass cutting scandal.
However, on November, 28, 2022, the court discharged and acquitted him and the five others from charges bordering on N544m contract fraud filed against them by the EFCC.
The Court held that the EFCC failed to establish a case against the ex-SGF and his co-defendants.
This 2023 polls election was seen as Nigeria’s most technologically advanced with INEC deploying an electronic voter accreditation system and results viewing portal that would enhance transparency and accessibility.
The high expectations over voter transparency saw millions register to vote, and an almost 50% increase in the number of polling units since the last election in 2019