The international community must help Nigeria make the best of an imperfect situation.
The just concluded Nigerian election will not pass the test of purity. It was marked by numerous irregularities, including the late arrival of polling material at polling stations, frustrating technical hitches, and scattered incidents of violence, among them numerous cases of voter intimidation by party agents and random miscreants. Evidence suggests that these logistical hiccups and scattered acts of lawlessness were more or less national in character.
Citing these disruptions and irregularities, some have been quick to suggest that the vote be canceledoutright and rescheduled for a time when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will presumably be in finer logistical fettle. As results trickled in from across the country, former president Obasanjo asked President Muhammadu Buhari to step in and cancel all elections that did not meet “the credibility and transparency test.” Just before INEC finished the collation of results from across the states and declared Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the presidential election, representatives of the two main opposition parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) also sought to pre-empt the announcement by calling for the election’s cancelation and INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu to step down.
While the anger and disappointment of those calling for cancelation may be understandable, their demand is both unlawful and irresponsible. Nigerian electoral laws are very clear as to what should happen if a candidate in an election has a legitimate grievance; nowhere in the relevant statutes is there an allowance for cancelation. Accordingly, the choice before Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi is clear: concede and congratulate Mr. Tinubu, or seek legal remedy.
While the many blemishes of the election may be freely admitted, in INEC’s defense, it should be remembered that it was conducted against a backdrop of mounting insecurity, chronic fuel shortages, a poorly timed cash-swap policy that left ordinary Nigerians bereft of cash, as well as a general atmosphere of uncertainty. Measured against these odds, and considering the underlying political tensions in the country, INEC would seem in fact to have exceeded expectations. The commission’s credibility among the Nigerian public has been consistently high, and we may rightly expect it to remain so once the dust settles. There is no question that it needs help, especially with regard to technological adaptation and personnel training, but its indignant portrayal as an irredeemably compromised handmaiden of the incumbent could not be further from the truth.
Nor does the pattern of results from an election which produced as many upsets as affirmations support insinuations of orchestrated rigging. For example, while, as expected, Tinubu, Abubakar and Obi won handily in their respective ethnic strongholds, Obi surprisingly prevailed over Tinubu in Lagos, the latter’s political fiefdom, while Buhari’s status as president was not enough to prevent the loss of his home state of Katsina to Abubakar, who also snatched Osun State from under Tinubu’s nose. Nor could many northern APC governors, otherwise steadfast in their support for Tinubu, prevent Abubakar, Obi, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) from claiming victory in their respective states. Abubakar’s running mate, Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, lost his state to Obi.
On the contrary, the first impression is of an election that hints at new realities and alignments in Nigerian politics. For one thing, it has settled the question as to the viability of a third-party candidacy. The candidate of the incumbent APC may have won, but the era of the APC-PDP duopoly, in place since the return to civil rule in 1999, seems over. For another, it has onboarded a new coalition of young Nigerians who rightly bristle at the outsize influence of the old guard. Early indications are that this coalition will remain influential for the foreseeable future. To translate that influence into political success, the coalition will have to extend its scope beyond its current spatial and regional comfort zone. Its being locked in a bubble is one of the many reasons why it saw only the strengths of its platform and none of its weaknesses.
In his acceptance speech, the president elect extended an olive branch to the opposition. They should close ranks with Mr. Tinubu and accept it for the greater good. Western governments and the international community should assist the Buhari administration in facilitating a peaceful transition of power. The country can ill afford a repeat of the crisis similar to the one that it spiraled into back in June 1993 when the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida abrogated a presidential election when it was on the cusp of producing a clear winner.
The election may not have been a paragon of execution, but there is no resemblance to the sham that a section of the opposition seems determined to portray it as.