Competitiveness, credibility of 2023 polls

By: Segun Ayobolu

It would appear from all indications that one of the key participants in Nigeria’s 2023 presidential elections, the Labour Party (LP), and its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, had a clear-cut and straightforward agenda to dictate the dominant narrative on the polls before and after the exercise. Before the elections, a number of sponsored and obviously flawed opinion polls had predicted an outright victory for Obi on February 25. In a worst-case scenario, they projected that the election would head for a run-off with Obi being one of the candidates that would qualify to participate in the supplementary poll.

Although many influential foreign media houses apparently accorded utmost seriousness to these polls, their empirical basis was largely entirely unreliable as succinctly explained by renowned senior lawyer and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, in a recent interview on Channels Television.
For one, the legal luminary submitted, the sample sizes of most of these polls were too limited to be of significant scientific value.

Again, questionnaires and inquiries were directed mostly at urban-based educated youths who were accessible on the phone while the no less substantial number of illiterate rural dwellers particularly in the North-West and North-East were neglected in the conduct of the opinion polls.

It was thus not surprising that the ultimate outcome of the presidential election, in which Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) emerged as the outright winner proved the utter distance of the predictions of the opinion polls from Nigeria’s political realities.

While Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came second in the election, Peter Obi’s LP emerged third although posting an impressive result given the fragility of the LP’s political structures across the country before the elections.

Rather than seeing Obi and the LP’s haul of 6,101,533 votes and his outright victory in 11 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as being indicative of the credibility of the election, local and international supporters of the LP have doubled down on the claim that their candidate won a decisive victory at the polls without demonstrating credibly how this could have been a probable outcome of the election.

While the winner of the contest, Bola Tinubu, recorded 8,794, 726 votes, the runner-up, Atiku Abubakar, scored 6,984,520 votes. Interestingly, even though both Atiku and Obi have filed their petitions against the results of the polls before the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal (PEPT), it is Obi who came third and his supporters that have been most vociferous in decrying the elections, which they insist the LP won.

Atiku led some members and key officers of the PDP on a one-day protest at the premises of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja and has, presumably, since abandoned that ultimately futile route to enable his lawyers diligently pursue his case before the Election Petition Tribunal.

Apologists of the Obidients and the LP have continued to stridently delegitimize the February 25 presidential election and denude it of all credibility and integrity by shouting themselves shrill that the exercise was massively rigged.

Challenged to demonstrate through empirical facts and impeccable logic how Obi could possibly have won the election especially given the kind of narrow ethnic, regional, and religious campaign that he ran, the LP candidate’s supporters respond with even more vehement assertions that Obi was the victim of a stolen mandate.

One narrative cavalierly peddled by the Obi/LP’s vociferous social media mob is that the February 25 presidential election was the worst ever in Nigeria’s history. Of course, this kind of ignorant statement can be readily forgiven and its purveyors advised to get better acquainted with their country’s political and electoral history.

Could these people who make these reckless and patently implausible claims have in mind, for instance, the 1964/1965 federal and Western Regional elections respectively? Any standard political science text on Nigerian politics contains accounts of those fraudulently manipulated elections in which the majority of candidates to various parliamentary seats were announced as as returned unopposed when their opponents had been denied the opportunity to obtain nomination forms by the electoral commission.

It was that stupefyingly rigged election, in which the immensely unpopular Samuel Ladoke Akintola government was riding back to power on the wings of superlative electoral fraud; an election in which leading members of the Akintola government in the Western Region had publicly boasted that the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) would win whether or not the people voted for them that Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, reacted to in the famous gun gun incident at the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation in Ibadan.

Yet, the Obidients lynch mob has tried in futility to demonize and discredit Soyinka for his courageous action as a 31-year-old at the time without any regard for the canons of historical and analogical equivalence.

If it is agreed that incidents of violence and related deaths have a proportional relationship to the scale of rigging in elections, it is noteworthy that documented records indicate no less than 200 deaths in the aftermath of the 1964/65 federal and regional elections compared to between 13 and 21 deaths in sporadic incidents across the country in the 2023 presidential and governorship elections.

The estimated number of deaths during various elections includes 100 in the 1993 elections, 80 in 1999, 180 in 2003, 300 in 2007, 800 in 2011, 100 in 2015, and 150 in 2019. Despite the exaggerated reports of violence in a minuscule number of the over 176,000 polling units throughout the country, the scale of violence in the 2023 elections was the least in the country’s history.

Or could those who claim that this year’s elections are the worst ever have in mind the 1983 election; an exercise during which the all-powerful Minister of Transportation and strongman in the President Shehu Shagari administration, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, had boasted that the then ruling National Party of Nigeria ( NPN) would win not just a ‘landslide’ but a ‘moon slide’ victory. Even as the collation of results in that election was underway at the Headquarters of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), Umaru Dikko stormed the building for mysterious and unaccountable reasons thus badly compromising FEDECO’s declaration later of the incumbent, President Shehu Shagari, as the winner of the election.

No such incident occurred to vitiate the credibility and integrity of the 2023 elections. Or are bad election losers comparing the 2023 elections with the 2003 and 2007 elections widely acknowledged as easily the worst and integrity-deficient in this dispensation since 1999? In this regard, with respect to the February 25 presidential elections, the results were least competitive and thus least credible in the South-East zone where Obi scored over 95% of votes cast by his Igbo kith and kin.

In contrast to the monolithic block voting of the Igbo in the South-East, Peter Obi won in Lagos while Atiku Abubakar won in Osun both in Tinubu’s South-West ethnic-regional political base. Similarly, Obi won in Nasarawa and Plateau states while posting an impressive performance in Benue while Tinubu won in Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Borno, Zamfara Jigawa states in Atiku’s Northern base.

It was only in Obi’s Igbo base that no other of the three leading candidates could score up to 25% of the votes cast. Ironically, when he appeared on the Channels Television ‘Politics Today’ programme, Obi’s Vice-Presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmad, claimed that the over 6.1 million votes received by his party at the presidential polls were valid, accurate, and not rigged.

The implication is that where the LP won, the election was free, fair, and credible while rigging and manipulation occurred only where Peter Obi and the LP lost. Till date, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar have not been able to credibly and coherently explain how Tinubu lost Osun and Lagos in the South-West or how even President Muhammadu Buhari and other key leaders of the APC presidential campaign council lost in states like Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi or Taraba in an election widely touted as massively rigged.

The APC went into the election with at least 21 governors but won the presidential election in only 12 states. This shows that the power of incumbency, an ordinarily critical factor in Nigeria’s elections, was of negligible significance in this election cycle.

Not less critical is the fact that Atiku also won in 12 states while Obi triumphed in 11 states and the FCT, which made the 2023 polls one of the most competitive and thus credible in the country’s history.

The introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), in accordance with the Electoral Act, also significantly enhanced the credibility of the 2023 polls relative to those before it, particularly in this dispensation. According to reports by credible observers, the BVAS recorded an 88% success rate in the over 176,000 polling units across the country although 240 of these polling units had been demobilized by INEC before the elections because they had no voters.

In 9% of the polling units in which the BVAS malfunctioned, they were fixed and put into use while in 2% of polling units malfunctioning BVAS machines were replaced. The efficiency of the BVAS machines was clearly one reason why of the 93.5 million registered voters only 24.9 million actually turned out to vote in this year’s elections. In the 2015 elections, 29.4 million were recorded as turning out to vote while this figure was reduced to 28.6 million in the 2019 elections.

A comparison of the performance of the APC relative to the opposition parties in 2015, 2019, and 2023 presidential elections also speaks to the credibility and integrity of this year’s election. In 2015, the APC scored 15,424,921 votes and in 2019, the ruling party recorded 15,191,847 votes in the presidential election. On its part, the PDP won 12,853,162 votes in 2015 and 11,262,978 votes in the 2019 presidential election. While the APC’s margin of victory over the PDP in the 2015 presidential elections was 2,571,759 votes, the margin in 2019 was 3,928,869 votes and the margin this year was 1,810,206.

As was pointed out last week, had the PDP contested the February 25 presidential elections as one cohesive entity instead of breaking up into Peter Obi’s LP, Rabiu Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and the G5 governors led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State constituting a powerful opposition to Atiku’s aspiration within the party, Atiku would have been exceedingly difficult to defeat in the election. As for Peter Obi, with a massive victory in the South-East, a modest triumph in the South-South and fair performances in Plateau and Nasarawa states in the North-Central, he ought really to be celebrating the unexpectedly strong showing of his party, a performance that underlines the substantial credibility of the elections, and going back to the drawing board to conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis in preparation for future elections.

Obi campaigned massively and relied on massive Igbo votes in his South-East enclave while also depending on the South-South’s geo-ethnic and Christian religious affinity with the South-East to win considerable votes in the South-South. He also concentrated on winning large constellations of Igbo and Christian votes in Lagos, Plateau and Nasarawa states as well as the FCT to perform well in these areas. This could not however pave a path for him to the presidency in a situation in which he won only in two regions – South-East and South-South – and posted an abysmal performance in the vast North-East and North-West, regions in which he did not score 25% of the votes cast in any state.

In a similar vein, Atiku won in only Osun in the South-West as well as Akwa-Ibom and Bayelsa in the South-South losing the two regions to Tinubu and Obi respectively. Atiku campaigned as an unrepentant northern candidate and did quite well in the region even though he won an outright victory only in the North-East and lost overall votes in the North-west and North-Central to Tinubu. He did not record an outright victory in any of the three zones in the South.

Obi too did not win an overall totality of votes in any of the three regions in the North. It is impossible for a sectional candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria. That is the reality of the outcome of the presidential elections no matter how the supporters of losing candidates choose to delude themselves.

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