No new dawn for Nigeria?
Muhammadu Buhari has been declared president after a vote plagued by delays, logistical issues and violence. Given his previous performance, it’s unclear he’ll be up to the challenge of the next four years
Bonaventure Nnagboro has made the 496km journey from Lagos to his voting district in Nigeria’s South East political zone twice in the past few weeks. First, for the national elections scheduled for February 16 — a vote that was postponed just hours before polling stations were due to open because of "logistics challenges". Then, for the rescheduled February 23 presidential and parliamentary poll — the state-level election will follow this weekend — an event that was itself beset by logistical issues.
Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) staff arrived late at the polling station, and the smart-card readers used to verify voter identity weren’t operational until the late afternoon.
So while the original turnout at the polling station had been high, he said, this was not reflected in the number of voters who actually stayed to cast their ballots.
Nnagboro’s experience of the election — billed as a tight race between incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — would seem to be indicative of the vote more generally.
In addition to the postponement and logistical problems, there were issues around vote collation.
That’s not counting the violence: SBM Intelligence, an independent political and socioeconomic research outfit, counted no fewer than 52 deaths on polling day, more than 300 people killed in the run-up to the election, and more than 100 afterwards. In all, police spokesperson Frank Mbah said 120 people were arrested across the country for various electoral offences.
Nigerians announced their displeasure at the delays on Twitter: #NoInec received thousands of tweets within minutes, with users posting pictures and complaining about the nonarrival of Inec officials. Though the commission said polling would begin at 8am, with the deadline for the arrival of the last voter set for 2pm, Twitter users suggested that many Inec officials had failed to arrive by 8.30am.
Twitter user Senator Saheed, who posted a photo of his polling unit at the Federal Housing Authority gate in Lugbe district in Abuja, wrote: "Over 1,000 voters in the queue and yet no Inec officials have arrived as of 8.15am."
Tweeting from Benue state, Udeh Adole said: "It is 8.04am at my polling unit, Ella Market. No security. Voters hanging around."
In Lagos, Oladapo Olowo wrote: "No Inec staff at Cobham junction polling unit in Ajao estate off Airport Road, Lagos."
Several demonstrations took place on the day. In Kaduna state in the northwest, protesters hit the streets at Stadium Roundabout as soldiers mounted roadblocks in the area in an attempt, it seemed, to stop residents from southern Kaduna travelling to their polling stations in the northern part of the state. The soldiers said they had been ordered not to allow the movement of people. Kaduna is divided between the mostly Christian south and mostly Muslim north. It was assumed that most Christians would vote for the opposition PDP.
In Imo state, protests by ad hoc Inec staff started at about 11am. The 300 protesting staff alleged they’d been replaced overnight, and without being informed, by staff loyal to the ruling APC.
The collation process, too, seemed flawed, with claims of thuggery and intimidation of electoral officers at many centres, and some electoral observers and journalists denied access to collation centres.
In the Ughelli collation centre in Delta state, journalists were prevented from entering the premises to monitor the process. Domestic observers from groups such as the Transition Monitoring Group were also banned from monitoring the exercise in various places. Two international observer groups, the Pan African Women Projects (PAWP) and Intercontinental Leadership Initiative, were allegedly intimidated after questioning the credibility of the election in Akwa Ibom state. PAWP spokesperson Mphoentle Keitseng said she and her colleagues were accosted by thugs in Essien Udim council, where APC candidate and Buhari ally Godswill Akpabio was seeking re-election to the senate. (He lost, and has rejected the result.)
In all, Inec discounted about 1-million votes across 1,175 polling units in 18 states. At the time of writing, the electoral commission had yet to provide reasons for this.
During the collation process, the PDP called for counting to be stopped until accreditation data from the smart-card reader at polling units was made available to all parties. Though the demand was in line with Inec’s stated commitment to a transparent, free and fair election, it was ignored; on February 27, Inec declared Buhari the winner.
According to Inec data, Buhari won 15,191,847 votes against Abubakar’s 11,262,978 — a margin of 3,928,869 votes. Buhari won in 19 states, and Abubakar in 17 as well as the capital, Abuja.
Celebrations over Buhari’s victory seemed to be more muted than four years ago, when he edged out incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in a close-run contest.
However, opposition parties were vocal in their discontent. They claimed the 15% margin of victory was the result of heavy vote rigging, and said they would explore every option, including the legal process, to make their case.
The PDP, which refused to sign the result sheet, said Buhari’s victory was an anomaly. PDP vice-presidential candidate Peter Obi accused Inec of disenfranchising up to 8-million voters in the South East zone, claiming a deliberate effort to ensure the opposition stronghold did not participate fully.
Of 10-million registered voters in the South East zone, only about 20% cast their votes — the lowest of any region — according to Inec.
Once the dust has settled — and assuming no successful legal challenge to the result — Buhari will have to try to live up to his electoral promises to resuscitate the economy and neutralise the various threats to the country’s stability. Given his track record — and a lack of substantive detail on his plans so far — neither seems overwhelmingly likely in the next four years.
First, the economy is likely to take a hit: already the stock market has recorded consecutive daily losses since Buhari was announced winner. The president’s economic management style is lethargic at best, and he is a statist who believes in big government over private enterprise.
During his first term, Nigeria suffered its first recession in more than two decades, and the economy is still struggling to find its feet. Growth has remained below 2% since the recession ended and foreign direct investment has taken flight.
This is particularly worrisome, given 23% unemployment — including a high proportion of youth — and population growth of almost 4%.
As for the security concerns: over the past four years Nigeria has experienced a growing number of threats to its stability. In the northeast there’s Boko Haram, which has splintered into two groups, one of them allied to Islamic State; the Middle Belt is the scene of conflict between nomadic, largely Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farmers; and in the northwest, armed bandits attack villages and kill with impunity, and kidnapping is widespread.
The security threat was evident even during the election period. On the morning of the elections, Islamic State West Africa Province launched an attack on the town of Maiduguri in Borno state, killing between 17 and 21 people.
The group also attacked Geidam in neighbouring Yobe state, all but ensuring the governor could not vote (he did end up winning election to the senate). On February 25, bandits killed at least 16 people in Sokoto state in the northwest, and the next day 27 people, including a policeman, were killed in four communities in the Kajuru and Kachia local government areas of Kaduna.
Buhari’s government showed initial promise in the security sector, pushing back Boko Haram — a primary concern when he took power. But the increase in security threats suggests his first term was largely a failure on this score. And given the impotence of the state response to violence around the election, there is nothing to suggest his second term will be any different.
• Nwanze is head of research at SBM Intelligence, which has been tracking activity around the Nigerian elections