Nigerian opposition prepares to challenge presidential election result
President Muhammadu Buhari has won a second term in an election dogged by violence and allegations of rigging. As the main opposition prepares to challenge the result, attention will be drawn to uncertainties over the supreme court leadership and the credibility of the polls.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared President Buhari the winner of the presidential election held on 23 February. He beat his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), by four million votes. Atiku and the PDP claimed the poll was rigged and said they will dispute the case in the courts.
Meanwhile, observers have expressed concern about the disruptions that occurred before and during the elections. The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room called for an independent inquiry into the overall conduct, saying the polls were “a step back from the 2015 elections”, while the EU observer mission in Nigeria noted restrictions on civil society at collation centers, “weakening the transparency of the results process.” Also indicative of concerns:
From our vantage point in Lagos, there were disorders in areas of opposition strength. For example, in one area of Lagos, unidentified thugs chased away voters at poll units and burned ballots that had already been cast there;
In Osun state, thugs similarly attacked an INEC facility after the poll, burning card readers and ballots;
In most parts of the south, we received reports of voter intimidation and attacks targeting ballots, so much so, that elections were canceled in parts of three states.
Turnout and nationwide results might also be questioned. For instance, the turnout recorded in conflict-prone Borno state, Buhari’s stronghold, was 43%, while the turnout recorded in southeast Abia, Atiku’s stronghold, was only 20%. In the latter state, Buhari managed to score more than six times more votes than he did in 2015, even though the recorded turnout actually fell.
Disruption of polling and the destruction of voting materials in areas where the opposition is strong are emerging as new features of Nigeria’s electoral process. Evidently, the polls held last weekend have not shown an improvement on 2015.
Electronic voting is not without its vulnerabilities. But Nigeria does appear to have lost an opportunity to strengthen its electoral system when President Buhari declined assent to a reform bill allowing results to be transmitted electronically, thereby making INEC and voting materials vulnerable to physical attacks and destruction. Looking forward, electoral reform is rarely the focus of an incumbent winner and will not likely be a priority under existing dynamics (including distribution of power in parliament).
In another development, the supreme court leadership is presently still in limbo following the president’s suspension of the chief justice in January (see our analysis here). The constitution says the caretaker that the president appointed must step down for a substantive chief within three months, which in this case elapses on 25 April. Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council is probing the matter. In these circumstances it is not yet clear who will oversee a supreme court ruling on the presidential election, and the credibility and independence of the resolution mechanism are in question.