2023 Presidential Election: Nigeria’s Political Theatrics and Moving Forward

Before the primaries of all the political parties, the Southerners, as expected, clamoured for the presidency based on an unwritten rotational agreement. So power was expected to shift to the region. Already, Nigeria has many problems. Disunity deepened under the Muhammadu Buhari government, and galloping inflation has led to a shortage of essential goods and services. Insecurity remains a challenge too.

Nigeria’s total population is almost 220 million, with 93,469,008 eligible voters, and registered voters can cast ballots in about 176,846 polling stations across the country. A total of 23,377,466 people voted, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in the recently concluded presidential election. An accounting professional turned politician, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, wins the 2023 presidential elections by a margin of 1.8 million votes. The next Nigerian leader’s government is expected to eradicate poverty, create opportunity, and improve economic productivity after the highly contested election.

Before the primaries of all the political parties, the Southerners, as expected, clamoured for the presidency based on an unwritten rotational agreement. So power was expected to shift to the region. Already, Nigeria has many problems. Disunity deepened under the Muhammadu Buhari government, and galloping inflation has led to a shortage of essential goods and services. Insecurity remains a challenge too.

A few weeks before the presidential poll, the problem of cash shortage occurred in Nigeria, a direct attack on the electorate, and both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) suffered internal crises. A barricade and frustrations for APC and PDP, presidential election candidates, as many believed, while INEC was placed under a heavy burden to demonstrate integrity, accountability, and transparency through adherence to the laws regulating the electoral process and its own guidelines,

Electoral campaigns raise a ruckus

Election campaigns in Nigeria started six months before the election, as noted in the Electoral Act of 2022. The country has gone to the presidential poll on February 25 this year, so campaigning began on September 28, 2022. Meanwhile, candidates who vied for the office of president have advertised in the media and stated their plans on various platforms. And there were also some rallies and marches. While colorful posters adorned Nigeria’s streets, showing candidates decked out in their various traditional attire.

After the broom revolution, the ruling party, APC, seeks reelection while the main opposition party, PDP, eyes a comeback. Peter Obi of the Labor Party was another troublemaker for the ruling party. Before the election, Nigeria was curiously contrived by fuel scarcity, the shady currency redesign, and the Naira swap enforced by the Godwin Emefiele-led Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and its resultant naira scarcity.

With APC, Bola Tinubu’s presidential campaign slogan was “emi lo kan” in his native Yoruba — “It’s my turn,” remark in Abeokuta, Ogun State, while addressing party delegates. It was taken as a public attack on the president and the last kick of a dying horse. But after a few more days of intrigues in the party, Mr. Tinubu recorded a stunning landslide victory at the APC national convention in Abuja.

Fundamentally, the election season witnessed renewed sophistication and organization in the push for disinformation, a report says. As key players are focused on glorifying or delegitimizing political candidates and undermining the credibility of INEC. At the same time, online organization remains largely informal, in part by design, with political parties driving disinformation behind the scenes through unofficial party accounts or hired influencers. In addition to the use of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp, TikTok, with its predominantly video content that can bridge educational divides, is playing an increasingly important role. So too are Twitter Spaces, which are recorded and then shared as podcasts across social media platforms in ways that increase listenership, the report noted.

Likewise, months before the presidential election, names such as Batified, Atikulated, Obidient, and Kwankwasiyya were attributed to followers of top presidential flag bearers. All they clamor for is a better Nigeria. While some Nigerian youths engage in uncalled for bickering, toxicity, and cursing. For instance, before the eve of the poll, Instagram was too hot to bear as the hate, the division, and friends, families, and colleagues becoming enemies, revealing secrets, arresting, and suing each other were so low.

The Big Four

The presidential election in Nigeria is no longer a two-horse race for the first time in the country’s history. This time, 18 candidates vied for the position of president of the largest economy in Africa. Four candidates, including Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, are in the lead.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a former governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub, former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi, a former governor of the southeastern state of Anambra, have received the majority of the attention thus far.

i. Atiku Abubakar

Atiku Abubakar GCON, a Nigerian politician and businessman, was born on November 25, 1946. He was Olusegun Obasanjo’s vice president from 1999 to 2007. Before serving as Olusegun Obasanjo’s running mate in the 1999 presidential election and winning re-election in 2003, he ran for governor of Adamawa State in 1990, 1996, and 1998, when he was eventually elected.

Also, during the Obasanjo years, according to the report, Nigeria notably secured $18 billion in debt relief—half its burden at the time—from the Paris Club in 2005. Unfortunately, two-thirds of its revenue is currently going towards repaying its debt, which could reach $172 billion this year.

For Abubakar, who headed the national economic council under an administration responsible for Nigeria’s highest gross domestic product (GDP) increase since its civil war ended in 1970, he sees himself as the perfect candidate to bring back the glorious past that many are aching for.

Abubakar insists that his experience in public service and as a successful businessman in agriculture, oil, and education for decades has prepared him for the difficult times ahead.

Alhaji Abubakar’s reputation in business is linked to the spectacular rise of Intels, the oilfield logistics firm that he co-founded in 1982. From its original office in a shipping container, the company has grown into a multi-national, multi-billion Naira operation, employing more than 10,000 people.

Reliable sources close to Atiku said he has diverted part of his wealth to charitable causes, most notably establishing the prestigious American University in Adamawa State, northern Nigeria. The university has offered scholarships to some of the “Chibok girls,” survivors of a high-profile kidnapping by Boko Haram militants.

Alas, Atiku has been seeking the presidency four times prior to 2021 and now for 2023 as well. Doing it 5 times. None of those five times was he ever elected.

ii. Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Bola Ahmed Tinubu was a two-term governor of Lagos State and a former senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Considered by fans and followers as an astute and pragmatic strategist who has the sagacity to excel in party politics, he promised Nigerians a new deal of progressive leadership through his mantra of “renewed hope”.

Most Nigerians believe that Tinubu’s support also helped outgoing leader Muhammadu Buhari win two terms in office, in 2015 and 2019. The political kingmaker has interests in a number of business ventures, from media and aviation to tax consultancy, hotels, and real estate holdings.

iii. Peter Gregory Obi

A former governor of Anambra State, Peter Gregory Obi, discusses his vision for policy and governance reforms in Nigeria, including the priorities for tackling deep-rooted insecurity and corruption and measures to promote social and political mobility for Nigerian citizens. He is listed as the youngest chairman of a publicly listed bank in Nigeria and also has interests in beverage imports.

Findings reveal that Obi was born on July 19, 1961, in Onitsha, south-east Nigeria. He attended Christ the King College, Onitsha, where he completed his secondary school education. He was admitted to the University of Nigeria in 1980 and graduated with a BA (with honors) in philosophy in 1984. He concentrated on his businesses, which grew to make him an influential player in the corporate world. He also sharpened his entrepreneurial and managerial competencies at Columbia, Harvard, the London School of Economics, and Oxford.

Some believe his wealth was useful during a lengthy litigation process preceding his first stint in public office as governor of Anambra. His party at the time, the All Grand Progressives Alliance (APGA), alleged electoral malpractice against the PDP’s Chris Ngige.

Without doubt, Obi’s 2006 swearing-in was a seminal moment that successfully warped Nigeria’s electoral calendar, as the Supreme Court agreed that his tenure began after he was restored to office and not from when election results were initially announced.

iv. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso

Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, PhD, FNSE, is a Nigerian politician who was the Governor of Kano State from 1999 to 2003 and from 2011 to 2015. It was in 1975 when Kwankwaso’s career records show that he began working for the government of Kano State at the Kano State Water Resources and Engineering Construction Agency. After seventeen years of service, during which he held many positions, he was named the company’s chief water engineer.

He first ran for office in 1992, running on the Social Democratic Party’s ticket (SDP). After joining the SDP, he aligned himself with General Shehu Yar’adua’s People’s Front. The red-capped man was first elected to represent the Madobi Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives in 1992. After that, he became nationally prominent after being elected House Deputy Speaker.

The Presidential Candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), Kwankwaso, a former Senator, lost his gubernatorial re-election bid in 2003, which is when then-President Olusegun Obasanjo made him defense minister with no prior military background from 2003 to 2007, under the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

He served in this role until 2007, at a time of relative peace in Nigeria. One of his main manifesto pledges to combat the current state of insecurity the country faces—a militant in the north, kidnappings, cattle-farmer conflicts, and a separatist rebellion in the Southeast—is to boost the army’s head count to one million by recruiting 750,000 extra personnel.

Similarly, after his time in government, he returned to state politics, which is when he formed the Kwankwasiyya movement, taking inspiration from the late renowned anti-colonial freedom agitator Malam Aminu Kano, who became an eminent politician and social reformer in northern Nigeria after independence.

He was later elected to the Senate in 2015, serving one term under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and representing Kano Central Senatorial District. At age 66, Kwankwaso has remarkably turned around his fortunes and is in the race to succeed outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari.

President Elect: Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a man of many talents, sometimes recognized as the political “godfather”. He has been known for exerting power from behind the scenes and using his extensive network to back candidates for office. He returned to Nigeria in 1983 and joined Mobil Oil Nigeria as an auditor, later becoming an executive of the company. He has many honorary academic awards and also holds many chieftaincy titles. Tinubu, the city boy, is married to Remi, who is a current senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Born on March 29, 1952, Bola Tinubu has played major roles in party politics since 1992, when he was elected senator for the Lagos West District. Recall that Bola Tinubu is the leader of the People’s Front faction of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a center-left political party created during the Nigerian Third Republic under Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. A dependable source said his ‘mates’ under Yar’Adua included Dapo Sarumi, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Magaji Abdullahi, Atiku Abubakar, and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.

Tinubu went to the United States in 1975, where he studied first at Richard J. Daley College in Chicago and then at Chicago State University. He graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. Mr. Tinubu worked for the American companies Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, and GTE Services Corporation.

The Nigerian Political Theatrics

In the just-concluded presidential election, Nigerians also voted for a new set of 469 federal lawmakers to represent them in the Senate and House of Representatives. The roles of institutions in Nigeria are also pivotal to the conduct of credible and transparent elections. These include INEC and the security agencies faced with the herculean tasks of managing logistics and securing the electoral terrain.

INEC was established by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to, among other things, organize elections for various political offices in the country. According to the electoral umpire website, the functions of INEC are contained in Section 15, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). While the enactment of the Electoral Act, 2022, guarantees the autonomy of INEC, the Constitution makes it totally independent. For this particular election, funding was provided ahead of time to enable INEC to create a free, fair, and credible process.

Moreover, the country has a long history of electoral fraud. INEC has banned the use of mobile phones at voting stations to try to curb the illegal practice of candidates paying people to vote for them. In such cases, voters would often use photographs of their ballots as evidence in order to receive payments. “Vote buying remains a major threat to our democracy,” Mahmood Yakubu, the head of Nigeria’s election commission, told reporters before the election. Also, the electoral commission has set up a system to identify voters through fingerprints and facial recognition to curb voter fraud.

There have been allegations and reported cases of suppression, intimidation, and harassment of voters; corruption of the electoral process; manipulation of election results by politicians; and logistics problems on the part of the electoral umpire, amongst many others.

Not long after the election conducted by INEC, Atiku’s and Obi’s parties are calling for the cancellation of the February 25 poll, alleging that it was tainted by voter suppression and the failure of INEC to upload polling unit results from the over 176,000 polling stations to a web portal as stipulated in its guidelines. They are now in court to challenge Tinubu’s victory.

However, the electoral commission blamed its failure to upload the results on poor internet connectivity. The explanation did little to assuage the protesting parties, especially as the electoral commission conducted a voting exercise ahead of the election in an attempt to anticipate internet network failures.

Consequently, INEC has advised them to take their grievances to the election petition tribunal, as stipulated by law. The INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmood, declared Tinubu the election winner and president-elect on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. The winner of the 2023 presidential election was announced after a lot of suspense, criticism, friction, and factions. Following a hotly contested general election, Mr. Tinubu becomes the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s fifth president since the end of military rule.

The president-elect gave an acceptance speech a few hours later on the same day, before cheering party leaders and supporters, in which he offered reconciliation to his opponents and their supporters. Data from INEC indicate that the candidate of the ruling party got less than 50 percent of the total votes. Polling 8,794,726 votes, he defeated his closest rivals, candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, who respectively won 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes.

As stated in the constitution of Nigeria, apart from winning a majority of votes, a candidate is also expected to get 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 states to be declared the winner of the presidential election. Section 134 of the Constitution stipulates the requirements a candidate must meet to be declared the winner of a presidential election:

“(a) He has the majority of the votes cast at the election; and

“(b) He has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

Although Atiku and Obi failed to get the 25 percent as required by the constitution, Atiku got the 25 percent spread in 21 states, while Mr. Obi scored a minimum of 25 percent in 17 states. Only Mr. Tinubu met the requirement, as he reached the threshold in 30 states.

Hence, the section states that: “(1) A candidate for an election to the office of the President shall be deemed to have been duly elected, there being only two candidates for the election.”

The 2023 Nigerian election was full of surprises, from voter intimidation in the South to underage voting in the North. Nigerian election observers argue that the voting process for the 2023 elections went smoothly, but noted that issues started following reports of attacks at some polling stations and ballot boxes being destroyed. Also, the election was marked by delays and many operational issues with the voting machines across the country, according to international observers.

In the meantime, Nigeria’s opposition candidates for president say they will challenge the results that declared the ruling party candidate the winner. The flag bearer of the Labour Party (LP) in Nigeria’s just-concluded presidential election, Peter Obi, says he won the election and he will explore all legal options to reclaim his mandate. Also, the New Nigeria Peoples Party has called for the cancellation of the results of the 2023 presidential election held on Saturday, February 25. The courts are part of the electoral process. There are also calls for INEC’s activities to be scrutinized by some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that monitored the election.

“Today, Nigeria stands tall as the giant of Africa. It shines even brighter as the continent’s biggest democracy,” Tinubu said while giving his acceptance speech in Abuja. “Whether you are Batified, Atikulated, Obidient, Kwankwasiyya, or have any other political affiliation, you voted for a better, more hopeful nation, and I thank you for your participation and dedication to our democracy.” The influence of the new leadership paradigm will pave the way to greatness for Nigeria and other African countries. Thabo Mbeki, former South African president and head of the Commonwealth Election Observer Mission to Nigeria, advised Tinubu during a visit after the election, saying, “Your opponent will be looking for a small thing to throw stones. That is the way of democracy. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a big economy. Whatever happens here sets the pace for the rest of Africa. We need a strong Nigerian presidency that will also focus on the African region.”

Going Foward

Today in Nigeria, “the era of political leadership’ is over. The days of ‘baba sope,” or lining up adults like sheep to vote in a particular direction, are over. As voters participated in the poll based on their ethnicity and religious affiliation, With over 37 million youths constituting the highest percentage (33.6%) of registered voters released by the INEC, first-time voters, many of whom clocked 18 after the 2019 general elections, constitute a sizable portion.

The rise of the third force is exceptional. Obi will be remembered for giving the establishment parties a run for their money and having extreme influence. Until his emergence, a third force unsettling the status quo was a mere wish. Nigeria’s electoral history post-1999 shows that presidential elections used to be a two-horse race between an incumbent party and an often-weak main opposition party.

In the end, after the long draw, Tinubu was declared the president-elect after the 70-year-old polled 8,794,726 votes to win the 2023 presidential election with 36% of the 24,965,218 votes cast. However, the three leading presidential candidates won 12 states each. His closest rivals were Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party and the Labor Party’s Peter Obi. Abubakar got 29% of the votes cast, while Obi got 25%.

Looking at the numbers above, by every standard, the result of the 2023 Nigerian elections is very close. And however considered, it has produced surprises, which are good indicators that the Nigerian electoral process produces the choices of Nigerians. For instance, the President-Elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has been defeated for the first time by Mr. Peter Obi, the LP Presidential candidate. Also, President Muhammadu Buhari was defeated by Alh. Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate in Katsina.

A civic shrink says the LP candidate harvested the anger of the South-East people, who they believe to have been marginalized, and the bitterness of the young Nigerians, which has been arising for a long time due to unemployment and economic hardship.

Regarding the outcomes of the result, one commentary by the Daily Trust, a local newspaper, titled “An Unsurprising Surprising Election,” described the whole scenario, saying: “Regrettably, the voting trend that emerged is not a cause for jubilation. It is the result of a distressing impulse to align with and cater to our primal affiliations, and the incoming government will need ample time to begin the healing process for our gravely battered nation.”

The commentary written by Gimba Kakanda said further, “Peter Obi’s popularity, thus, was propelled by this predicament that both Atiku and Tinubu faced. His candidacy, beyond the partisan and intellectual analyses of where he ranks against the others, doused the concerns of the electorate, which felt marginalized by the choices fielded by the nation’s two largest political parties. What was mocked as a dance for his southeast stronghold instantly became a widespread campaign to replace the APC and the PDP. While the sentiment that propelled Obi’s candidacy is rooted in a legitimate grievance, it’s worth noting that politics is not a theater for moral contortionism.”

Religion categorically influenced the election. Before the polls, some religious-based organizations in Nigeria endorsed their preferred candidates based on their religious beliefs. Their plan was to vote massively in favor of such candidates so that they could easily win as others would divide their votes. For APC candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Muslim-Muslim ticket has really worked despite all odds. Muslims divided their votes along party lines. Some voted for the PDP, some for the APC, some for the NNPP, and some for other political parties. However, true or false, we must note that the choice of their candidates is determined by their civic rights enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“It would be overly simplistic to suggest that there were no other Christian or southern options besides Peter Obi in the presidential race. Out of the 18 candidates who contested the 2023 election, 11 were Christians and only seven were Muslims. Additionally, 13 of the candidates were from the southern region, and only five were from the north. Thus, it would be inaccurate to portray the election as a complete disregard for Christians or southerners,” Gimba Kakanda explained further.

Elections in Nigeria are continuing the pattern of low voter turnout. In a piece for Nigeria’s top daily, Premium Times, analyst Kabir Yusuf claimed that in the three largest states based on voter registration — Lagos, Kano, and Rivers — less than a third of the eligible population voted. Rivers turnout was a shameful 15.6 percent, the lowest in the country, despite producing a lot more votes in past elections. “Overall, the national turnout was 29 percent; no election had a lower participation rate in the six decades of Nigeria’s independence. Of the 93.4 million registered voters this year, 87.2 million people collected their Permanent Voters Card, and the total number of actual voters on election day was only 24.9 million. Barely 9 million people voted for President-elect Bola Tinubu, who will now govern 220 million Nigerians,” Kabir indicated.

The position of opposition parties on the election outcome and the concerns expressed by observer missions and civil society organizations about the organization of the process, including delays and technical challenges, should be noted. The authorities should examine all concerns carefully, take action to resolve outstanding issues, and focus on delivering the will of the Nigerian people.

The winner should have the courage to tolerate opposing forces as hope is rekindled. Instead of attacking them for their opposing viewpoints, Tinubu’s squad should take lessons from the third force, who are not to be disregarded. Chukwuma Okoli is also of the opinion that the President-elect must work to restore the public’s dwindling faith in government through selfless leadership, advance the public’s confidence in government, and strengthen the government’s legitimacy and ability for successful leadership. The emphasis should be on human security and sustainable development, and the material causes of crime and corruption should be lessened by addressing issues like poverty, underemployment, and inequality.



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Writer and researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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