NIGERIA had hoped to have a better record with the conduct of the 2019 general elections. It was the sixth quadrennial election held since Nigeria’s return to civil rule.
Since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigerian elections have been widely condemned for state-sponsored manipulation and fraud bordering on the farcical.
After the conduct of the 2015 elections—the first time an incumbent president lost to the opposition— the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the citizens and the government of Nigeria for conducting a peaceful and orderly election.
The AU and European Union Monitors (AUEOM) concluded that the elections were conducted in a “peaceful atmosphere” and met the “continental and regional principles of democratic elections.
ECOWAS EOM said that it met the “criteria of being free and transparent” despite “pockets of incidents and logistical challenges,” describing it as “generally peaceful and transparent.”
Fast−forward to 2019, four years after those eulogies from the global community, Nigeria is again under scrutiny after the conduct of another presidential election on Saturday, February 23.
International and domestic observers have not produced full reports on the general conduct of the elections, because, there are still governorship and state house of assemblies elections slated for Saturday, March 9.
But it is most likely that the 2019 elections would fall short of the 2015 standards due to incidences of violence, ballot snatching, alleged manipulations, voters’ suppression and vote buying across some states of the federation.
Irregularities are not alien to Nigeria’s electoral process though, only in 2015 did Nigeria get much more accolade for the conduct of its general elections—that was also not entirely perfect polls. But it is thought that with 20 years of democracy experience, there would have been significant improvements in the process. The 2019 elections seem not better than previous ones.
In the beginning
Since 1999, elections in Nigeria have been characterised by violence, rigging, ballot snatching, ballot stuffing, vote buying, ethnic-religious clashes and results manipulation.
The extent of irregularities in the Nigerian electoral process first came to the front burner when former president, late Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua admitted openly at a G8 summit that the elections which produced him as president in 2007 were fundamentally flawed.
The elections were widely criticized by local and foreign observers as flawed. But the late president ensured electoral reforms which former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Muhammad Uwais chaired.
2007 and 2011 elections: A quick retrospect
In the 2007 elections, Yar’Adua according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) polled 24million votes to defeat Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar who polled 6million and 2.4million votes respectively. The elections were generally regarded as the most shambolic as votes were allocated to the contestants.
The European Union described Nigeria’s 2007 elections as the worst they had ever seen anywhere in the world, with rampant vote rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation.
Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 70 people were killed in political violence in the run-up to the voting.
There were also the 2011 elections which were praised as improvements over the 2007- the elections were also not without attendant irregularities.
The 2011 elections which produced Goodluck Jonathan as Nigerian president were commended as a better outing against the 2007 elections. Sixty-three political parties were registered for the election; only 21 of them fielded presidential candidates among them was a woman, Ebiti Ndok.
The polls were reported in the international media as having run smoothly with relatively little violence or voter fraud in contrast to previous elections, in particular, the widely disputed 2007 election.
The United States State Department said the election was “successful” and a “substantial improvement” over 2007, although it added that vote rigging and fraud also took place. The Guardian also noted that irregularities, such as underage voting and snatching of ballot boxes were reported.
The results of the election which produced Goodluck Jonathan as the first elected president of Nigeria from the oil-rich South-South region also sparked deadly riots in some parts of the country.
According to Human Rights Watch about 140 were killed in political violence before the election alone, between November 2010 until 17 April 2011, the day after the election. It was reported that more than 500 mostly Muslim people were killed in three villages just in Kaduna since 16 April 2011.
Jonathan took 57 per cent of the ballots, easily beating Muhammadu Buhari, his rival, who had 31 per cent. Buhari claimed that his supporters in the south were not allowed to vote, alleging widespread irregularities.
Despite the post-poll violence, observers hailed the conduct of the vote as a major step forward for a nation with a history of violent and deeply flawed elections, while noting serious problems remained.
The then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton congratulated Jonathan, saying it marked a “positive new beginning” for Africa’s largest oil producer.
“This historic event marks a dramatic shift from decades of failed elections,” she said, though cautioning that the process was “far from perfect.”
2015 and 2019 elections: Similarities and differences
Despite being regarded as a free and fair election, the 2015 polls set out with a lot of doubts. The 2015 elections were held on March 28 and April 11, after they were postponed by six weeks from February 14 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) citing insecurity in three Northeast states and poor distribution of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) as reasons.
INEC website hacked in 2015
On the day of the elections, March 28, the official website of the electoral body was hacked by a group that called itself Nigerian Cyber Army.
This was first thought by Nigerians as part of the grand plans by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to fiddle the elections results. The race to the election was hot and it put Nigeria on the edge.
However, there are semblances of what happened in 2015 in the 2019 elections, while there are outright new dimensions introduced to the 2019 elections. The two would be viewed through the lenses of different headings
Fourteen candidates contested the 2015 election — the incumbent and candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Goodluck Jonathan who was seeking a second term — Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) was the most popular of them. There was only a woman among the 14 presidential candidates like in 2011—Comfort Oluremi Sonaiya of KOWA Party.
Whereas in 2019, 91 political parties were registered for the 2019 elections, only 73 of them participated in the presidential election. But like in 2015, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were the most favoured candidates. There were 25 female candidates in the presidential election- five presidential candidates and 20 vice presidential candidates.
On 8 February 2015, Chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, announced that “presidential and national assembly elections would now hold on 28 March while the governorship and state assemblies election would take place on 11 April, mainly due to the poor distribution of PVCs, and also the security concerns related to the Boko Haram insurgency in certain north eastern states.
The postponement was called on the grounds of the INEC failing to deliver Permanent Voters’ Cards to millions (around 34 percent) of voters – reportedly only around 45.1million of 68.8million registered voters had received PVC’s.
Additionally, on 5 February, the National Council of State (chaired by President Jonathan) told INEC that it had just launched a major, decisive offensive against Boko Haram for six weeks. Due to the assets and resources that would go into this offensive, the military would be unable to provide security and logistics support for elections.
This was a disputable claim, since election security is the primary responsibility of not the military (which should only act as support) but the police and civil defence corps. There was speculation over whether or not the postponement was motivated by politics rather than security and has raised questions over the political neutrality of the military as well as the independence of INEC.
A similar script played out in 2019, when just hours to the election, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu announced the postponement of the February 16 and February 23 elections to February 23 and March 2 respectively. Mahmood argued that the postponement was as a result of logistic challenges that the Commission ran into. It could not get sensitive election materials to some states and the elections had to be shifted. There were criticisms that the Commission was not prepared for the elections despite repeated assurances of its readiness.
There were 84,004,084 registered voters for the 2019 election as against 68,833,476 registered in 2015. A total of 72,775,502 PVCs were collected representing 83.63 percent of the total registered voters, while as much as 11,228,5982 PVCs were not collected.
Conduct, violence and ballot snatching
As was the case in 2015, 2019 elections witnessed unprecedented turnout of voters with attendant late arrival of election materials and technical itches with the Card Reader machines in some parts of the country. About 300 polling units out of 150,000 were affected in 2015 by failure of card readers.
For the 2019 election, the Head of Mission, European Union (EU) observers, Maria Arena, noted that there was late arrival of election materials and officials of INEC in some polling units she visited.
The 2019 election has not been different in terms of violence and snatching of ballot boxes. And it was not unexpected—the two governorship elections conducted in Ekiti and Osun states in 2018 set the stage for what to look forward to in 2019.
In 2015, there were recorded cases of attacks in Gombe state, including incidents where gunmen opened fire on voters at polling stations. Also, there were protests in Rivers State against alleged killings of campaigners and voting irregularities.
What has not changed since 2015 in the electoral process among others are still rigging and violence. For instance, during the February 23 elections voting was disrupted in many states and ballot boxes were smashed burnt in other places.There were reported cases of violence and killings in Oyo , Rivers, Osun, Lagos and Anambra states.
Unlike in 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan made a congratulatory call to Buhari to concede defeat even while the results were still being announced, Atiku Abubakar, the main opponent to Buhari has said the results of 2019 elections were unacceptable and would be challenging the results in court.
Buhari in 2015 polled 15,424,921 53.96 votes representing 53.96 per cent of the total vote cast to defeat Jonathan who secured 12,853,162 44.96 votes representing 44.96 per cent of the vote cast.
Atiku’s party, the PDP had two days after the election kicked against the results and called for the cancellation.
Buhari was declared the winner of the polls having secured a total of 15,191,847 votes, representing over 56 per cent of the entire votes cast. The president won in 19 out of the 36 states of the federation and also got the required 25 per cent of votes in two-thirds of all states.
On the other hand, Atiku won in 17 states and the FCT, polling a total of 11,262, 978 votes or just over 42 per cent of the total votes.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Atiku said he would be challenging the results declared by INEC in court as the process was “massively rigged”.
“If I had lost in a free and fair election, I would have called the victor within seconds of my being aware of his victory to offer not just my congratulations, but my services to help unite Nigeria by being a bridge between the North and the South,” Atiku stated.