The Platform

Nigerian voters waiting to cast their ballots. (Arinze Chijioke)

Nigerians, especially young people, have continued to react to the outcome of last week’s presidential election when the independent electoral commission declared Bola Tinubu the winner.

Spurred on by protests against police corruption in 2020, which snowballed into demands for good governance, and promises by the INEC, or the independent electoral commission, to conduct fair and free elections, millions of young people registered for the first time to vote in this year’s presidential election.

By August 2022, a total of 9.5 million, including a significant number of young people, had registered to vote for the first time. When counting already registered voters, over 96 million Nigerians were registered to vote.

Nigerian voters waiting to cast their ballots
Nigerian voters. (Arinze Chijioke)

Perhaps the biggest motivating factor in driving people to vote was Peter Obi of the Labour Party. Obi was considered an outsider in a political space dominated by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). Obi’s accessibility and his track record of prudence with public funds, while he was governor of Anambra State, endeared him to many.

However, Obi was no stranger to national politics having run previously as a vice presidential candidate in 2019. Despite that, the 61-year-old appealed to younger voters with a message to take back the country from the old guard.

On Wednesday, when the results were announced, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress was declared the winner with 8.7 million votes. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party received 6.9 million votes while Peter Obi received 6.1 million votes. This alone was a significant feat in a country where two parties have long dominated the political space.

Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos, is set to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari who will step down in May after 8 years in office. Tinubu is expected to tackle widespread insecurity, suffocating inflation, and record levels of unemployment in Africa’s most populous country.

“I did not believe my ears when the results were announced because I know it was Obi [that] Nigerians wanted,” Victor Bobby told me.

On election day, Victor stood for hours to vote at his polling station. After the election, he waited into the night for the votes to be counted. In some locations, people withstood torrential downpours to vote.

“We were tired of the economic and security situation and widespread lack of unemployment in Nigeria and realized that the only way to make things better was to be actively involved,” Victor said.

Many young voters like Victor say they were disappointed with the outcome and blame the INEC for a lack of transparency and failure to transmit results to a central online database as promised.

Nigerian voters waiting to vote
Nigerian voters waiting to vote. (Arinze Chijioke)

Some voters and opposition parties said failures in the IReV when uploading tallies allowed for ballot manipulation and disparities in the results from the manual counts at local polling stations.

International observers believe that the presidential and National Assembly elections lacked transparency. The Situation Room, a coalition of civil society organizations, said that there can be no confidence in the results of these elections.

As the results were being announced, opposition parties called for the cancellation of the election and demanded that INEC chief Mahmood Yakubu step down and for someone else “outside the commission” to conduct new elections. Rotimi Oyekanmi, the INEC spokesperson, said the criticisms were misplaced. “To be sure, aggrieved parties are free to approach the courts to ventilate their concerns and wait for the matter to be resolved,” he said, insisting that the election was free, fair, and credible.

Israel Njoku said he was heartbroken and disillusioned. “We thought the naira redesign policy, hard as it was on us, and the over-flooding of troops into our cities was a sign that Buhari wanted to conduct a free and fair election. But what we got was shambolic and a painful embarrassment.”

“The will of the people [was] so brazenly disregarded and our collective mandate stolen. I hope the courts see the overwhelming evidence and restore Obi’s mandate; it does not feel like we have a new president.”

In his first public comments after the election, Obi promised to challenge the results. “The people of Nigeria have again been robbed by their supposed leaders whom they trusted. We will explore all legal and peaceful options to reclaim our mandate.”

He told reporters in Abuja that his party won the election and will prove it to Nigerians. “We were asked to go to the courts. Let’s go there, I will challenge this rascality for the future of the country. This is not the end but the beginning of the journey for the birth of a new Nigeria.”

Before the polls opened on Saturday, polling had projected Obi as the winner. Many experts warned that there could be a possible run-off as the election was projected to be close.

Atiku Abubakar called the results “a rape of democracy,” suggesting the results were grossly flawed and as such, must be challenged. He also said that he was consulting lawyers to decide on his next steps.

Unless the courts step in, Bola Tinubu will be sworn in on May 29 as Nigeria’s next president. However, it is feared that the inability of the INEC to conduct a transparent election might impact the participation of young people in future elections.

Arinze Chijioke is a Nigerian-based freelance journalist covering climate change and environment, business and SMSs, health, anti-corruption, social justice, gender-based violence and human rights. His stories have appeared on Aljazeera, Global Investigative Journalism Network, International Journalists Network, International Policy Digest and International Centre for Investigative Reporting among other outlets. He has won multiple awards and nominations, including the maiden edition of the Cleft Awareness Media Award 2021 and the 1st Runner-Up in the 2020 PWC Media Excellence Awards for SMEs reporting. He was one among 21 finalists out of 711 for the 2021 West Africa Media Excellence Awards (WAMECA).