The president-elect has called for calm and cooperation from his fellow citizens as he gets down to steering Africa’s most populous country through multiple challenges.
On Wednesday, Nigeria’s new president-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu made a passionate plea to his countrymen to put the bitterness of the elections behind them and “begin to heal and bring calm to our nation”.
Just hours earlier, Nigeria’s electoral umpire – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – had declared Tinubu of the ruling APC the winner of the February 25 elections that have divided Africa’s biggest democracy and largest economy.
Tinubu, who defeated 17 other candidates, garnered 8.7 million votes, while Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition, PDP, received 6.9 million votes. LP candidate Peter Obi came third with 6.1 million.
Tinubu also scored the majority of the votes cast in 30 states, more than the 24 states required by the electoral law.
Opposition parties have slammed the election panel for lack of transparency in the counting process while post-election violence rocked many parts of the country of 206 million people.
Tinubu’s acceptance speech was all about reconciliation. “There are divisions amongst us that should not exist. Many people are uncertain, angry and hurt. I reach out to every one of you. Let the better aspects of our humanity step forward at this fateful moment,” he added.
A new beginning
Come May 29, a new president of southern extraction will be sworn in as the successor of incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, who completes his two-term tenure of eight years.
Of all the presidential polls in Nigeria since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999, this year’s election tops the rest in terms of springing surprises.
The Labour Party, which had won just a handful of seats in previous elections, pulled off the most stunning result this time when its presidential candidate Peter Obi vanquished Tinubu in his fortress Lagos State. To put matters in context, Tinubu is often called the “godfather of Lagos”, Nigeria’s commercial hub, which he led as governor for two terms.
The Lagos victory paved the way for the Labour Party to claim the majority of National Assembly seats in several South East states, as well as Abuja, ousting serving senators and representatives along the way.
Another surprise, also delivered by the Labour Party, is winning Nassarawa and Plateau States in North Central Nigeria, the home state of APC national chairman Abdullahi Adamu, and the Director General of APC and sitting governor, Simon Lalong, respectively. Lalong also lost his bid to become a senator.
Other surprises of this election include Atiku Abubakar’s PDP winning both Katsina and Yobe, the home states of President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate president Ahmad Lawal. And the relatively unknown NNPP won Kano state, a traditional APC stronghold, by a wide margin.
This election differs from previous elections in many ways.
There were three strong contenders instead of two, as was the case in the past. The emergence of an LP candidate made the contest more competitive. The difference between the three contenders in the final result has significantly narrowed.
Vote buying has also substantially reduced, unlike in the past when electorates were offered cash to vote for specific candidates. This was possible mainly due to recent efforts by the Central Bank of Nigeria which introduced redesigned currency notes just weeks before the elections. This is believed to have hurt some politicians who might have stashed cash for vote-buying.
The use of advanced technology, such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Results Reviewing Portal (IReV), is an improvement in past elections. These innovations effectively reduced electoral irregularities such as vote buying, ballot snatching, rigging, over-voting, underage voting, multiple voting and other misconduct associated with elections in Nigeria.
This election witnessed a massive participation of the youth. It’s believed that these young people, aggrieved mainly by the present economic hardships in the country, partook in the process of pushing for a better government. Never before had the youth taken centre stage in any general election in Nigeria in such numbers.
But, the opposition has disputed the results, describing the elections as a sham and fraud. In a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja, the PDP and LP called for the cancellation of the elections, alleging that INEC did not comply with the law. They also demanded the resignation of INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu for the alleged irregularities.
However, the INEC has denied any wrongdoing though the spotlight is on them to iron out the deficiencies that led to glitches during vote counting.
The opposition may yet approach the judiciary to seek redress of their grievances but for the time being, Tinubu is all set to take charge of a country facing multiple challenges.
The road ahead
Tinubu brings with him a load of expectations, mainly due to his success as an administrator in Lagos, where he is credited with improving roads, trash collection and other services in the chaotic city between 1999-2007.
But as the President, the challenges will be different and more challenging – from escalating militant violence, double-digit inflation and large-scale oil theft.
The foremost task, however, will be uniting Nigerian citizens divided along religious and ethnic lines. Winning back the support of the Christian community, who had ditched Tinubu – a Muslim – to back a Christian from another party, will pose a big challenge. The elections saw Muslim and Christian clerics directing their members to vote for people of their respective faiths. The incoming President will also inherit an ailing economy and growing unemployment.
Tinubu was declared the winner with just 37 percent of the vote, INEC data show. And the fractured mandate also means that Tinubu will have to live with a cloud of doubt over his presidency.
In a note, the Oxford Economics Africa consultancy put the issue in perspective. “Mr Tinubu’s narrow victory is bittersweet, as his historically low support in the polls could lead some to question his legitimacy as president.”
However, the elections improved the reputation of Nigeria as a bastion of democracy in a continent where the military rules many countries.
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