On 25 February 2023, Nigerians voted in a general election for the president, senate and house of representatives. As usual, all the attention was on the presidency. I had discussed the contenders in an earlier post and stated the one I would vote for. My candidate (Peter Obi of the Labour Party(LP)) lost and the one I liked least (Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC)) won. Tinubu's victory was hard fought. It is not a surprise that he won, although given how keen the contest was, there was a good chance of him losing. This writeup is about why the election turned out the way it did.
The first factor, which was quite disappointing is the low turnout. Almost 98 million people were eligible to vote. Yet less than 25 million did. This was the most disappointing thing to me about the election. Over the past few years, there has been much noise about the need for more people to participate in the electoral process. In this election cycle, the popularity of Peter Obi among the 18-30 segment of the population led to expectations of a massive increase in turnout. Unfortunately, the turnout was the lowest turnout since 2011. This lack of voter enthusiasm might have been because the country has been skidding from crisis to crisis; and these crises have all taken a psychological toll and undermined the already weak faith in the government. Thus, the theory goes that people have just lost faith in the democratic process and so cannot be bothered to participate. The low voter turnout meant that the winner, Tinubu, won with 8.7 million votes. This is less than 10% of the electorate. It was really disappointing. I had hoped to see a turnout of maybe 50 million people,
The second factor for Tinubu's win was that for the first time since our elections in 1979, there were 4 strong contenders. Thus, the opposition was split. Further, the Peoples Democratic Party, which was the major opposition party had been factionalized with some of the factions openly working against their own candidate. It had also been stripped of its traditional regional bloc votes by the defection of the person who came third in the election. If that defection had not happened or if the party had picked another person as the running mate or if the party had been able to unify its factions, the PDP could have won.
The third and perhaps most significant factor is our traditional sectarianism. The election had come down to a contest of tribe and religion. The ruling party is perceived (not entirely unfairly) by southerners and Christians as partial to Muslim and northern interests. Given that the southeast had never voted for the APC nor for the sitting president (who had lost 3 times before winning on the 4th try); and given that Peter Obi is Christian from the southeast while Tinubu is Muslim from the southwest, there was a significant religious and tribal slant to the campaigning. Since the north is more populous and has more Muslims, the perception (even if wrong) that Peter Obi is the Christian candidate would have reduced the already meager share of the northern vote he would be expected to get. During the voting and collation, early results on social media were all in favour of Peter Obi. Because they mostly came from the south. The LP supporters, aka Obidients, were all jubilant until northern vote counts started coming in. 3 of the 5 most populous states are in the northwest. Kano, Kaduna and Katsina are nicknamed the Kardashians and their vote counts are usually massive. The LP didn't get anything significant in those states. Although it decisively won Lagos, the first or second most populous state.
Finally, there was rigging, electoral violence and voter suppression in all parts of the country. It is possible that APC would not have won without those. But I doubt the LP would have won. I think the PDP, which came second, was in a good position to unseat the APC.
The aftermath of the election was weirdly quiet. The victors did not celebrate. While there are the usual lawsuits and complaints by the losers, especially the LP and its supporters, who allege rigging and are really bitter, there is a resignation to the APC's victory. There is a lot of mocking satisfaction among northern Muslims towards Peter Obi's loss. Part of it is due to his tribe and part due to his religion. Many of my fellow northern Muslims refuse to believe when I tell them I voted for Peter Obi. They think his campaign and his supporters were insulting to us and I should have voted to punish that. I am not too sore about Peter Obi's loss nor about Tinubu's win. I actually think that Peter could not have won, and I have said as much to my Igbo/southern/Christian friends. Actually, I have even argued strongly against assertions that he won and was rigged out. Conversely, while I do not share the dislike that my fellow northerners/Muslims hold against the Igbo, I share the irritation at their attitudes towards us. And so, when I am with northerners and they are venting against the Igbo, I feel like a hypocrite.
I am hoping that Tinubu will surprise us and be a good president. He was governor of Lagos state and he was a good governor. He is just old and allegedly corrupt. I hope that his age would have tempered his corruption. Because at his level, how much more money does he need?
The weird silence following the presidential election did not last long. There was supposed to be a gubernatorial election on 11/3/2023. However, it was postponed to 18/3/2023. It will probably be a bloody election because people are angry. Especially in Lagos, Rivers and the entire southeast.