On February 25th, Nigerians went into one of the most anticipated polls in modern history with an unrivaled determination to make a lasting statement. The world was taken aback by young Nigerians’ determination and renewed vigor to put their country back on track. At the very least, everyone predicted that this election would be better than the last in terms of conduct and voter turnout. Unfortunately, the elections produced more dust than most anticipated. The worst did occur!
The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and there was deafening silence afterwards. The nation’s mood was solemn. Even in the areas where the candidate was said to have won, no one could rejoice.
This is a far cry from Nigerians’ experiences in 2015, when the opposition APC candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, defeated President Goodluck Jonathan. The entire country exhaled a sigh of relief. There was a collective sense of optimism. Even in the areas where Buhari lost, there was a sense that the country was doing something right. Nobody bothered to challenge the victory in court. The drums were silent this time. Rather, the leading presidential candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, have threatened to challenge Tinubu’s victory in court. Suddenly, we’re back in the 2007 scenario again!
In all of these cases, there appears to be more confusion with the announcement of results than anyone anticipated. The announcement of the results sparked several protests. We’ve seen this pattern before. This was evident following the 2022 Brazilian general elections. This was also evident in Kenyan post-election protests in 2008. According to the rhetoric of some key political actors, there are high enablers for violent protests or uprisings at the moment.
In several parts of the country, the elections were marred by irregularities, violence, or other forms of malpractice, leading to widespread disappointment and anger among voters who believe their voices were not heard. This is a critical component that could spark protests, demonstrations, and even unrest in the coming days. This is most likely why Tinubu’s campaign issued a red alert to security agencies “stay on alert and deal with individuals and groups who are planning to foment trouble” at a press conference addressed by Dele Alake, Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication, on February 27th, 2023 in Abuja.
According to a Financial Times editorial published on March 2, 2023, “Tinubu will be faced with one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Nigeria has been teetering on the edge of catastrophe, with a breakdown of security and an almost total absence of growth. Neither is sustainable.” This is a clear warning that there are some landmines ahead. This is because, in the absence of widespread acceptance for the incoming Tinubu administration, he may be forced to rely on a Government of National Unity (GNU) to appease the country’s divided citizens. This is the biggest bet right now. Otherwise, Tinubu’s team will have a difficult time pushing through their agenda and making significant changes.
Tinubu is known to have largely ignored domestic media during his campaign. This has heightened tensions with several privately owned media outlets. The current tense situation in the country provides fertile ground for him to face increased scrutiny from the media, opposition parties, and civil society organizations. This could make effective governance difficult and lead to scandals and controversies. This could lead to political instability and a loss of faith in the democratic process. This could lead to further election manipulation and the breakdown of democratic norms in the future.
It’s not so much a question of dust settling as it is of whether this dust will ever settle!