The 2023 general election, especially the February 25 presidential poll, has attracted much attention and generated more heat and controversy than the March 18 exercise for obvious reasons. The February 25 poll was a keen and close race between three main political gladiators with an army of cult supporters who strongly believe that their candidate must win the election. They are Bola Tinubu of APC, Atiku Abubakar of PDP and Peter Obi of LP. However, the 4th contender in the poll is the former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). In a close race like this where the All Progressives Congress (APC) won 12 states, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won 12 states and the Labour Party (LP) won 11 states plus the Federal Capital Territory which makes its win to be 12 states, and NNPP won only one state, there is bound to be disputations over the election results. Disputation of election result has become part of our electoral system and democracy to the extent that the courts instead of the voters decide the actual winners of such polls, whether rightly or wrongly as witnessed in some states of recent.
The disputation of the poll result was probably fueled by inability or failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to transmit all the presidential election results to INEC’s viewing portal in real time using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) due to what the electoral umpire later explained as technical glitches. According to the breakdown of the presidential election results as declared by INEC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC won with 8,794,726 votes. He also won in 12 states and reached the 25 percent threshold in 29 states. Similarly, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP came second with 6,984,520 votes as well as won in 12 states and reached the 25 percent threshold in 21 states. In the same vein, Mr. Peter Obi of the LP came third with 6,101,533 votes and won in 11 states plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and reached the 25 percent threshold in 16 states. Also, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP came a distant fourth with 1,496,687 votes and won only Kano State and reached the 25 percent threshold in only one state.
Although INEC targeted a voter turnout of 50 percent, the 2023 election witnessed what has been described as the worst voter turnout in the history of our democracy at 26.87 percent. With about 93.5 million registered voters, only 24.9 million people voted on the poll. Voter apathy must have contributed mostly to the poor voter turnout. It is also likely that voter suppression, intimidation and violence in some states must have slightly added to this problem. Violence was recorded in some parts of Lagos, Imo, Kano, Osun, Bauchi and Cross River states in the month of February 2023. The average voter turnout according to the six geographical zone distribution is as follows: North West, 28.11 percent; North East, 28.66 percent; North Central, 32.88 percent; South West, 25.21 percent; South East, 20.26 percent; and the South South, 18.72 percent.
The BVAS also reportedly recorded 88 percent success rate in the 176,606 poling units across the country. However, the malfunction of the BVAS, which occurred in nine percent of the polling units, were later rectified. In two percent of the polling units, the BVAS malfunctioned but was replaced. While some people describe the election as highly flawed based on allegations of rigging, others hail the election and equally describe it as free and fair. It is the nature of elections in Nigeria and even elsewhere. The outcome of every election brings its own wars irrespective of the conduct and the winner. However, a shoddy poll should not be the norm. Both those who said the election was flawed and those who said it was free and fair should be allowed to be. Those views no matter their unpalatability or otherwise should not be allowed to cause undue ethnic tensions in the polity. It is only the election petition tribunals and the courts that will have a final say on the election. They should be allowed to do their work. Also, the recent interventions of our literary greats, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and globally acclaimed Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the election remain their personal views that ought not to attract the media attacks and opprobrium from the camps of Obidients and BATified. Anyone can respectfully disagree with their opinions without pillorying or casting aspersions on them and what they represent. In spite of our political differences, we must respect our literary idols and cultural ambassadors. They should not be made the victims or scapegoats of our highly polarized polity and politics.
Good enough, Mr. Peter Obi and his party, LP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his party, PDP, and some other aggrieved parties have approached the courts in search of justice. That is how it should be and it is normal in a democratic setting. We should allow the judiciary to do the remaining work without fear or favour.
Apart from former President Goodluck Jonathan who conceded defeat and congratulated Buhari in 2015 poll and refused to contest the outcome at the tribunal, others including the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Buhari and Atiku Abubakar had disputed the results of presidential polls they participated in and pursued the matter up to the Supreme Court. Therefore, nobody should be coerced to drop such matters. If such will be, it will be through persuasion. None should be harassed or abused for challenging the outcome of the poll. Going to court to seek redress in an election matter is part of the electoral process.
However, one noticeable outcome of the 2023 poll is the heightened polarization of Nigerians along ethnic and religious lines. The aftermath of the election has further divided the country the more that we shall start the healing process in earnest. While the courts are adjudicating the electoral matters, it is therefore the duty of the BATified, the Atikulated, the Obidients and the Kwankwasiyya and their political idols to earnestly begin the healing process. The national healing has become paramount because if the electoral matter in the case of the presidency is concluded before May 29, which is a possibility, the victor will need to preside over a peaceful and united country. Without a peaceful and united country, governance will be difficult.
It is sad that any first visitor to Nigeria who reads the acerbic ethnic comments in the mainstream media and the diatribe on the ubiquitous social media will think that the nation is at war and will not survive the next day. The truth is that Nigerians are not at war with themselves. It is the politicians that are dividing the masses. While elections are bound to elicit diverse reactions, some reasonable and some unreasonable, there is time for healing and there is time to end the ethnic wars generated in the 2023 election season.
Apart from the verbal wars overheating the polity, the sinister and dangerous call for the installation of an interim government ahead of May 29 handover date is unnecessary, undesirable and illegal. Although Nigeria had gone through that illegal path before following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 poll believed to have been won by Chief MKO Abiola, we should not allow that part of our history to repeat itself. Instructively, the opposition has distanced itself from the interim government contraption. It is good that the DSS and the military have vowed to resist those planning such illegality. Those harbouring or toying with the idea of an interim government must perish it.