Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, witnessed a series of elections in 2023 that tested its democracy and stability.
The General Elections
The year began with the presidential and national assembly elections on February 25, followed by the governorship and state assembly elections on March 18, and concluded with the off-cycle governorship elections in three states on November 11.
The presidential election was a tight race between the incumbent Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress and the former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party.
Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and a political godfather in the south-west region, campaigned on his achievements in infrastructure, security and anti-corruption. Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and a veteran politician, promised to revive the economy, create jobs and restructure the country.
The election was marred by violence, logistical challenges and allegations of fraud. The Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the governorship election by a week due to delays in the distribution of materials and personnel.
On the election day, there were reports of attacks on voters, polling stations and electoral officials, as well as malfunctioning of card readers and irregularities in the collation of results. The election had a low turnout of 26.71%, compared to 35.75% in 2019.
Tinubu was declared the winner with 36.61% of the vote, followed by Abubakar with 29.07%. Peter Obi of the Labour Party came third with 25.40%, while Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party came fourth with 6.40%.
Abubakar rejected the outcome and challenged it at the presidential election tribunal, alleging widespread irregularities and manipulation of results. The tribunal dismissed his petition and affirmed Tinubu’s victory. Abubakar appealed to the Supreme Court, which also upheld the tribunal’s verdict.
The governorship and state assembly elections were held in 28 out of the 36 states of the federation. The elections were also fraught with violence, vote-buying and litigation.
The APC and the PDP were the dominant parties, winning 14 states each. The LP and the NNPP made a breakthrough, winning one state each. The APC gained Benue and Sokoto from the PDP, while the PDP gained Plateau and Zamfara from the APC. The LP won Abia from the PDP, while the NNPP won Kano from the APC.
The elections in Adamawa and Kebbi states were declared inconclusive and rerun elections were held on April 2. The PDP retained Adamawa, while the APC retained Kebbi.
The Off-Cycle Governorship Elections
The off-cycle governorship elections were held in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states, which had their election calendars disrupted by court rulings in previous years. The elections were characterised by high stakes, high tension and high drama.
Bayelsa State Election
On November 11, 2023, Bayelsa State residents cast their ballots in an off-cycle governorship election marked by high tension, allegations of irregularities, and ultimately, the incumbent’s victory. Governor Duoye Diri of the People’s Democratic Party secured a second term, defeating a field of 17 challengers, including the All Progressives Congress’s Timipre Sylva, a former governor himself.
The build-up to the election was fraught with accusations. The APC alleged bias from the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies, claiming voter intimidation and manipulation in favor of the PDP. Meanwhile, the PDP countered that the APC was spreading disinformation and fomenting violence.
Election day dawned amidst tight security measures, with over 6,000 police officers deployed across the state. Voting reportedly started and ended peacefully in most polling units, although pockets of violence and technical glitches marred the process in some areas. Some polling units experienced malfunctioning card readers, leading to delays and voter frustration.
Despite the hitches, voter turnout was reportedly high, surpassing expectations in several areas. This was attributed to increased youth participation and mobilization, particularly for the PDP candidate, who enjoyed strong support among young voters.
As results started trickling in, the race remained tight initially. However, Governor Diri gradually pulled ahead, ultimately securing victory with over 60% of the total votes cast. This was a comfortable margin, but not as decisive as his 2019 win. Notably, Diri performed strongly in his home area of Southern Ijaw, the traditional stronghold of the PDP.
While Diri celebrated his re-election, the APC’s Sylva and other opposition candidates rejected the results, alleging widespread rigging and manipulation. They have threatened to challenge the outcome in court, citing discrepancies in the final tally and irregularities during the voting process.
The Independent National Electoral Commission has defended the conduct of the election, dismissing the allegations of rigging as unfounded. However, the potential for legal challenges and post-election unrest remains a concern.
The Bayelsa governorship election highlights several key themes in Nigerian politics:
– The enduring power of incumbency: Despite facing a strong challenge, Governor Diri’s victory reinforces the trend of incumbent governors securing re-election in off-cycle elections.
– The rise of youth participation: The high turnout among young voters, particularly for the PDP, signals a potential shift in the political landscape and the growing influence of new demographics.
– The persistence of electoral challenges: Allegations of irregularities and the threat of legal battles underscore the ongoing concerns about fairness and transparency in Nigerian elections.
Whether or not Diri’s victory stands and what impact this election will have on the larger political landscape remain to be seen. However, one thing is clear: the Bayelsa poll was a tense and closely fought contest that has reignited conversations about electoral integrity and the future of Nigerian democracy.
Imo State Election
The Imo State off-cycle governorship election on November 11, 2023, was a saga etched in equal parts triumph, tension, and turmoil. With three major contenders—Governor Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress, Tony Ejiogu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, and Athan Achonu of the Labour Party—the battle for Imo’s top seat promised fireworks, and it delivered.
The build-up to the election was fraught with uncertainty, fueled by lingering anxieties from the 2019 polls, which were later annulled and led to Uzodinma’s emergence through judicial intervention. Accusations of rigging and political manipulation hung heavy in the air, casting a shadow of doubt over the electoral process.
Despite the anxieties, November 11th dawned with a semblance of calm. Voters turned out in large numbers across the state’s 27 Local Government Areas, eager to exercise their franchise and determine their own governor. But even as ballots were cast, anxieties lurked beneath the surface. Pockets of violence were reported in Orlu, a flashpoint area, and allegations of voter intimidation and manipulation surfaced in various polling stations.
The Independent National Electoral Commission faced the daunting task of conducting a credible election amidst these challenges. They deployed security personnel to volatile areas, implemented technological safeguards against malpractices, and worked tirelessly to ensure the integrity of the vote.
As the day wore on and votes were counted, tension mounted. Supporters of each candidate gathered in designated collation centers, anticipation etched on their faces. Finally, the results arrived, and Imo stood transfixed as news spread: Governor Uzodinma had secured a resounding victory, polling over 540,000 votes compared to Ejiogu’s 71,500 and Achonu’s 64,081.
Victory celebrations erupted among Uzodinma’s camp, with supporters taking to the streets in jubilation. However, the result sparked an immediate outcry from the opposition. Ejiogu and Achonu rejected the outcome, alleging widespread irregularities and calling for a forensic audit of the voting process. They claimed their losses were the result of systematic disenfranchisement and orchestrated manipulation.
The following days witnessed a flurry of legal challenges and public demonstrations. Imo descended into a state of uneasy tension, with the potential for political unrest simmering below the surface. Meanwhile, security agencies were placed on high alert to maintain order and prevent any escalation of violence.
Weeks later, the Imo State Election Petitions Tribunal delivered its verdict, upholding INEC’s declaration of Uzodinma as the winner. The opposition, however, vowed to appeal the decision, taking the fight to the Court of Appeal. As of today, the legal battle continues, casting a long shadow over the legitimacy of Uzodinma’s victory and leaving Imo’s political landscape fractured and unsettled.
The Imo State off-cycle governorship election served as a stark reminder of the challenges facing Nigerian democracy. While INEC’s efforts to conduct a free and fair election deserve recognition, the allegations of irregularities and the opposition’s continued protests highlight the need for continued reforms and stronger institutional safeguards to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process.
Only time will tell if the November 11th election truly reflected the will of Imo’s electorate. For now, the state remains caught in a state of political limbo, waiting for the final chapter of this electoral saga to unfold.
Kogi State Election
The Kogi State governorship election of November 11, 2023, wasn’t just a local vote for governor; it became a microcosm of Nigeria’s broader political struggles, showcasing a potent mix of power tussles, alleged irregularities, and simmering tension.
Incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello, term-limited but determined to maintain his influence, handpicked and heavily backed Usman Ododo as the All Progressives Congress candidate. This move, seen by some as a blatant attempt to retain control through a proxy, fueled accusations of political manipulation and disregard for internal democracy within the APC.
Bello’s opponents across the aisle rallied behind PDP candidate Dino Melaye, a dramatic politician businessman known for his outspoken criticism of the state government. Melaye’s campaign resonated with voters yearning for change and transparency, promising to tackle corruption and revitalize the ailing economy.
The campaign witnessed a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations. The APC deployed the party’s vast political machinery, allegedly leveraging incumbency advantages like government projects and appointments to sway voters. The PDP, in turn, accused the APC of voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, and violence, claims vehemently denied by the ruling party.
Election day itself, November 11th, was marred by reports of violence and logistical glitches. Voting was delayed in some polling units, and allegations of electoral manipulation surfaced, with voters alleging irregularities in card reader authentication and ballot box tampering. The Independent National Electoral Commission acknowledged challenges but maintained the election’s overall integrity.
Despite the controversies, the results were surprisingly clear-cut. Ododo, buoyed by the APC’s political muscle and Governor Bello’s endorsement, secured a comfortable victory, garnering over 400,000 votes compared to Melaye’s 180,000. The PDP and several other opposition parties cried foul, alleging widespread electoral fraud and demanding a rerun.
However, their challenge faced an uphill battle. INEC upheld the results, citing a lack of sufficient evidence to overturn the outcome.
The Kogi election left a lingering sting. While the APC celebrated their victory, the opposition felt robbed and disillusioned. The allegations of widespread irregularities cast a shadow over the democratic process, raising concerns about the increasing use of state power and manipulation in Nigerian elections.
In conclusion, the Kogi State governorship election was a tumultuous affair, mirroring the challenges and contradictions within Nigeria’s political landscape. It highlighted the ongoing struggle for power, the vulnerabilities of the electoral system, and the growing demand for transparency and accountability. While the dust has settled on the contest, the echoes of the Kogi election remain, serving as a cautionary tale and a call for reform in Nigeria’s quest for a truly credible and inclusive democracy.
The 2023 elections in Nigeria exposed the flaws and fragilities of the country’s electoral system and democracy. The elections were allegedly neither free nor fair, and may not have reflected the will of the people. The elections also deepened the divisions and distrust among the various ethnic, religious and regional groups in the country. It raised questions about the role and credibility of INEC, the security agencies, the judiciary and the civil society in ensuring credible and peaceful elections. It also challenged the citizens to demand for electoral reforms and accountability from their leaders.