The 2023 general elections have come and gone, with results for both the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly and March 18 Governorship and State Assembly elections declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In the presidential election, in which Sen. Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner, 18 political parties contested, including Allied Peoples’ Movement represented by a female candidate, Ms Chichi Ojei.
With 8,794,726 votes Tinubu defeated his closest rivals Atiku Abubakar of the People Democratic Party (PDP), who polled 6,984,520 votes and Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP), who secured 6,101,533 votes.
While elections have also been concluded and winners declared for 26 states governorship, 104 senatorial, 329 federal and 935 state constituency elections, INEC later fixed April 15 for supplementary governorship elections in Adamawa and Kebbi.
Five senatorial districts, as well as 31 federal and 58 state constituencies, were also penciled down for supplementary polls.
Such was the intensity and importance of the exercise and its outcome that the international community continues to monitor with keen interest the post-election situation in the country.
In the buildup to the elections, INEC promised an electoral process driven by technology, assuring that 2023 would be the best election cycle ever experienced.
Specifically, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said in January that there was no going back on INEC’s decision to deploy technologies such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for both voter accreditation and e-transmission of results.
He also said the commission’s Result Viewing (IReV) portal would offer the public real-time access to viewing and monitoring polling unit results.
“Our commission does not take the pledge that we have repeatedly made to Nigerians lightly. We are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations,” Yakubu said.
A few weeks before the elections, however, INEC ran into some logistical challenges as a result of fuel scarcity and cash crunch – the latter as a result of the redesign of naira notes.
But the commission was able to surmount the challenges, thanks to its collaboration with other stakeholders.
Although the election cycle has not been completed, with aggrieved contestants seeking legal redress, analysts have expressed diverse views on the process, credibility, challenges, bright spots and lessons learnt from the 2023 polls.
YIAGA Africa, one of the accredited observer groups, said in its post-election assessment that the BVAS only malfunctioned in 8 per cent of polling units, and was fixed or replaced in two per cent of those units.
The organisation also commended INEC for sourcing sensitive materials locally, which played a part in the early deployment of the materials to the states.
The group, however, identified some challenges, including the late arrival of INEC officials and delayed commencement of polls in about 27 per cent of polling units.
According to YIAGA Africa’s Executive Director, Mr Samson Itodo, INEC disregarded its regulations and guidelines by delaying the upload of the presidential and National Assembly elections.
“Undoubtedly, the delay in uploading the polling unit-level results cast doubts on the credibility of the results management process resulting in broken public trust in electoral technology,” he said.
Also, the LP, PDP the Africa Democratic Congress (ADC) at a joint conference by their national chairmen, cited the failure of INEC to upload the presidential election in real-time as a plausible reason to discredit its outcome.
Other stakeholders prefer to dwell on the much brighter prospects the 2023 elections could have on Nigeria’s electoral process.
For instance, Kogi West Senatorial District senator-elect, Sunday Karimi, said that looking at the dynamism of the votes and performances of major political parties across the federation, the election should be considered fair and credible.
“You can imagine Peter Obi coming to beat Tinubu in Lagos? Can you imagine Obi winning in Nasarawa? You can imagine Obi winning in Delta, where you have an incumbent governor as the vice presidential candidate of the PDP.
“No matter what you think about it, this is one of the best organised elections we have had in this country,” he said.
Similarly, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Yakubu Maikyau, believed that even though there were challenges with the presidential election, Nigeria made significant progress in its electoral process.
He said in spite of the challenges, and without prejudice to the rights of parties to ventilate their grievances in court, some of the positive achievements in the elections should not be ignored.
“To be more specific, this was an election where much of what was hitherto thought impossibility became possible; a sitting president’s party lost elections in his state.
“Then we have the incredible story of a political party that was considered to be without grassroots structures, shaking up the political landscape and re-defining politics in Nigeria”, Maikyau said.
Maikyau believed that once the dust settles, 2023 would go down in history as the most revolutionary of all the elections ever held in Nigeria.
In spite of the glitches experienced during the 2023 polls, INEC chairman Yakubu denominated its success in terms of the political diversity of the representation it produced.
“In terms of party representation, this (the incoming 10th Assembly) is the most diverse National Assembly since 1999 as can be seen from the summary”, he said.
Yakubu said planning was painstakingly carried out, but that implementation came with challenges, some of them unforeseen.
“The issues of logistics, election technology, the behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, and attitude of some party agents and supporters added to the extremely challenging environment in which elections are usually held in Nigeria”, he said.
Many stakeholders also attributed the low turnout during the March 18 governorship and Houses of Assembly elections to the outcome of the presidential election.
While some described it as an improvement on the presidential and National Assembly elections, others said the low turnout of voters recorded was proof that many Nigerians had lost confidence in INEC.
Electoral offences such as cases of violence, vote buying and voter oppression were also more reported during the March 18 elections than the presidential election.
In its preliminary report, the Situation Room observed early deployment of election officials and materials across the country with many states deploying election officials and materials on time.
Also, the UK Government in a statement issued by Atinuke Akande-Alegbe, Senior Communications and Public Diplomacy Officer at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, British High Commission, observed improvement in elections logistics by INEC during the governorship election.
According to the statement, there were positive markers to build on for future elections.
The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) said with alleged electoral violence, voter suppression and vote buying still present in Nigeria’s electoral system, expectations were yet to be met.
Political observers say though the elections had their challenges that by exercising their franchise Nigerians demonstrated their determination to consolidate democracy.
They are also hopeful that the challenges would serve as stepping stones for better elections in the years ahead.