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Nigeria's election results leave country more divided

March 1, 2023

Bola Tinubu has the difficult task of uniting the West African nation, as the results of the election highlight how sharply divided citizens are along religious and ethnic lines.

A streetside vendor displays covers of newspapers to celebrate candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, as President elect.
Image: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

The results from Nigeria's 2023 general elections have further deepened existing divisions within the country along religious and ethnic lines, some analysts have told DW.

Bola Tinubu, a former Lagos governor from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was declared the winner of the presidential election with 8.8 million votes.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials said Tinubu satisfied all conditions required by securing both the majority of votes as well as 25% of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country's 36 states.

But Tinubu only managed to secure 36% of the valid votes cast, with the remaining 63% of voters choosing other candidates.

The three leading candidates — including Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party — each secured victory in 12 states with some other dominant politicians failing to win in their own states.

Outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari said the results reflected a major shift in Nigeria's electoral map. 

"The results reveal democracy's ripening in our country. Never has the electoral map shifted so drastically in one cycle," he wrote on Twitter.

But political analyst Ene Ede believes the results only serve to highlight Nigeria's deep, ongoing divisions.

"Many Nigerians voted according to ethnic, religious, and social sentiments," she told DW.

"Generally, if you look at it, it only shows how deeply divided Nigerians [will] be for a long time." 

Nigeria ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu wins election

Lowest threshold for a winning candidate

Tinubu's win also marks one of the lowest thresholds secured by an elected president in Nigeria's democratic era, which began in 1999. 

Tinubu's main rival, the PDP's Atiku Abubakar, came in second with 6.9 million votes, once again falling short of winning the presidency.

Nigerian political scientist Sadeeq Gombe told DW that the president-elect could have performed better at the polls, adding that the spread of the votes revealed a lack of national unity. Now, he faces the difficult task of uniting the country. 

"[Tinubu] must not make the mistake of President Buhari by looking at it that other regions didn't vote for him," Gombe said.

"The way we are today, I think we need a president who can come and unite Nigerians, carry everybody, irrespective of their socio-political, religious, regional sentiments."

Obi 'came in very late'

Labour's candidate Peter Obi, who came in third with 6.1 million votes, notably scored a major upset after winning Tinubu's home state of Lagos

Obi is credited with whipping up interest in the electoral process among young voters. Despite falling short of victory, Gombe said his performance was commendable. However, it wasn't broad enough to reach all Nigerians. 

Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi talks to the media at outside a polling station in Amatutu
Despite shaking things up, Labour's Peter Obi (center) was unable to convince enough Nigerians to vote for himImage: Patrick Meinhardt/AFP

"I think he [Peter Obi] has done very wonderfully, his only problem was that he came very late," Gombe said. 

"Unfortunately, he concentrated on his zone [South] and rather than reaching out to all the [sectors] of society, he concentrated on a fraction of the society."

Challenging the results

Various opposition parties have already rejected the declared results, calling it a "sham."

The Labour Party has said it will mount a legal challenge against Tinubu's victory as it called for fresh polls.

"The purported results did not meet the minimum criteria of a transparent, free and fair election," said Obi's running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed. "We will go to court."

Several international observers groups, including the European Union (EU), have also highlighted significant shortcomings in the electoral process, including major logistical problems. 

An INEC worker scans a woman using the BIVAS system
INEC used the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS) to read voter cards and authenticate votersImage: Benson Ibeabuchi/AFP

Ede said the inability of INEC to follow its protocols gave room for suspicion of possible rigging.

"The INEC portal was not functioning, so the results collated at the polling unit signed by the polling agents and recorded by the polling unit officials that were not uploaded were different from the results declared," she said. "So it looks very suspicious to a lot of people."

Low turnout

In light of the high enthusiasm among many Nigerians in the lead up to the election, the low turnout has left many analysts surprised and disappointed.

At 29%, voter turnout was the lowest in Nigerian history. The 2019 election saw a 35% turnout. 

Carlos Lopes, an honorary professor at the Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town, described the low participation as "astonishing and problematic."

"Nigeria has a population of 220 million, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data," he wrote on Twitter.

"Bola Tinubu will govern 211.3 people that have not chosen him, including obviously those who did not qualify."

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Edited by: Ineke Mules