The shadows of Nigeria’s 2019 presidential elections

After postponing national elections by a week for logistical reasons, Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday, February 23 for presidential and national assembly elections. The presidential elections are now over, but they produced worrisome shadows and lapses to reflect on, particularly as gubernatorial and state assembly elections are slated for Saturday, March 9.

The turnout was respectable but not as massive as some expected–35.6 percent out of 82 million registered voters. After four days, President Mohammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner by the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC), defeating Atiku Abubakar of People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Abubakar is rejecting the results.

Despite the confidence professed by INEC regarding the process, the elections’ credibility was marred by localized violence that claimed dozens of lives. Leading up to the election, many large party rallies were fierce and included hateful narratives and inciteful rhetoric. The fear that polling centers would be militarized caused some voters to stay away altogether and sowed distrust of the electoral system.

In addition, many voting materials and personnel arrived late to polling units. There have been reports of coerced voting, ballot box snatching and vote-rigging. Malfunctioning card readers and the relocation of polling units led to the rejection of 1.3 million votes. In other places, polling officers opted to not hold the election at their polling units for various reasons, impacting 2.7 million voters. An additional 10 million people were unable to vote because they did not receive their permanent voters’ cards.

A delay in the collation of presidential results sparked controversy over the accuracy of the results. This was exacerbated by security agents harassing local election observers and politicians using intimidating rhetoric regarding the presence of international election observers.

Now that President Buhari has been announced as the winner, his refusal to sign legislation amending the electoral system, which had passed the national assembly, raises questions about the population’s trust in future elections. In addition, the acrimonious relationship between Nigeria’s branches of government may become more intense than ever. The ability of INEC to carry out a credible election in 2023 is dependent on how much understanding and genuine intent will be exhibited between the president and Nigeria’s lawmakers.

More optimistically, compared to previous elections, a greater number of youth and women ran as candidates for various political offices. In total there were 91 registered political parties and 73 presidential candidates–the highest in Nigeria’s history of six presidential elections.

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