Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London, has stated that from its analysis of the February 25 presidential election, it would appear that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to learn new lessons.
The organisation stressed that the electoral umpire failed to adhere to its own guidelines, which it enunciated before the poll, especially the one bordering on the uploading of results in real-time.
The London-based institute made the assertions just as Fitch Solutions lowered Nigeria’s Social Stability score in its proprietary Short-Term Political Risk Index (STPRI) to 17.5 out of 100, down from the 25.0 previously projected, following what it described as the aftermath of the “weak” mandate claimed by the country’s president-elect, Bola Tinubu.
INEC had last Wednesday announced the former Lagos State governor as winner of the keenly contested presidential poll. However, the contending parties refused to accept the verdict of the electoral umpire.
While the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, approached the courts to overturn the result, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Mr Abubakar Atiku, who had also announced plan to challenge the outcome of the election in court, led a protest against the result on Monday.
Stating that Nigeria’s presidential election results had put disenfranchisement in the spotlight, Chatham House noted that despite boasting the biggest electoral register in Africa of 93.4 million voters, fewer than 25 million valid votes were counted in Nigeria’s 2023 election.
Writing for the body, the Associate Fellow, Africa Programme, Dr. Leena Koni Hoffmann, noted that the delayed opening of polls meant that many potential voters were not able to vote.
Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, prides itself as an independent policy institute headquartered in London. Its stated mission is to provide commentary on world events and offer solutions to global challenges.
Founded in 1920, Chatham House engages governments, the private sector, civil society and its members in open debates. All the major presidential candidates in Nigeria were visitors to the organisation before the presidential election.
According to Chatham House, the results announced by chair of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, showed that the incumbent APC candidate, Tinubu, received 8.87 million votes – roughly one-third of the total.
His main challengers, Atiku of PDP, in his sixth attempt, and Obi of LP, the organisation said, garnered 7 million and 6.1 million votes, respectively.
Hoffman wrote, “The INEC’s performance and controversies over these results mean that the electoral reforms and lessons declared to have been learned were not fully applied and, as an electoral body, it was significantly less prepared than it claimed.
“The logistical failures of INEC and widespread delayed opening of polling units meant that voters who showed up at the polls early were frustrated and many voters and INEC staff were not able to locate their polling units for several hours.”
Chatham stated that Nigerians queued in the sun and rain to cast their votes, despite recurrent fuel crisis, epileptic power supply, record inflation, and a painful cash crunch.
Yet it noted that thousands of voters were disenfranchised, and multiple irregularities were recorded as well as intimidation and violence as noted by election observers.
Chatham House stated, “Less than half of eligible voters could participate in the elections, despite the commission’s N305 billion budgetary allocation. While Nigeria’s youth seemed energised leading up to the elections, it seems their ability to turn out is still being hugely constrained by how difficult and potentially dangerous it is to cast a vote in Nigeria.
“The INEC’s performance and controversies over these results mean that the electoral reforms and lessons declared to have been learned were not fully applied
“At just 25.7 per cent, the elections have the lowest recorded turnout of any election since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, despite being the most expensive. These dwindling numbers highlight how Nigeria’s politics and state institutions continue to exclude rather than include.”
The commission’s patchy deployment of technology in the use of a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), Chatham House stated, was still being intensely scrutinised and criticised.
“It failed to adhere to its own statements and guidelines, which derive from its laws, that election results would be uploaded to its portal using the BVAS directly from the polling unit in real-time for the public’s viewing,” Chatham House added regarding INEC.
Having just 23 per cent of the public’s trust going into the 2023 election, Chatham noted that the need for strict transparency by INEC in this crucial phase of electronic results transmission could not be overstated and should not be downplayed.
INEC’s sub-optimal performance, the organisation said, must be taken seriously because Nigeria’s path to recovery and stability must follow the way of accountability and electoral integrity.
It added that when sworn in, Tinubu would inherit a country made weaker economically, less secure, and diminished in stature under the leadership of his party.
The monumental challenges that weigh Africa’s most populous country, Chatham said, would not be easy for any leader, adding that the Nigerian people – especially the country’s youngest – have demonstrated strong resilience and have waited for far too long for a country that works for them.
The organisation stated, “Tinubu’s party first came into power in 2015 through a campaign of change and he has won in 2023 by running a campaign for renewed hope. But many of the issues that worried the Nigerian electorate in 2015 are a bigger headache in 2023 – significantly due to the self-inflicted fiscal and monetary decisions of the president he will be succeeding.
“In the months leading up to his swearing, Tinubu needs to marshal an extraordinary amount of political capital, goodwill and consensus to redirect and reunite a fractured and volatile Nigeria.”