As controversy continue to trail Nigeria’s just concluded 2023 presidential and National Assembly polls held last weekend, The Financial Times of London has said the elections were badly flawed, just as it lambasted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for misfiring.
The newspaper also advised the courts to take a hard look at the emergence of the president-elect, Mr. Bola Tinubu if his victory was challenged in court by his opponents.
The London-based publication gave the advice in its editorial published on Thursday.
It added that Tinubu’s tally of 8.8 million in a country of 220 million people gave him the weakest of mandates.
It warned that the former Lagos State governor would be faced with one of the most difficult jobs in the world as Nigeria has been teetering on the edge of catastrophe with a breakdown of security and an almost total absence of growth.
INEC had in the early hours of Wednesday, declared Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progress Congress (APC) as the winner of the election and had proceeded with the issuance of certificate of return to him Wednesday afternoon.
Declaring the official results, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, said Tinubu polled a total of 8,794,726 million votes to defeat his closest challengers, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) who polled 6,984,520 million; 6,101,533 million and 1,496,687 million votes, respectively.
However, The Financial Times argued that all that Nigeria needed was a clean election to reiterate the basic message of democracy where a sovereign people could choose its leaders, saying “sadly, it did not happen.”
It maintained that the, “election which appears to have delivered the presidency to Bola Tinubu, a wealthy political fixer running for the incumbent All Progressives Congress — was badly mismanaged at best.”
The publication added that the presidential election failed to set the example needed for West Africa, where too many national leaders have extended term limits or resorted to seizing power at gunpoint.
Noting that, “Nigeria remains a democracy, but only just,” Financial Times posited that the emergence of Obi as a viable third-party candidate had brought excitement and forced candidates to talk about policies, if only a little.
According to the paper, neutral observers had thought that INEC was in good shape and that they had high expectations that the electoral umpire’s promise to transmit voting tallies electronically from polling stations would eliminate ballot stuffing.
It added that, “the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, had staked what remains of his tattered reputation on a clean contest.
“Yet the INEC badly misfired. Voting started late in many districts, depriving millions of the right to vote. The system to upload results from 177,000 polling stations stuttered, causing legitimate concerns of vote tampering during long delays. “Violence was troubling. Party goons invaded many polling stations in what appeared to be blatant acts of intimidation. The Financial Times witnessed armed men remove a presidential ballot box in Surulere, Lagos.”
The London-based media outfit stated the official result put Tinubu on 37 per cent, from Atiku’s 29 per cent and Obi’s 25 per cent.
It argued, however, that some individual results did not pass the smell test, which it stated, “includes Obi’s ever-so narrow victory in Lagos state, where crowds had greeted him like a rock star.”
It further said, “More worrying still was voter turnout, which was pitifully low at 27 per cent. If official results are right, two-thirds of the 87 million people who lined up for hours to collect their voter registration cards failed to cast their ballot. Apathy cannot explain it.
“Something, including the possibility of widespread voter suppression, must have prevented them from voting. Total turnout of 25mn votes in a country of 220mn people is unacceptably low.
“Tinubu’s tally of 8.8 million gives him the weakest of mandates.”
It stressed that Obi and Atiku must now decide whether to pursue their claims of rigging in the courts and that if they do, Nigeria’s judiciary should take a long hard look at their case.
It recalled that the courts in Kenya in 2017 and Malawi in 2020 had overturned suspect elections, maintaining that if Nigeria’s courts find suspicions, they should not shrink from annulling individual contests or even the whole result.
“It is plausible courts could conclude that — despite some obvious irregularities — the overall result reflected the will of the people. In that case, or if there is no court challenge, Tinubu will be faced with one of the most difficult jobs in the world. “Nigeria has been teetering on the edge of catastrophe, with a breakdown of security and an almost total absence of growth. Neither is sustainable. By 2050, Nigeria will have 400 million people. They cannot be left without hope,” the paper stated.
In conclusion, it advised that the next president must quickly remove the ruinously expensive fuel subsidy and rationalise the exchange rate system.
It also advised that the security agencies, specifically the army and police, which are riddled with ineptitude and corruption needed urgent reform, stressing that “these basic steps are the minimum to begin to repair a deeply damaged country.”
Pointing out that Tinubu campaigned partly on his ability to pick a strong team, the paper said if confirmed as president, he must name a cabinet of independent, competent and honest ministers.
“Even Nigerians who did not vote for him will hope against hope for that,” it added.