It was touted as what would be most credible elections in the history of Nigeria. Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), repeatedly claimed he has got all he needed to deliver.
The Electoral Act had been amended to close most the loopholes that politicians exploited to rig elections.
The commission had invested in state-of-the-art technology to ensure that votes from the polling units were not altered at the point of collation.
Nigerians had been so mobilised that voters apathy was going to be part of electoral history.
In the words of INEC officials, Nigerians' votes ‘were going to count’.
Funding was not even a problem. The agency got N305 billion ($661 million) specifically to conduct the February 25 elections.
In the end, it was the most controversial election in the history of Nigeria.
Faith in the result was hinged on the process which the electoral umpire had convinced Nigerians was fool-proof. Voter accreditation was to use a technology called the Biometric Voters Accreditation System (BVAS).
Every voter was going to be validated by biometric information earlier collected during the voters' registration exercise.
Once validated, the voter was to be given the ballot papers to cast in secret.
Results were to be collated at the polling unit, entered into the result sheet and announced in the presence of the voters, party agents and and security officials.
Once announced, the result sheet was to be uploaded at the polling unit onto the INEC server using the BVAS machine.
On election day, everything went according to plan, except the uploading of the results.
This was where INEC had colluded with politicians or inadvertently failed.
The uploading could not happen because someone at INEC headquarters had switched off the server.
This allowed room for the tampering of the result as it moved from the polling units to the local government collation centres.
By the time the results were announced, it was clear that it differed from the outcome expected by the voters.
By the time the server was switched back on, the uploaded results had mutilations that INEC struggled to explain.
To add to the credibility woes of the agencies, the unmutilated versions of the results from the party agents were freely circulated on social media.
In the end, Yakubu faced calls for his resignation; calls he has ignored.
President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier promised Nigerians to give them a credible election before his tenure winded up.
In the build-up to the general elections, the chairman of INEC had repeatedly assured Nigerians and the international community that the 2023 elections would definitely be credible, particularly with the introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, (BVAS), widely described as a game changer, and that the results would also be sent to the polling unit result image to the INEC’s online database (IReV).
Nigerians looked forward to the 2023 general election with hope and confidence that the people’s votes would count this time.
Yakubu said INEC would also deploy other technologies to ensure credible and transparent elections.
Again, the commission asked and got all it needed from the government to enable it to deliver on its promises. Specifically, the commission got N305 billion to enable it to make adequate preparation in terms of logistics and other requirements.
However, on February 25 the INEC failed to follow its own guideline in transmitting the polling unit results of the presidential election yet managed to transmit that of the National Assembly election results and did not explain to the general public why it refused to transmit the presidential result.
It gave room for speculation and suspicion of manipulation.
Despite this failure and the attendant agitations by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party agents at the collation centre in Abuja, Yakubu declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as the winner of the 2023 presidential election.
He is alleged to have polled 8,794,726 votes and scored over 25 per cent of the votes cast in 30 states, more than the 25 states constitutionally required.
The INEC chairman also declared Atiku Abubakar of the PDP second with a total of 6,984,520 votes in the election.
Peter Obi of the Labour Party came third in the election with a total of 6,101,533 votes, while Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP came fourth with 1,496,687 votes.
News of voter intimidation quickly emerged, with security agencies accused of looking the other way as supporters of the ruling APC harassed, suppressed, and intimidated some voters in Lagos State, Rivers State and Imo State.
There was also leaked audio where the resident electoral commissioner of INEC for Adamawa State, Hudu Yunusa, directed an election official, Hammajam Mohammed, to rig the governorship election in favour of the APC candidate, Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed Binani.
According to reports, a similar attempt was also allegedly made in Abia State to subvert the will of the people but was resisted by the returning officer, Nnenna Otti.
The observer group YIAGA Africa lambasted Yakubu for performing below expectations. Its report described the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections as a missed opportunity, and identified factors like serious logistical and technological shortcomings, non-compliance with electoral guidelines, lack of transparency, and manipulation of election results which it said undermined public confidence in INEC and the overall outcome of the elections.
The group further stressed that a compromised process will produce questionable outcomes.
Its observers noted the late arrival of INEC officials at the polling units, adding that the late opening of polls resulted in the late commencement of accreditation and voting which varied across the geo-political zones.
It questioned why the commission could not secure the services of credible logistic companies to handle the aspect of distribution of men and materials on time.
It also identified challenges with many eligible voters trying to locate their polling units following the migration of voters to polling stations without proper SMS notification before the election.
This created confusion in some areas while many who could not locate their polling units went home disappointed.
On its part, the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission scored Yakubu’s INEC low in the conduct of the 2023 general election, stating that the election revealed systemic weaknesses which could cause democratic backsliding for the country.
The EU Election Observation Mission to Nigeria condemned INEC for failing to live up to expectations in the country’s electoral process.
The EU’s chief observer, Barry Andrews, said Nigerians yearned for democracy and were ready to be involved in democracy but regretted that the appetite was lost due to failures by the political elite and INEC.
He said: ‘Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged on 25 February due to lack of transparency and operational failures in the conduct of the federal level polls.
‘Up until the postponement, INEC continued to abstain from providing information, limiting its communication to a few press releases and ceremonial statements and hence failing to address public grievances and rebuild confidence in the electoral process.
‘Positively, INEC introduced some corrective measures ahead of [the] polls, allowing a timely delivery of sensitive materials and improved use of election technologies, yet the institution continued to lack transparency.’
He added that despite these improvements, ‘polling on election day was disrupted by multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation of voters, polling officials, observers, and journalists’.
According to Andrews, Lagos, Kano, and other states in the southern and central parts of Nigeria were the most affected.
‘Unfortunately, there were many casualties and fatalities. Vote-buying, also directly observed by EU EOM observers, further detracted from the appropriate conduct of the elections,’ Andrews said.
However, the APC-led government has been making an effect of driving legitimacy and recognition from the international community.
Recently, the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, told some international media organisations that President Buhari had delivered on his pledge to leave behind a legacy of free, fair, and credible elections through the conduct of 2023 polls.
He added that Buhari lost his state, Katsina, during the presidential election to the Peoples Democratic Party, and the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, also lost his state, Lagos, to the Labour Party, which was enough proof that the elections were credible.
The minister, who was in Washington to engage with international media organisations over the just-concluded 2023 polls, met with the Washington Post, Voice of America, Associated Press, and Foreign Policy Magazine, a move political watchers describe as unnecessary if elections had been credible.
Reacting to the outcome of the 2023 elections, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, the leader of the influential Yorubu group Afenifere, maintained that there is no president-elect in Nigeria, insisting that the decision by INEC to declare the APC candidate the winner would not stand.
Adebanjo is one of the elder statesmen who publicly declared support for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, on the ground that the people of the South East should be allowed to have a shot at the presidency for equity and justice to reign supreme.
He said: ‘I listened to the chairman of INEC when Dino Melaye told him to suspend, not cancel the collation, citing a lot of irregularities so that he can correct them.’
Meanwhile, Adebanjo described the election result as ‘a daylight robbery’ and called the INEC chairman ‘a great disappointment’.
The Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto diocese, Matthew Kukah, noted that Nigerians are collectively frustrated by the outcome of the 2023 general election and it is almost impossible to convince them that they will find justice.
He condemned the intimidation, suppression, and violence that trailed the elections, noting it cannot be accepted as the new ladder to power.
The cleric also lamented that every part of the country looks forlorn, disconsolate, lugubrious, and despondent, claiming that the ‘swagger’ Nigeria used to have as a nation has gone.
Aligning with the position of the Afenifere leader, former governor of Anambra State Chukwuemeka Ezeife said President-elect Tinubu would not be sworn in as Nigeria’s next head of state.
Ezeife accused INEC of manipulating the electoral process and rigging the presidential and National Assembly elections in favour of the APC and Tinubu.
He said: ‘I thank all the foreign bodies who commented and condemned the integrity of the election and thank all Nigerians for the way they treated the Labour Party.
'In fact, I’m happy with the result the Labour Party got from the election, not the ones announced by the INEC. Of course, we know that one is fake. But what we saw was the Labour Party winning Lagos and across the country.’
He added: ‘Everybody knows [the official result] is impossible, especially with the controversies surrounding the Muslim-Muslim ticket. One must distinguish between the election as conducted and the election as reported. Tinubu will not be president of Nigeria. I don’t see him being sworn in.’
A coalition of civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Democracy Protection Coalition (DPC) has called on Yakubu to resign from the INEC.
The convener of the group, Eze Eluchie, said that confidence, trust and belief in the electoral system and the INEC had been ‘irrevocably eroded’.
‘To avoid further tainting of the sanctity and integrity of the gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections, Mahmood Yakubu should totally, forthwith, recuse himself from participating in any manner whatsoever in the process and administration of the forthcoming elections.
'In the event of Yakubu’s failure to resign from the office of his own accord, efforts should be harnessed by the INEC board to, like how the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for Sokoto State was suspended, likewise, suspend Mr Yakubu from office until further notice.'
Eluchie added that if this didn't happen, the Nigerian people ‘should rise and effectively demand the exit from office of this INEC chairman’.
‘INEC should, in the light of its alleged ‘collapse’, compromise, and failure of the BVAS machine process and systems in the course of the 25th February elections, collate and declare the results of the said elections by the summation of Polling Unit results from each of the polling units across the country,' he added.
'These results are already within the purview of INEC and the political parties. The most grossly distorted, mutilated, and concocted documents belatedly uploaded unto the INEC IReV, days after the elections were held, should be discountenanced as manipulation of desperate politicians.’
Meanwhile, a human rights organisation known as the Ambassador for Peace and Enlightenment Foundation (AMPEF) has called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to initiate a probe into Yakubu and the commission to unravel how the $661 million allocated for the vote was actually spent.
The national president of the organisation, Comrade Saviour Iche, said the poll would see Nigeria’s name etched in the Guinness Book of Record for election failure. He also blamed Yakubu for making a mockery of Nigeria to the whole world.
‘INEC transmitted the results of the National Assembly to its IReV but withheld that of the presidential election results thereby creating room for suspicion of compromise especially on the part of the INEC chairman, Prof Yakubu, and the credibility of the process.
'That brought distrust and doubt about all that he promised Nigerians. Now, the March 18th Governorship/State House of Assembly elections recorded massive voter apathy because they had apparently lost hope in INEC.’
Comrade Obande Gideon of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) also joined the chorus calling for the vote to be declared null and void.
‘Prof Mahmud Yakubu is the biggest obstacle to Nigeria’s electoral voyage to free and fair elections,’ he told the student union.
‘We are calling on Prof Mahmud Yakubu and his resident electoral commissioners to explain how they spent [N305] billion given to them to conduct the 2023 general election.
‘In the same vein, we are calling on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions (EFCC), Independent Crimes and Related Commissions, and other anti-graft commissions to call Prof Mahmud [Yakubu] and commissioners to explain the rumours that INEC servers were about to be hacked, hence the refusal of INEC to upload the results of the presidential elections.
'We are also calling on the anti-graft agencies to investigate how Prof Yakubu used the [N305] billion allocated to the electoral commission.’
Meanwhile, in his Easter message, the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia, Michael Ukpong, lamented that the INEC has 'crucified' the hope of Nigerians through the manipulation of the outcome of the 2023 presidential poll.
‘The good people of Nigeria are in sorrow now, while the criminal elements in politics are rejoicing believing they have had it again their way. In a short while, at God’s appointed time, the table will turn on them and our sorrow will turn into joy.’
As the battle to establish the ‘real’ winner of the 2023 presidential election intensifies, some political watchers express fears that the judiciary may not live up to the expectations of Nigerians and the international community who are keenly following the proceedings.
This perception may not be unconnected with recent judgements delivered by the Supreme Court in which a candidate in Yobe State, Senator Ahmed Lawan, and Senator Godswill Akpabio who did not contest primaries, were given the tickets. There is also the case in Imo State three years ago where Senator Hope Uzodinma, who came third in the governorship election, was handed over the mandate as the governor of the state.
It’s perhaps on this ground that the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Olisa Agbakoba expressed his waning confidence in the Nigerian courts.
Agbakoba blamed his discouragement on the recent judgements coming out of the courts, which according to him are baffling and unexpected from justices at that level.
He said: ‘I have lost a bit of confidence in what the courts have been doing lately.
‘There was a time you could say oh, on the facts and the law, this is the likely outcome; today you cannot because there have been all kinds of silly decisions.’
The constitutional lawyer said that with the legal tools and the factual issues at his disposal, he already knows what should be the outcome of the presidential election petition.
‘But I am not part of the panel, so I don’t know whether the justices will see it the way I am seeing it. But I can tell you from my own perspective as a lawyer of 45 years at the bar, that the answers are glaringly obvious.’
As Nigerians await the outcome from the judiciary with trepidation, the judiciary also has another opportunity to redeem its battered image and restore confidence in the people.
Whether they will take it, though, is the $661 million question.