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2023 and the spectre of a Presidential Runoff Election

The 2023 general elections will be a test case for democracy. From all indications, the electoral management body has put in place all the necessary measures for the conduct of a runoff election


The 2023 presidential elections promise to be an interesting race. Indeed, it is like no other election in Nigeria’s political history in the sense that the presidential election is viewed as a three-horse race, even with some analysts suggesting that it could turn out to be a four-horse race as the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso is also in contention for the race. That’s why there are fears that no candidate will emerge on the first ballot.

At the moment, the candidate of the Labour Party Mr. Peter Obi is creating big waves that may lead to a run-off election. Obi’s entry into the race has galvanized the youth which has witnessed an upsurge in voter registration and with over 9.7 million new voters on the register of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Obi is like a catalyst that has awakened the dormant power in the youth to be a force for change. This time the youths are determined to ensure that their voice is heard in this election cycle. Apart from Obi, Dr. Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso, a grassroots politician and former governor of Kano State is expected to put up a strong showing in the Northwest and Northeast and parts of the North Central which may affect the chances of the two mainstream parties in the north.

Thus, with Obi’s growing popularity among the youth coupled with strong support from urban women in the south and north central, there are fears that none of the mainstream parties will be able to win on the first ballot. Besides, various polls conducted have given Obi a strong lead in the southeast and north central as well as growing support in the Southwest, especially among the youths. In this way, as the campaigns swing into high gear, it is looking less likely that any of the two mainstream parties would be able to make it to the first ballot.

Explaining the procedures for the runoff election, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Information, Voter Registration and Education, Mr. Festus Okoye said Section 134 of the Nigerian Constitution states that a candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected, where there are more than two candidates for the election, he has the highest number of votes cast at the election. And also, he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

He explained further, “In default of a candidate duly elected in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be a second election in accordance with subsection (4) of this section at which the only candidate shall be the candidate who scored the highest number of votes at any election held in accordance with the said subsection (2) of this section.

“And one among the remaining candidates who have a majority of votes in the highest number of states; so, however, where there is more than one candidate with the majority of votes in the highest number of states, the candidate among them with the highest total of votes cast at the election shall be the second candidate for the election.’’

Basically, the runoff elections will be held when no candidates meet the requirement of the constitution by scoring not only the highest number of votes cast and receiving not less than one-quarter of votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The runoff election will be conducted for the candidate with the highest number of votes cast and one among the remaining candidates who received a majority of votes in the highest number of states.

Ordinarily, the election should have been a straight fight between the two mainstream parties, the All Progressives Party, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. However, the two front runners from the APC and PDP are bogged down by their own self-inflicted wounds and problems. Take the PDP, the current sagging economy and high inflation, and worsening insecurity which the nation is reeling from provides enough ammunition needed to fight the ruling APC but instead, the standard bearer of the PDP Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is locked in a war of attrition with five governors of the opposition party led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. Tagged G5 governors, the Wike team has insisted that the party Chairman Iyorchia Ayu must step down since he’s from the same zone as the party’s flag bearer, with the G5 hinging their demands on justice and equity.

But Ayu on his part has rejected calls for him to step down saying he was elected by the National Working Committee of the party. Even Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has maintained that the change envisaged by the G5 will be done after the presidential elections, arguing that you don’t change horses midstream. But the G5 group which has transformed into the Integrity group has stuck to its guns with Wike saying he will help the candidate lose the presidential election if Iyorchia Ayu does not step down as the party chairman. As it is, the PDP which ought to take advantage of the misfortune of the APC is entering the race as a divided house. How Atiku Abubakar hopes to win the presidential race with five governors outside his orbit remains to be seen. Although Atiku has boasted that there’s no need for a rerun election as he’s confident of victory on the first ballot.

On the other hand, the flag bearer of the APC Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s decision to pick Senator Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim from the north as his running mate has further polarized the nation along religious lines with Christians describing it as a plan to foist an Islamist agenda on the nation. The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN describes Tinubu’s action as grossly insensitive and a blow to the religious diversity of the nation. However, Tinubu informed his detractors that his choice was based on capacity and competence and had nothing to do with religion. Still, Tinubu’s pick for a running mate is like a red flag, especially for the Christian communities in the north where an Islamist insurgency has wreaked havoc for the past ten years and with the people bearing the brunt of the killings and destruction in their communities. Observers believe Peter Obi will be a major beneficiary of the angst by the northern Christian community against the APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu.

Clearly the two mainstream parties APC and PDP are bogged down in a mire of their own making which has created an opening for the Labour Party standard bearer Peter Obi who is riding on the wave of massive youth discontent and general disaffection with the current state of affairs in the nation. It’s as if young Nigerians have no hope for the future, which explains the mass emigration by professionals and the youth. But Obi seems to have reignited hope once more.

That said, as a proactive measure, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC announced last Thursday that it had made provisions for a presidential rerun in the 2023 presidential elections in the event that no candidate scored the minimum requirements to win the election in the first ballot.

To take care of a probable presidential runoff election, Festus Okoye said, in all, 187 million ballot papers would be printed by the Commission. He said 93.5 million ballot papers will be used on 25 February 2023 for the presidential election and the remaining 93.5 million ballot papers will be for runoff in a case where there is no clear winner. The National Commissioner argued that the Commission decided to print 187 million ballot papers for the presidential elections, as it would be difficult to engage printers at a short notice and also the issue of logistics.

Okoye said, “As of today, 18 political parties will participate in the 2023 general election and the law has outlined how candidates will emerge and how a presidential candidate will emerge in Nigeria. Because of the limited time on the Commission and by the law; in case a candidate does not emerge from the first ballot, the Commission prints ballots for run-off elections (second election) when we are printing ballots for the main election.”

In all this, the prospect of a presidential runoff election is far from being peculiar to Nigeria. There should be nothing to fear as some African countries have successfully negotiated this democratic conundrum. Indeed, African democracies have shown resilience and maturity as a presidential rerun election took place in Malawi in 2019. Democracy was further deepened in Malawi when the opposition alliance leader Lazarus Chakwera’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) along with United Movement (UTM) Saulos Chilima went to court alleging irregularities and electoral fraud in the presidential elections of May 2019 which declared incumbent President Peter Mutharika, a candidate of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), winner of the election by 38 percent of votes. In February, the Constitutional Court annulled the elections over irregularities and called for fresh elections. The court noted that the election failed the test of honesty. The court also set new guidelines. 

To prepare for the run-off election, Messrs. Chakwera and Chilima formed an alliance. Then the table turned as the alliance resulted in victory during the re-run elections, which observers have described as the first of its kind in Africa.  Thereafter President Peter Mutharika conceded victory to the opposition. Lazarus Chakwera has since been sworn in for a five-year term. Also, such a re-run occurred in Kenya in 2017 which only reaffirmed the victory of the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

It will be recalled that on 8 August 2017, Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected President of Kenya, defeating veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (Nasa).  Odinga formally challenged the result in the courts, arguing that there were irregularities in the transmission of votes from polling stations to tallying centres. On 1 September, the Supreme Court confounded many people’s expectations by voting 4-2 in favour of upholding his challenge. Chief Justice David Maraga announced that the election “was not conducted within the dictates of the constitution.” The Court declared that a new election must be held within 60 days, and it was later set for 17 October 2017. Thereafter, a rerun election was conducted which was won by the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta.

In Nigeria’s case, presidential elections disputes have gone up to the Supreme court, but the court has never overturned any presidential elections. It seems the apex court has always preferred to uphold the status quo in order not to jeopardise our nascent democracy. Thus the 2023 general elections will be a test case for democracy. From all indications, the electoral management body has put in place all the necessary measures and machinery for the conduct of a runoff election. Now a runoff election will further push the limits of our nascent democracy to the edge. However, the ability of INEC to pull off a successful runoff election will be another feather to its cap and would be proof that our democracy has indeed come of age. So, there may be no need for Nigerians to run for the hills after the presidential election.

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