Says electoral body learnt no lesson
•Fitch downgrades Nigeria’s short-term social stability, on Tinubu’s ‘weak’ mandate
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja
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.”
Election Aftermath: Fitch Downgrades Nigeria’s Short-term Social Stability Index to 17.5%
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 president-elect.
In its latest Country Risk & Industry Research, the global group also downgraded Nigeria’s overall STPRI from 42.1 to 40.2, maintaining that political risks are expected to rise in Nigeria as a result of Tinubu’s victory.
Fitch stated that as it had projected, Tinubu – the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) – was declared the winner of Nigeria’s presidential election on March 1, 2023. It added that despite opposition parties calling for a re-run of the presidential election, it believed that chances of this happening were slim.
According to the organisation, reduced trust in the electoral process and Tinubu’s weak political mandate would increase social unrest in the immediate term.
The Fitch report stated, “In line with the Fitch Solutions’ view, Bola Ahmed Tinubu – the candidate for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) – was declared the winner of Nigeria’s presidential election on March 1 2023.
“As we had predicted, the popularity of the Labour Party (LP)’s candidate – Peter Obi – split the opposition vote at the expense of Atiku Abubakar, the candidate for the PDP.
“Indeed, Obi received the largest share of votes in many states in Nigeria’s South-south and South-east regions, which were PDP strongholds in previous elections.
“However, Tinubu received a weak mandate. With all states now reporting, Tinubu received just 36.6 per cent of the national vote. This is the first time since the return of democracy in 1999 that a president has been elected with less than 50 per cent of the vote, and the lowest share received by an election winner since 1979.”
Furthermore, the report noted that opposition figures had criticised the conduct of the vote and were demanding that the election be re-run.
While international observers had not described the vote as rigged, Fitch explained that they had reported that the election was characterised by operational failures and a lack of transparency.
It added that opposition parties had been particularly critical of the fact that INEC did not post individual polling station figures to a website that was meant to ensure transparency.
Besides, Fitch explained that it believed that the low voter turnout of an estimated 29.0 per cent – the lowest turnout on record – at a time when voter enthusiasm was high, will give rise to the perception that widespread voter suppression took place.
A coalition of opposition parties led by PDP and LP, Fitch said, had already called for the cancellation and re-run of the election.
It added that statements by INEC, however, suggested that the institution would stand by the official results, with INEC officials having stated that allegations of electoral fraud were “unfounded and irresponsible” and that the results point to “a free, fair and credible process.”
The report said this suggested that there was limited appetite within the commission to hold new elections, noting that, indeed, holding a re-run would be extremely costly, as the commission’s 2023 election budget totalled N305 billion ($660 million) – likely discouraging a re-run.
Fitch stated that it expected that protests were likely over the short term, particularly in urban areas, such as Lagos, stressing that the Labour Party drew significant support from members of the #EndSars protest movement, which launched a series of protests in the commercial capital in 2020.
The Fitch report stated, “Given that several pre-election polls showed the Labour Party’s candidate winning the vote, we expect that the party’s youthful supporters are likely to be dissatisfied with the result.
“It is also possible that the Labour Party and PDP may boycott or disrupt gubernatorial elections scheduled for 11 March 2023. Much will depend on how Peter Obi and other opposition figures react over the coming days.
“Taking this into account, we have lowered Nigeria’s Social Stability score in our proprietary Short-Term Political Risk Index (STPRI) to 17.5 out of 100, from 25.0 previously (lower score implies higher risk). This brings Nigeria’s overall STPRI from 42.1 to 40.2.
“Given Tinubu’s weak political mandate and widespread opposition to his government, we doubt that the incoming administration will launch any serious economic reforms in 2023.”
Fitch further forecasted that inflation would average 18 per cent in 2023 – and Tinubu’s weak political mandate would discourage him from implementing strong economic reforms in the short term.
Fitch predicted., “Indeed, the liberalisation of Nigeria’s exchange rate regime and the removal of the fuel subsidy would put upside pressure to inflation and would likely lower the president’s already weak support base – something we believe Tinubu will seek to avoid.
“Indeed, given divisions within the legislature, widespread political opposition and concerns about the president-elect’s health, we expect a long period of political stasis.”
THISDAY NEWSPAPERS LTD.