Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led a march at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday to announce that he believes he is the true winner of the February 25 election. Third candidate Peter Obi also claimed that he was the real winner last week.
According to INEC votes, the winner was Bola Tinubu of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) party. After four days of counting, the INEC announced on Wednesday that Tinubu won with 29 percent of the vote, followed by Abubakar with 25 percent and Obi with 25 percent. Obi, a former member of the PDP who ran as an outsider and reformer under the banner of the small Labor party, was favored to win in many pre-election polls.
Hundreds of singing PDP supporters surrounded INEC headquarters in Maitama city on Monday, led by Abubakar and his campaign manager, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal.
“This is the worst election in our democratic history,” Abubakar’s media adviser Paul Ibe said at the rally. Nigeria has been democratic since 1999.
“There were a lot of expectations. Nigerians were looking for a leader to bring them together and start the process of recovery. What we have is basically a robbery,” Ibe said.
Police held back the demonstrators from the INEC building until some election officials emerged to address the crowd.
“We have proof that we won this election by our own collection, but what we say, what we demand is that Mahmood Yakubu has not done any assessment of that collection at this point; he should review the collection. That is our demand,” declared Kola Ologbondiyan, Abubakar presidential campaign spokesperson.
Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of INEC, made the formal announcement of Tinubu’s victory last Wednesday. Yakubu has so far been unwilling to challenge the presidential count, but he has admitted that the election system was not working as smoothly as planned, promising improvements ahead of next week’s gubernatorial elections.
Last Friday, six Nigerian states – all governed by members of Abubakar’s PDP party – early the Supreme Court to invalidate the results of the election. According to the court, INEC did not comply with election laws and its own rules during the vote and failed to keep a promise to post the results of 176,000 polling stations across the country on the INEC web portal.
The six states suddenly withdrew their trial later Friday, without saying why. Nigerian court watchmen noted that the Supreme Court has never overturned an election before, but the challenge dropped seemed unique because the case that INEC compromised the integrity of the entire process by not posting the results on its portal was quite strong.
Obi and Abubakar have until March 31 submit their petitions at the tribunal of the court of appeal in the Nigerian capital Abuja. The tribunal then has 180 days to make its decision, and if any of the petitioners appeal to the Supreme Court, it could take another 60 days for the final outcome of the contestations to be known. The odds are slim that even the quickest appeal can stop Tinubu from being sworn in as president on May 29.
Obi’s Labor Party crowdsourcing a comparison of paper ballots and digital election results with his tech-savvy young supporters. The Labor effort claims to have already discovered some discrepancies, as well as inaccurate data posted on the INEC website.
On Sunday, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard said “the electoral process as a whole on February 25 fell short of Nigerians’ expectations,” but did not call for the result to be reversed. Instead, she called for calm as Abubakar and Obi addressed their challenges in court, and urged INEC to learn from its mistakes before the March 11 gubernatorial election.
“In the coming days, it will be important for the future of this country that Nigerians do not allow their differences to divide them, and that the legally established process for resolving challenges to the elections can proceed,” said Leonard.
“The United States is no stranger to election-related controversies and conflicts. As unsatisfying as it may be to end an election process in a courtroom, in a constitutional democracy bound by the rule of law, that’s where electoral conflicts can rightly end,” she said.