Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday, February 25, to elect a new President that will succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. They also elected members of the National Assembly in what appears to be the most competitive elections in the history of the country.
Tension is high as the independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) has commenced the collation and counting of results across the country to announce who will be the next leader of the most populous black nation in the world and the biggest economy in Africa.
The election also saw a large contingent of international observers from prestigious organisations with vast experience in election observation. There are also regional groups and some very important countries of the world who have missions in Nigeria that participated in the exercise.
The presidential election appears to be a close contest between four major contestants among the 18 political parties that fielded candidates in the race. Candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Ahmed Tinubu; candidate of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)Atiku Abubakar; candidate of the Labour Party (LP)Mr. Peter Obi and that of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso were the front runners.
The elections were over in record time in parts of the country on Saturday, especially in the Nigerian capital, Abuja and collation and counting are being sorted out as the world wait with bated breath on the outcome of especially the presidential election.
There have been tension characterised by pockets of violence ahead of the elections amid the hardship caused by the currency scarcity and fuel shortage in the country. There were also reports of pockets of violence on election day in some polling units in parts of the country. But this may not be a general development around the country.
One of the main Observers that observed the election all over the federation was the European Union Elections Mission.
The EU Mission to the election on Saturday acknowledged the large turnout of voters when it visited the Government Secondary School Zone 4, which has three polling units, where the polls opened fairly on time.
EU Chief Observer, Barry Andrews said the election day marks an important milestone in the democratic life of Nigeria.
Speaking to reporters Andrews said “Today is obviously an incredibly important day not just for Nigeria, but for the region and for the continent more generally. Our mission has been deployed here since early January. So, today is obviously important, but it’s also a step in the entire process that we’ve been examining over the last two months. And we will continue to stay here into early April to complete our assessment of the overall election process. Here in Nigeria.
“We have observers across the country, more than 100 observers across the country. Our long- term observers have been deployed since late January, and short term observers during this week are at polling units throughout the country. And we work together with the other election observation missions from the African Union from ECOWAS and the Commonwealth Foundation.
“And in two days’ time on Monday we will publish a preliminary statement and that will contain our initial assessment of the election process having regard to all of the issues that have arisen. Within three months after the election, we will produce a final report that will contain our conclusions and recommendations.
In the same vein, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard expressed confidence in the electoral process, stressing that voting has been peaceful and orderly in some of the polling units she visited with her team in Abuja on election day.
The US Envoy said this in an interview with reporters when she visited the Tudun Wada Secondary School polling units in Zone 4 Abuja, where there was a large turnout of voters to cast their ballot today.
She said “It is a beautiful sunny day and the voters have come out, they are quite cheerful and everybody is happy to be here and casting their votes. It is wonderful to see such joviality and such calm in the election place and this is what we hope for across Nigeria today.
“This election has captured the attention of the world and fascination of the world. Elections in Nigeria matter. A free and fair election in Nigeria means a freer and fairer world. So, it is a great day for Nigeria,’’ she said.
Also speaking to reporters, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing said she has so far witnessed a pretty orderly and secure process and many people seemed pretty happy with the way the elections are being conducted. She said “I have spoken to party agents who have confidence as well as the EFCC and so far so good.”
She noted that the UK team on ground had reports of concerns about how early polling units’ materials arrived in some places but generally the message is that of orderly elections conducted peacefully with people feeling that they are able to exercise their democratic rights which is very good news.
“From the atmosphere today, there has been a huge sense of excitement,” she said even as she urged aggrieved parties to resort to legal means to seek redress.
Also reacting to the elections, President of the International Republican Institute (IRI) Daniel Twining, said although his organization has covered elections in Nigeria since 1999, the 2023 elections appear quite different because of the unpredictable nature.
He said “We have covered every Nigerian national election since 1999. Today, there is so much more technology now and obviously Nigeria has a much bigger and younger country. We know this is an important election without an incumbent running, with three major party candidates instead of two and the outcome is not known in advance, and that is a good thing. So, we are all ready to be surprised.”
On its part the Election Observer Mission deployed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, which has 250 observers, the highest in this election, expressed delight at the peaceful conduct of Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly Elections, stressing that the turnout has been encouraging.
Leader of the ECOWAS Election Observer Group and former President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, after witnessing the counting of votes at Polling Unit 028 in Gana street, Maitama at the heart of Nigeria’s capital Abuja, told reporters that the West African sub-region hopes that the peaceful conducts in Abuja will be a general reflection of the process through the federation.
He said “As ECOWAS Observer Mission, we are pleased to say that from the observation of the polling stations that we have visited, it has been generally peaceful, the turnout has been impressive and we saw a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the voters.
“The process has also been commendable, there has been a late start here and there but generally it has been good and we have just witnessed the counting which has also gone very well in this polling station that we have witnessed.
“So, we hope that this will be a reflection of what will happen in the rest of the country and we also hope that at the end of the day what comes out will be a reflection of the will of the people. So, we want to continue to encourage Nigerians to be law abiding, to stay within the framework of the law and let us observe this election until the official results are put out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”