Tensions Escalate After Nigeria Election Results
Former President Obasanjo warns: “Danger looming ahead.”
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Tunisia’s Kais Saied plays the xenophobic card, Anwar Sadat’s purloined passport, and South Africa fires Eskom’s chief after he alleges rampant corruption.
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Nigerian Election Results Trickle In
On Saturday, Nigeria held Africa’s largest democratic exercise when many of the country’s 87.2 million eligible voters cast their ballots in presidential and legislative elections. Preliminary results from the presidential race on Tuesday evening showed a lead for the ruling party’s Bola Tinubu in an election that was marred by delays and violence.
This year’s elections saw the deployment of new technologies, including biometric data to verify voters’ identities and live uploads of results onto a public website. But two days after polls officially closed, only about half of results had been uploaded onto the platform as election officials struggled with internet connectivity and poor planning by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
There were incidents of voter harassment, seized ballots and entire offices burned by thugs, and late arrival of election officials and materials. Disruptions in some polling units meant voting in those areas resumed Sunday. Opposition party representatives have rejected the results and late on Monday some walked out of the national collation center in the capital, Abuja. Even before the elections, just 60 percent of voters said they trusted the INEC to conduct a credible exercise, according to a survey by Lagos-based SBM Intelligence.
Established candidates. Eighteen candidates are on the presidential ballot, but only three have a realistic chance of winning. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a 70-year-old longtime political kingmaker of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is a former Lagos state governor nicknamed the “godfather” of Lagos.
Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, there has been an informal arrangement known as “zoning” among parties to share power between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south. Tinubu is a Muslim from the southwest and would have struggled to collect northern votes had he picked a northern Christian vice-presidential running mate; instead he risked a controversial Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Atiku Abubakar, a 76-year-old Muslim from the northeast, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is trailing close behind in second. Abubakar was Nigeria’s vice president from 1999 to 2007 and has been in the running at some stage of every election since that time.
Peter Obi, a 61-year-old Igbo Christian of the Labour Party, is in third. Underdog Obi has the strongest social media campaign behind him from young voters and the southeast as a former two-term governor of southeastern Anambra state. He was the PDP vice-presidential candidate in the 2019 elections before switching to the Labour Party last May.
The candidates represent Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups: Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo—making this election historic given that there was an Igbo candidate with a real shot at winning.
Shock results. Obi has managed to wrest power from Tinubu in Tinubu’s home state of Lagos with a narrow win of 582,454 votes against Tinubu’s 572,606. According to data published at the time of writing, voter turnout across the country was historically low.
Obi had hoped to turn Nigeria’s commercial capital into a swing state. The city is historically a Yoruba settlement but, as the country’s former capital, has substantial Igbo communities plus a large number of young, educated voters who are less likely to vote along party lines. Megachurches in Lagos had rallied against Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The cash shortage weeks before the election greatly affected Lagos residents, while the 2020 protests against police brutality were centered in Lagos. Tinubu has issued a statement calling for his supporters to respect the results. “As a democrat, you win some, you lose some. We must allow the process to continue unhindered across the country while we maintain peace and decorum,” he said.
Such is the level of animosity against the governing APC that in outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, the party lost to Atiku’s PDP by a slim margin of 489,045 votes to 482,283 votes.
Meanwhile, Obi also deliver a stunning upset by a wide margin in the federal capital territory (Abuja), which, together with Lagos, is reminiscent of Angola’s election results last August, when young voters ousted the ruling MPLA in the capital after 47 years in power.
Questionable forecasts. Despite enthusiastic youth activists, Obi seems to have failed to get the votes needed to win across a broad geographical area. To win, a candidate must garner the most votes and at least 25 percent of votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and capital territory.
Nigeria’s north has played an outsized role in determining elections; Kano state has the second-largest number of eligible voters, after Lagos.
FP previously highlighted a series of Bloomberg polls predicting an Obi win that had been heavily scrutinized by Nigerian analysts because it was unlikely that an Igbo Christian candidate could collect enough northern votes. The issue with those polls and various others was that they were conducted via smartphone, which skewed views toward Nigeria’s middle-class urbanites, who are more vocal and dominate social media platforms such as Twitter.
But Nigeria’s voting majority is more rural, poorer, and northern. Just 36 percent of Nigeria’s population had internet access in 2020, according to the latest World Bank data. Unless pollsters are conducting face-to-face interviews in Nigeria’s northern, rural areas, it will be difficult to predict election results.
Income levels, religion, ethnicity, and region appear to have influenced voting choices. Obi’s stronghold in the southeast has the smallest number of registered voters. Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket has helped him win some key states in the north, which has the largest number of voters as a region.
Tensions will continue to escalate, and allegations of vote-rigging circulate heavily on social media. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has urged the country’s electoral body to save the country from “a looming danger” and to “let all elections that do not pass the credibility and transparency test be cancelled,” referring to those results that parties have questioned or disputed.
Analysts say indicators point to a high probability of post-election violence. Still, this election has been Nigeria’s most competitive, and the narrow margins and upsets in some key states demonstrate that, despite enormous problems, Nigeria’s democracy is very reluctantly evolving.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, March 1: The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing to consider ambassador nominations for Kathleen FitzGibbon as ambassador to Niger, Eric Kneedler as ambassador to Rwanda, Pamela Tremont as ambassador to Zimbabwe, and Richard Mills as ambassador to Nigeria.
Wednesday, March 1, to Sunday, March 5: French President Emmanuel Macron visits Gabon, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Congo Republic.
Monday, March 6: Ghana celebrates its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957.
What We’re Watching
Tunisian xenophobia. On Saturday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Tunisia’s capital to denounce racist remarks made by Tunisian President Kais Saied calling for “urgent measures” against Black African migrants, whom he blamed for turning Tunisia into “only an African country that has no affiliation to Arab and Islamic nations.” He accused “hordes of irregular migrants” of criminality and violence. Tunisian police in a number of cities arrested more than 300 Black African migrants, including women and children, last month.
In a western suburb of Tunis, police raided a daycare center run by a couple from the Ivory Coast, arresting staff and a number of parents who had come to pick up their children, apparently so that authorities could check their papers, according to Tunis-based media outlet Radio Libre Francophone.
Approximately 21,000 Black African immigrants lived in Tunisia in 2021, according to the latest official survey, but they face prejudice and discrimination. More than 80 percent of Tunisians agree that racial discrimination is a problem in the country and more than 60 percent see discrimination against Black people as an issue, according to an Arab Barometer survey. While Tunisians may be less accepting of migrants in their own country, between 2020 and 2021 Tunisians led the surge in irregular migration to Europe.
Eskom firing. South African state utility company Eskom dismissed chief executive André de Ruyter a day after he alleged on South African television that Eskom was in the grip of organized crime. De Ruyter told news channel eNCA last week that the energy firm had become an African National Congress “feeding trough.”
Eskom said its board had resolved that de Ruyter “will be released from his position with immediate effect.” De Ruyter departed last Wednesday—a month before he was scheduled to leave after resigning in December following a reported poisoning attempt. De Ruyter said he suspects coffee he drank at his office was laced with cyanide. Eskom is about $23.5 billion in debt with auditors sounding the alarm on bankruptcy after a net loss of $719 million in the financial year ending March 2022. The utility company is dealing with years of underinvestment and systemic corruption.
Museveni-Zelensky talks. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni held a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last Wednesday to discuss “the potential for the development of bilateral relations,” Zelensky tweeted. But Ukraine is unlikely to win him over. Museveni, who has been in office for almost four decades, is a key Russian ally, having spent millions purchasing Russian military fighter jets.
This Week in Culture
Passport sale. The sale of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s passport by a U.S. auction house has caused outrage. Texas-based Heritage Auctions sold Sadat’s diplomatic passport on Feb. 22 for $47,500.
Karim Sadat, the president’s grandson, who is also a member of parliament, denounced the sale and has asked the foreign ministry to formally investigate the incident, which he called “an insult” that his family “will not accept,” state-owned Ahram newspaper reported. Sadat argued that Egypt should have benefited from such a historical document and wants an investigation into how the passport came to leave Egypt.
The late president’s wife, Jehan Sadat, donated her husband’s belongings to the Library of Alexandria in northern Egypt after he died. But Ahmed Zayed, the library’s director, said there was no record that the passport was among the donated items. A former Egyptian army officer, Anwar Sadat was president from 1970 until his assassination in October 1981. Sadat led Egypt during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. He later made peace with Israel by signing the U.S.-brokered Camp David Accords in 1978, which earned him and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• Why the West Is Afraid of Ukraine’s Victory by Vasyl Cherepanyn
• The United States Has Never Recovered From the Falklands War by Antonio De Loera-Brust
• ‘Putin Still Believes Russia Will Prevail’ by Ravi Agrawal
What We’re Reading
Senegal’s film pioneer. Africa’s largest film festival, FESPACO, opened in Burkina Faso Saturday, Estrella Sendra writes in African Arguments on the work of Senegalese filmmaker Safi Faye, who died on Feb. 22. Faye was the first Black African woman to direct a commercially distributed feature film in 1975, Kaddu Beykat (Letter from My Village), which won an award at FESPACO as well as at numerous other international film festivals.
Faye’s films often focused on rural life in Senegal. “Despite her prolific film career, her work was rarely seen” in Africa beyond film festivals “due to the historic marginalisation and challenging distribution of African cinema,” Sendra notes. Nevertheless, she went on to inspire many Senegalese women filmmakers decades later.
Nigeria’s ‘godfather’ politics. In the Republic, Muzz Muhammad examines Nigeria’s election history and how “godfathers”—wealthy businessmen who make or break political careers—became so influential. By financing candidates’ political ambitions while also being politicians themselves, “godfatherism, like other forms of political corruption, harms democracy by putting in power politicians who may feel more indebted to their godfathers than to their constituents,” Muhammad writes.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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