Nigeria: Nine Lessons from the 2019 Elections

Lagos, Nigeria                  Photo: Temitayo Aina

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

Dateline: Eixample, Barcelona, Spain

I had no intention of penning an article on the 2019 Nigerian Presidential elections that took place on the 23rd of February. But an avid reader of my blog unequivocally told me should would love an analysis of the exercise. The incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner over his main opponent Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Find below my summation of political lessons from the largest economy in Africa following the elections:

 1. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the institution that oversees elections in Nigeria is so vital that we must pay attention to the man or woman that secures the top job. This election was by no means an improvement from 2015. It is not surprising though, given that local elections previously conducted under the INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu were either inconclusive or fraught with shortcomings. It has been one step forward, ten steps backward. 

2. If we do not embrace technology, elections will be subject to manipulation and litigation. It took almost four days for INEC to collate results in the capital city, Abuja. What happened to electronic transmission in and from various regions? It looked clumsy watching the process on television.

3. Electoral rules need to be applied uniformly. Compelling electoral officers to enforce the use of card readers in some areas while others are allowed manual voting generates unnecessary suspicion and jeopardises the integrity of the exercise. I also do not understand why over 1 million votes were cancelled. What is the point of voting if votes are not counted? That’s disenfranchisement.

4. There were instances of electoral violence in some states. Do not kill or get killed for any politician. Their children are tucked away in the safety of their homes while you’re sent to mow down your fellow citizens, who just like you, are struggling to eke out a living in a harsh economic environment. At the end of the day, it will not land you the juicy positions that are reserved for their kids in the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, etc, all enabled by an unaccountable feeding bottle system. May I add that this system is unsustainable.

5. The results of the elections revealed that Nigeria is as divided as ever. It’s obvious that we do not have a common vision partly due to the fact that our foundation is flawed. There are options open to us going forward. We can decide to find a common ground by having a series of sincere, honest and genuine conversation about the future that we want. Let’s stop running from the problem with empty rhetoric of “our unity is non-negotiable.” Unity at gunpoint has not served us well so far. Mutual fear, suspicion, and mistrust have held us back. It’s imperative to build a fair, just and equitable nation.  We are all Africans before we are Christians or Muslims. Unfortunately, religions that are not original to us play a highly divisive role in our society. Following a sincere conversation, we may also realise that we want a different future, and part ways amicably upon negotiating acceptable rules of engagement with one another. The point is: nationhood requires hard work. It does not happen by wishful thinking.

6. If the younger generation does not step up, the old men will gladly stay put. The two leading candidates President Muhammadu Buhari (76) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (72) ideally should be retired from active politics. Nigeria has given so much to these politicians. The same crop of leaders have been calling the shots for more than 30 years in Nigeria. Given their extensive network, it’s fair to ask that they concern themselves with grooming competent successors. In a country of almost 200 million people with more than half under 30 years, we can do better. The time to prepare for 2023 and 2027 is now.

7. Passion and ambition are not sufficient to win the Presidency. Please ask candidate Muhammadu Buhari who ran unsuccessfully in 2003, 2007 and 2011. His alliance with the Southwest, a well-oiled propaganda machine, among other factors changed the game and propelled him to victory for the first time in 2015. This observation is in regard to the new faces in the presidential race, of which I was delighted to see. Politics is about grassroots support, solid structures, alliances, funding, etc. The newcomers have a chance to begin to build the necessary political machinery for the future. They should not give up. I’m not speaking about the many mushroom parties that failed to muster 20,000 votes in the presidential and national assembly elections, yet wasted our resources by being on the ballot. There were over 70 presidential candidates from different parties. Seriously, we need to review the party system in Nigeria.

8. Don’t be deceived by the noise in traditional and social media. A significant number of Nigerians are neither urbane nor cosmopolitan. They live in rural areas. You ignore them at your peril. I also think that universal access to education is sorely needed to liberate people.

9. Forget ballot box snatching. The new rigging is vote buying, voter suppression, voter intimidation and different rules for different folks.


I would like to wrap up with some random thoughts. One of the smartest ways to fight corruption, I believe, is wealth creation. A hungry policeman that lacks a decent wage to cater for his family will be tempted to demand as well as receive bribe. Period! The level of poverty remains high. This should be a source of concern, and reflect in the management of the economy.

The new message in the air is “live within your means”. It makes sense. However, how can a civil servant with 21 children for instance, relate to that message? What is his take-home pay? Clearly, we have to deal first of all with deep rooted cultural and religious norms.

Parties matter to an extent.  At the same time, it’s not about the party. Whether it’s the APC or PDP, they all drink from the same cup. That partly explains why politicians easily jump wagon to join the ship at the centre. They marry one another, do business together and make decisions on how our national resources are utilised. We must demand good governance, accountability, transparency, merit, rule of law, justice, fairness and equity, whichever party is in power.

Enough said. Please feel free to engage in the comment box. Have a wonderful week everyone. I hope you enjoy reading!

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  1. I am glad you decided to write on the recent elections.. yours is an incisive perspective.

    A key take-away from your article is that the current approach to governance is UNSUSTAINABLE.. this sums it all up imho.

    To buttress this assertion you spoke to issues of poor education and literacy levels, endemic corruption, lack of visionary thought leadership, election irregularities, weak institutional umpire (INEC), non introduction of technology,..etc..

    Nigeria is a failing state…and the opportunity to stem the tide of failure keeps slipping from the grasp. The outcome of this election leaves little to inspire.

  2. u just said it as it is . I am glad you are also following up like the rest of us, Inec is really not independent until they have their independent everything remains the same. we must keep talking

  3. What happened on February 23 in Nigeria could be said to be canonization not election. How do we reconcile the fact that of the over 72 million that collected the permanent voters card(PVC), only a little above 28 million valid votes were recorded for all the presidential candidates that participated in the election. Many thought we could use the instrumentality of the ballot to effect a change to no avail. What a shame!

    Some had anticipated the replay of 2015 scenario but forgot that President Buhari is provincial and would not have any of that. Buhari and his party,the APC, knew that under free, fair, credible and peaceful process it would be extremely difficult for them to win. Therefore, they unleashed all the coercive instruments and apparatuses of the state to retain power.

    A system that tolerates the kind of electoral fraud that took place here is simply anti democratic and antithetical to development and should not be allowed. Some African countries are getting their elections right while ours remains primitive and uninspiring. For how long shall we continue to disappoint the world? A country and a people with great potentials that falters with every step.

    The most important lesson from the election is that the dominant class are still playing the ethnic, religious and regional cards to divide the people and to settle their intra class squabbles. The masses are still used as pawns on their political chessboard. We must rise to salvage this nation!

  4. Good job, well done. My heart aches when I see and hear how Nigeria is being governed bythose who never wished this nation well. They impose themselves on the citizenries and hijack power and call it democracy. The presidential election we had recently justified my views. People’s wishes were suppressed and stolen.
    Sincerely, there is nothing like ‘One Nigeria’ and there is no democracy, rule of laws, fairness, equity and truth, rather deceit and marginalization is the order of the day.
    My question still remains’ How can someone be a slave or second class citizen in his own fatherland? Enough of this evil.
    I pray that honest, sincere and God fearing men and women will emerge and build this nation, thereby restoring the glory, beauty and honour of this great nation, and securing enviable future and hope for our wards, including the unborn ones.

  5. I know nothing of Nigerian politics except the well-held international view that it stinks. Here in the uk we have our own undemocratic vices; non-greater than our prime minister, Teresa May, and the Conservative party attempting to prevent parliament from having a say in the Brexit (short for British exit from the EU) process. This “christian” woman took it all the way to the Supreme Court on appeal only to lose again. For 2 years since then she has proved to be a psychological study into the intransigence, bloody-mindedness and cynicism that is all too often exhibited in political leaders. Against all reason and appeals to embrace the democratic process she continues to resist, only to result in failure this coming week according to most pundits.
    Why do I mention this in a discussion of Nigerian politics? Simply to highlight the fact that human nature is universally flawed and political power can corrupt no matter the country or its circumstances. Sibyl in the last comment says it all….”I pray that honest, sincere and God fearing men and women will emerge and build this nation….”. It starts from within each man and woman…..

  6. I totally agree with you Ian. Human beings are basically flawed in all countries. The only difference are institutions that are strong enough to checkmate leaders. In the absence of that, they unapologetically ditch the rules, take everyone for a ride, punching and kicking while at it. SMH

  7. Ours in Nigeria is same old stories. It’s like the latin word “quo vadis” – “where do we go from here”? Nigeria’s nation building challenges trasends ethnicity and religion, though one of the main pitfalls to our nation building realities. There’s work to be done: building bridges to unite and sustain the population from every tongue and tribe. Advancing our call for free and compulsory education to every child in Nigeria, building our Research and Development Centres in the University as life wires to revamp our economy. Our Judicial and electoral process has to be strengthened.

    To call it shot: The 2019 General Elections in Nigeria is a far cry from Democratic Tenets.

  8. Truly agree agree with your perspective.. I must admit that the conduct if many in the last elections are to horrific to recount. From different interviews on social media to actual face to face encounters from ‘opposition” or whatever/ whoever is defined as such…makes me wonder about the Nigeria we have become.

  9. Well done Ma. This reflects the view of many Nigerians. We need to get to the stage where INEC becomes totally independent as they should be so that we can at least look forward to free and fair elections without violence amongst the citizens who are cheaply paid to carry out violent acts.

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