Bola Tinubu this week fulfilled his life-long ambition to become leader of Nigeria after winning the closest presidential vote since the end of the country’s military dictatorship 24 years ago.
Yet for Muhammad Halliru, an Abuja-based businessman who voted for third-placed Peter Obi of the Labour party, the race is not over. “These figures are fiction,” he said of the election results. “Obi will go to court and win his mandate back. He’s a very determined person.”
Halliru’s view reflects the challenge Tinubu faces in governing a country divided over the outcome of the ballot, which the opposition says was marred by intimidation and vote-rigging. Tinubu, whose All Progressives Congress party has already been in power for eight years, also faces the vast job of fixing Nigeria’s dysfunctional economy and meeting the needs of its youthful population.
“Many voters don’t see him as the right person to be leading the country,” said Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence. “He has to move quickly to deliver on low-hanging fruits or his presidency would be the most severely challenged since the return of democracy.”
Tinubu’s opponents say last weekend’s election was a sham, pointing to long delays in the collection of results and violent scenes at some polling stations. They plan to challenge the results in court.
Obi, who won 6.1mn votes after galvanising younger voters, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that his Labour party would explore all “legal and peaceful options to reclaim our mandate. We won the election and we’ll prove it to Nigerians.” Second-placed Atiku Abubakar of the opposition Peoples Democratic party has also called for a rerun.
Obi also called on supporters to act within the law, and the election-rigging allegations have not been accompanied by widespread protests. Analysts said this reflected the resignation felt by many Nigerians.
Tinubu won 8.8mn presidential ballots among the 87mn eligible voters, securing the slimmest winning margin since the end of military rule in 1999, and almost two-thirds of voters gave their support to other candidates. This has fuelled critics’ claims he lacks legitimacy. Turnout was at an all-time low of 27 per cent despite record registration, a discrepancy the opposition claims was the result of voter suppression.
And in a country with a median age of 18, the president-elect, a mainstay of Nigeria’s political scene for three decades, will be 71 when he is sworn in on May 29.
Yet experts say the chances of Tinubu’s win being annulled were low, noting that Nigeria’s supreme court had never overturned a presidential vote. Mucahid Durmaz, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy, said Tinubu’s victory would “maintain the dominance of the entrenched political elite”.
Tinubu’s ability to unite Nigeria has also been complicated by an election that highlighted the country’s ethnic and religious faultlines, with leading candidates largely winning votes according to those affiliations.
In Wednesday’s acceptance speech, Tinubu acknowledged the challenges. “There are divisions among us that should not exist,” he said, before urging his and his opponents’ supporters to come together and “bring calm to our nation”.
Tinubu has been dogged by allegations of corruption, which he has always denied, for much of his political career. He also endured controversies over his health, age and educational qualifications during the campaign.
Tinubu said in his acceptance speech that “renewed hope has dawned” in the country, but his presidency is inexorably linked with that of the outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari, who critics say has squandered his eight years in power. Buhari’s legacy is a battered economy and widespread insecurity, with official data showing that Nigerians are poorer and less safe today than they were eight years ago.
That meant that Tinubu was forced to strike a delicate balancing act during the campaign between promising to continue Buhari’s “legacy” and distancing himself from the mistakes he has made.
Inflation, which has been in double digits since 2016, reached a fresh 17-year high of almost 22 per cent in January, driven largely by soaring food prices. Unemployment data, last updated in 2020, show that one in three Nigerians was officially unemployed.
Some 133mn Nigerians, 63 per cent of the population, are classed as “multidimensionally poor”, meaning they lack not only money but also access to adequate healthcare, food, housing and sanitation, according to the government’s statistics agency.
Armed groups in the north-west, separatists in the south-east and clashes between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers — typically over grazing land — have all contributed to widespread insecurity.
Some Tinubu supporters say he has the experience to save Nigeria from drifting further. Sikuru Akinola, who runs a consultancy in the south-western city of Ibadan, said Tinubu was savvy enough to get the economy moving and appoint competent people to crucial posts, pointing to his eight years running Lagos, the country’s biggest city.
“Lagos is a mini-Nigeria for me and I’m optimistic that Tinubu will replicate some of the ideas that he introduced in Lagos,” he said.
Yet the president-elect will have to take tough choices that could prove politically unpopular, including the planned removal of petrol subsidies that cost the country $10bn a year.
Kayode Fayemi, a founding APC party member expected to join Tinubu’s government, said that while Tinubu’s administration would continue with Buhari’s work in areas such as infrastructure development, it would not be “a replica of Buhari because clearly there are gaps”.
“We acknowledge that those gaps are things that need to be addressed — on education, healthcare, jobs for the youth and unemployment issues that need to be tackled and economic management.”
Halliru, the businessman who voted for Obi, said that while he hoped the election result would be overturned, he was sanguine about four more years of APC rule under Tinubu.
“Some of his agenda is good,” he said. “He should improve Nigeria and make it a better place where Nigerians can live without having to leave this country.”