Nigeria: These Are the Big Challenges Facing Incoming President Bola Tinubu
A controversial election
On March 1st Bola Tinubu was declared the winner of Nigeria’s sharply contested presidential election. In a three way race, Tinubu received 37% of the votes, enough to win him the presidency.
Bola Tinubu is from the same party as outgoing president Mohammadu Buhari and the election results are being challenged in court by his rivals. But if the results stand, he will be innaugurated in May.
Joining me to discuss the results of this election, and the key challenges ahead for the incoming Nigerian government is Amaka Anku, head of the Africa Practice at the Eurasia Group.
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Transcript lightly edited for clarity.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:02:21] Before we get into like the substance of our chat today, could you just let me know what's the mood in Abuja right now -- a few days after the election and just a day after it was called for Bola Tinubu?
Amaka Anku [00:02:35] I would say relief because it was a long wait and it was dramatic. If you're watching TV, there were some political parties were shouting at the head of the electoral commission and they walked out of the collation center and at some point they tried to stop the collation. So there was a lot of drama. A lot of people are relieved it's over, but a lot of people are also very disappointed. So relief, but also some tension today. We've seen both of the losing candidates address the public and indicate that they will be contesting the election results in courts. The intention is to assure the supporters, at least one of them made this explicitly clear that they don't need to go on the streets to protest because they will be addressing their grievances in the courts through the legal process. And I think that helps.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:03:48] And is there confidence among the two losing candidates and their supporters that the court system will be fair and judicious in weighing their concerns?
Amaka Anku [00:04:02] So actually, one of the candidates, Peter Obi, was asked this precise question. So at least I don't have to speculate what he thinks. He answer answered this question and he said he had full confidence. And ironically, in a very long time ago, in 2003, when Nigeria elections were a lot less transparent and less credible, he was arguably manipulated out of a state election that he won and the courts reinstated him and he became the governor. And so he cited that example to say, look, I've done this before. I've gone to the courts and we can do it again. So the sense is that he did appear confident in the court system.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:04:47] So Bola Tinubu was announced as the winner of the election, somewhat of a surprise. Polling suggested that Peter Obi might be the front runner ahead of the election, but as we all know, polling can sometimes be unreliable. Nevertheless, Bola Tinubu was announced as the winner. And before we discuss his biography a little bit, I also noticed that turnout for this election seemed to be exceptionally low. What did that suggest to you about Nigerian politics today?
Amaka Anku [00:05:21] I just want to say a word of caution about turnout. Unfortunately, Nigeria has a big problem with data, and so the total number of registered voters and the total number of people who have permanent vote cards is very likely inflated. There is no system in place to identify and purge the voter register of people who may have died since they were registered by elections in 2015. There's been attempts to do it, but there's no systematic way for them to do it. And so very likely there are several million people on the voter register, maybe even more that shouldn't be there anymore that are just duplicates and extraneous.
To be very clear, I think 25 million people voting in Nigeria, that is low, that is. But it might not be as low as 29% if you had the right denominator. So just something to keep in mind. What does that say about Nigerian politics? Look, the options for many people, the options in this election was not particularly attractive. None of the three main options were particularly attractive for a lot of people. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is the ruling party's candidate, is somebody who has been in politics for decades. He's old and a lot of people see him as having a lot of health problems. He doesn't look good just in terms of his physical appearance. The main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, is also a 70 year old guy who's been running for the presidency since 1993. He is also an old guy, also seen as an old part of the political establishment and didn't excite young people.
Peter Obi, is younger, I think he's 61, which is not that young either. But he is younger and also has been in politics for a little bit less than the others. He's been in politics since the early 2000 and was seen as a relative outsider and difference and a breath of fresh air. But he also, for a lot of people, didn't present a concrete policy alternative. He presented a hope that he ran on. But for a lot of people, he fell short on policy substance. So that left a lot of people with three very poor options. And people some people chose to stay home.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:07:57] So I'd love to have you briefly sketch the biography of Bola Tinubu. The Western media seems to frequently referred to him in shorthand as something of a kingmaker. How did he get that reputation and what is his background in politics?
Amaka Anku [00:08:16] So he cut his teeth in politics, fighting against military rule in the early 1990s. And so he was part of the pro-democracy movements and then he became the first Democratic governor of Lagos, the former political capital, and now the commercial capital. And in Lagos he ran on the opposition political party to the party that was then in power, which was the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 1999. And he proceeded to win for his party. Basically, almost all of the states in his region, in the South-West region, which was quite a political feat then because the federal governments had a lot more power, has a lot more resources. And somehow he managed to beat them and won a lot of those seats for his party. That was kind of the beginning of this sense of that Ahmed Tinubu as a kingmaker. And then since he left Lagos State governorship after eight years, he's managed to maintain a certain level of control over the states for 20 years through all the different governors that had three different governors now. And so that's why people refer to him as a kingmaker.
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