As of the morning of March 31, in New York, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, has a commanding lead over incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). States yet to have their results announced are nearly all in the north of the country–Buhari’s traditional stronghold. Those results should increase Buhari’s already substantial margin of victory. Buhari has already declared victory. Thus far, there has been no comment from President Goodluck Jonathan.
As ever, international observers have been quick to declare that the ongoing elections are orderly and credible. However, both the preliminary report of the National Democratic Institute and a joint statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Harwood have raised concerns about the collation process, whereby local vote totals are combined. Nigerian civil society groups and the APC cite instances of blatant rigging in a variety of local government areas in Rivers and Delta states, mostly by the governing PDP and, paradoxically, in areas where the ruling party would likely win regardless. For its part, the PDP Deputy National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, is calling on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to cancel the elections in the seven northern states of Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Katsina, and Kogi. He alleges that there was under-age voting and that balloting took place at night, facilitating rigging.
Nigerian social media is tweeting and retweeting that the election returning officers for Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, and Bauchi states are being held at the Presidential Wing of the Abuja airport. If true, this would be a sinister development.
Buhari has carried Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Katsina, Kogi, Taraba, and Adamawa by heavy majorities. Were INEC to cancel the elections in those states, Buhari would no longer meet the constitutional requirements for election—a presidential victor must win the largest number of votes and at least one-quarter of the votes in two-thirds of the states.
Throughout this election period, the question has been whether the losing side would accept the election results. At the urging of the Obama administration and the U.K.’s Cameron government, among others, Jonathan and Buhari (and the other, minor presidential candidates) signed the Abuja Accord in January, thereby among other things forswearing violence and committing to the electoral process as defined by law. In Nigeria’s winner-take-all political culture, this is a weak reed.
It remains to be seen whether the PDP will accept a Buhari victory and whether INEC can withstand pressure to annul the elections in certain areas. The vote count continues and the jury is still out. But, the PDP’s calls for cancelling the elections in seven states that strongly supported Buhari and the detention of returning officers (if true) are not good signs. On the other hand, Buhari’s margin of victory is so large that the PDP may be encouraged to accept it.