John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigerian Presidential Elections: The Devil Is in The Ballot Collating

by John Campbell
April 19, 2011

People watch as electoral officers count the ballots after voting ended at a polling centre in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos April 16, 2011. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)

International election observers have been enthusiastic about Nigeria’s 2011 presidential elections, seeing them as a dramatic improvement over those of 2007, admittedly a low bar. Electorally, the country split in two, with the North, predominately Muslim, voting for Muhammadu Buhari and the South for the winner, incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan. (In addition, there were numerous other candidates who altogether won only a small percentage of the vote). Buhari and other Northern spokesmen have denounced the elections as having been rigged and have called for them to be annulled. Meanwhile, murderous rioting has broken out across the northern part of the country, a sign of the major breakdown in civic order. What happened?

There appears to have been substantial election rigging, not so much at the polling stations where international observers were often present but at the collation centers where monitors were usually absent. A distinguished Nigerian civil organization, The Civil Society Election Situation Room, notes that in twelve states – one third of the total – ostensible voter turnout was suspiciously high. The national voter turnout average was 53 percent. In the twelve identified states, the turnout ranged from 62 percent to 84 percent. The Situation Room cites allegations that the figures were “doctored” and declares that the collation process constituted “the weakest link in the election management process.” Project Swift Count, another civil organization involved with election oversight, did station observers at some collation sites, but apparently a number of its personnel were arrested or otherwise intimidated. The Situation Room faults the Electoral Commission for having been “ineffective in its oversight function as far as monitoring and controlling the collation process was concerned.”

In Nigeria, governors often play a prominent role in election rigging. Of the twelve states with dubious turnout figures cited by the Election Situation Room, eleven had governors from the ruling party who supported Jonathan; none had governors from the opposition who supported Buhari. Of the twelve states that Buhari won, all in the North, Jonathan accumulated more than twenty-five percent of the vote in eight of them. Of those eight, all are represented by governors of the ruling party, the PDP.

Most of the rigging appears to have benefited Jonathan, and the Electoral Commission has certified that he won twice as many votes as Buhari and easily a majority of the ballots cast. Why rig in states that Jonathan was almost certain to win anyway? The Nigerian constitution requires a successful presidential candidate to win an absolute majority of the votes cast and at least 25 percent of the vote in two thirds of the states. Otherwise, there is a runoff between the two candidates who had the most votes. So, Jonathan needed overwhelming majorities in his base states to ensure that he won an absolute majority of the ballots cast nationwide. And, to avoid a runoff, he also needed sufficient support in the North to meet the vote distribution requirement.

So, even if the polling was credible, the ballot counting was not. With the country split in half on regional and religious lines, and with many of the losers convinced the elections were stolen, the result has enraged the North against the ruling party, (including northern elites who are associated with the ruling party such as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano) and also against Christians in many places. The issue is not whether Jonathan would have won the elections “anyway,” it is rather the sentiment among Northerners that the PDP yet again stole the elections. The immediate concern is that Northern violence against the ruling party and its perceived Christian supporters will result in an anti-Muslim backlash in the states that supported Jonathan. The longer term concern is the alienation of the North from the Federal Republic, a process already underway.

Post a Comment 15 Comments

  • Posted by Oshin Ola A

    Now this is my opinion.CPC and ACN are having party representatives in all the polling boots in this country.Or didn’t they? So,let them sum up all the results in the hands of their party representatives.If the figure they obtain is different from what INEC declared,it is then their are electoral malpractices at the collation centres.This time around,I think INEC chairman Jega has a name to protect.So he has decided to be very transparent unlike former……. …

  • Posted by Amadioha

    But there is no how Buhari would have won even up to 10 percent in the Southeast and Southsouth. Buhari did not campaign in these two regions. In fact in these areas he has no office. He did not even visit some of the states in these regions. There was not even adverts. His party has no structure at all in some states, then how will he expect to perform well there. He could not also be expected to win the the middle belt belt. He consciously neglected these areas and bank all his hope on the far North, i.e. NE and NW, and hope that SW votes will go to Ribadu, hence denying Jonathan the required 25% majority. That was his game plan that back fired. I donot want to believe that he imagined to win more votes than Jonathan in the first round.

    Of course he couldn’t have won the NC (or Middle Belt) because of the way the imams were preaching in mosques against voting a non-muslim in the far North and as a result, the NC being a Christain dominated area became suspicious of him. No doubt, the NC used to guaranty the far North dominance in the 1960s to 1990s but because of the sectarian crisis of the 2000s they have turned against the far North, hence, denying them the majority they used to enjoy. In my opinion, this is yet to dawn on the people of the far, or so-called core, North.

    Jonathan worked hard for his victory. He visited every state of the federation. He even went to places that were Buhari stronghold and sometimes suffer humiliating acts by CPC thugs in these about a dozen states that are his stronghold. He approached elders in all the states, including the far North which is Buhari stronghold. Buhari did none of these. It is either he was too arrogant or he didn’t have enough money to carry out a nationwide campaign. So in conclusion, the result shouldn’t come as a surprise since he didn’t do his homework well.

  • Posted by Nafisah

    I wonder whats with Nigerians and this ‘religion’ mentality?! So a people cannot have other grievances to demonstrate over without it being misinterpreted as faith-based?! These protests in Northern states are a demonstration of people’s frustrations with their elder-states people and leaders who have succumbed to playing money-politics and for continually trampling on their political rights!

    Democracy is true representation and once people feel they are not truly represented, it is only natural to act or state otherwise!

    Though this may have escalated into violence, racketeering and destruction of property, killing and maiming individuals was never intended. It is very unfortunate that it did, however it had absolutely nothing to do with Islam or Christianity!

  • Posted by Rabia Eshak

    The isolation of the northern people will obvioudly even greater under the current dispensation and that is the concern of most northern professionals. The efforts put in place to give PDP what it requires to win the election by doctoring the results in the core north will not stop this trend. In a region that has the lowest of all development indices,what we need is real change that will focus on tackling the real issues of poverty,low level education,unemployment,infrastructural decay,and general lack of strategic plan for sustained development. We need leaders who can rise above selfish interests that will give the few people in government the edge to hold the reigns of power forever at the detriment of the good of all. The common northerner sees Buhari as his last hope for salvation here on earth since the current leadership has not in anyway made any effort to change his situation-their intimidating jeeps plying the pothole-ridden roads,the blaring sirens and their huge posters showing their well fed faces are indeed a constant reminder that he needs change!

  • Posted by rotimi Olawale

    I completely disagree with you final statement: ‘The longer term concern is the alienation of the North from the Federal Republic, a process already underway’
    I will come back to that in a moment.

    As you have mentioned, Nigeria has made remarkable improvement in its electoral process and the actual voting has been carried out with minimal rigging.

    The Collation Centres: this is indeed a weak point and this is where INEC, observers and civil-society actors need to re-direct their energies during the last batch of elections to ensure that we move closer to a perfect election.

    The North has not been alienated. The PDP governors of Northern origin represents the largest bloc in the PDP who voted during the primaries for President Jonathan of Southern origin, they could easily have pitched their tent with someone else.

    Nigeria is not divided into North or South alone, the people of the south-east have never produced a president, and even with the fact that their chances of producing the next president becomes slimmer as a result of Jonathan’s victory, they still supported his candidacy.

    The dynamics in Nigeria are beyond the north-south, muslim/non-muslim lens that foreigners tend to view Nigeria with.

    the presidential election in 1993 which was annulled had Chief MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, both muslims running a joint ticket, and they had support nationwide.

    Kaduna state currently has a sitting Christian governor due to the fact that the former governor accepted a new position as the Vice president and there was no hullabaloo over this.

    Nigeria is a complex state, and the more it grows in democracy and the more educational, economic and employment opportunities become widespread, the less of violence and rancor we will see

  • Posted by Olamide

    Your accusations are baseless. Was Buhari expecting to win in Cross river state, or in Bayelsa state? Why is nobody talking about mass underage voting in the north anyways. The poor youth corpers that are being killed in the North rigged for Jonathan too right? Agents of all the parties were presnet @ the collation centres so please go and find something else to write. This really sucks.

  • Posted by XKZ

    Speculation no substance.
    Parties had their agents at the polling unit where you agree there was no rigging. The agents were given copies of the results at each polling unit immediately.
    They should collate those and tell us what the real results should be.

  • Posted by Tunji Lardner

    Seems like deja vu all over again in certain respects. Please see the results of our forensic analysis of the 2007 elections, that exposes the systemic weaknesses that are usually exploited to rig elections.


  • Posted by Raymond Mordi

    Mr. Campbell submissions above are mere suspicions, but he is stating them as if these have been verified and proved. I don’t see any justification for his categorical statement that there was substantial rigging during the 2011 presidential election. The fact that there were high voter turnout in those 12 states controlled by the ruling party does not necessarily translate to rigging. A turnout of between 62 to 84 per cent in a region that is electing their kit and kin as president for the first time ever, in my view, is not that outrageous. I expected Mr. Campbell to tell us specifically where the rigging took place, rather than a blanket condemnation of the election in the entire southern Nigeria.

  • Posted by Tope Ogidan

    I will like to differ on your final submission that the voting pattern in Southern part of the country was doctored to favor the ruling party. You should remember that most of those states were being governed by the ruling party and for the first time, they are electing their own kinsmen which they have never witness before. The unusual turn out should explain the reason why. Buhari never campaigned in the south and he believe that North West and North East votes will automatically goes to him since the alliance between him and the Ribadu, the ACN presidential candidate failed to materialized. I believe there may be pocket of issues here and there, that does not make the entire election suspicious.

  • Posted by Ahmad Abdullahi

    At last, some of the reasons for the spontaneous reaction of the northern youth, unfortunate as the violance was, are coming from respectable and credible sources.

    The action of the youth was an expression of frustration with a system that ‘flogs you and warns you not to cry’. No one denies that the elections were a marked improvement over the previous ones in recent years, or that the government has promised to hold a credible election this time around. It was not even that Buhari ought to have won the elections in the first round.

    No. It was frustartion against a government and a people that enjoy taking you for a ride. A government in whose reckonning you dont count. That’s why it can repudiate agreements on power rotation in practice, but annoyingly tells you, in principle, it still exists. Or tells you that the elections would be free and fair but in reality spends unlimited public funds for a favored candidate, or somehow rigs the elections in his favor and intimidate and repress electorates perceived to be in opposition.

    And, there is the general, though by no means exclusive, suspicion of the youth in the north that the government of Mr. Jonathan would not be any better than the previous ones.

    Meanwhile, they are contending with grinding poverty, hopeless unemployment situation and worthless infrastructure.

  • Posted by Mustafa Kamaye

    Of the 12 years PDP had ruled Nigeria, an average Northerner could not see anything good on the ground. we voted for change and our socalled ruler simply refused to allow that to happen. The violence that engulfed this region is just the beginning. A poor northerner is becoming more wiser day-by-day.

  • Posted by Lawrence SC. Egwali

    If a man calls himself a Statesman, he should be able to draw a line between his interest and public interest. I am sure that if President Gbagbo visits his citizens of Cote de’Ivore in their Ghana refugee camp, he will be sorry for his inordinate ambition. If we agree that the vote of the people will count, it means that we have to listen to the people’s voice, and not formulate lies to shield our inadequacies in an election. Even before the election even a fool can feel the momentum of Jonathan’s acceptance.

  • Posted by Balogun

    Mr.Campbell’s explanation is spot-on.The elections were systematically rigged in favor of Pres.Jonathan by his ruling PDP governors across the country.What is yet to be seen is how the Northern elite will react to this development. The country is split across our religious and tribal fault lines.The lines of fracture is already evident.Unfortunately, the Nigerian south is unconcerned about the process of the elections, all tat matters to them is the outcome. “Our tribesman won!”

  • Posted by Chris okonkwo

    Buhari Never stood a chance of winning the elections. To understand why please see

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