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03/01/2023 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) — After days of technical glitches, Bola Tinubu, candidate for the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) party, has been declared the winner of the 2023 Nigerian presidential election. His victory comes on the heels of the tightest presidential race since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 and the unlikely rise of candidate Peter Obi’s Labour party, which came in a relatively strong third place after receiving over 6 million votes, compared to just 5,000 in the 2019 presidential election. 

President-elect Tinubu is a familiar face in Nigerian politics. The two-time governor of influential Lagos State, he is perhaps better known for his role as the so-called Godfather of Lagos, where for years he has used his enormous personal wealth to bolster his political allies and remove his opponents. He claims to have placed current President Muhammadu Buhari in office through his influence. 

Though the origins of his wealth are murky at best, Tinubu is not shy about flaunting his kingmaking prowess, perhaps most famously in 2019 when two armored vehicles carrying cash were seen entering his lavish Lagos mansion the day before the election. 

Tinubu comes to power in a tumultuous time for Nigerian politics. In addition to a struggling economy, a controversial currency crisis, and a raging terrorist insurgency in the north, his victory came in an election that failed to fully deliver on promises of enfranchisement and transparency. 

“The elections,” said a report authored by international election observers, “fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ legitimate and reasonable expectations. Failures… and unchecked political violence before and during the elections overshadowed incremental administrative gains achieved in the pre-election period, and impeded a substantial number of citizens from participating in voting.” The report did not, however, question the legitimacy of the results or recommend a reelection given the irregularities it observed. 

Leaders in the losing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour parties were less restrained, however, and quickly called for a reelection. In support of their demand, they cited violence that disenfranchised many voters and systemic technical failures in Nigeria’s newly digitized vote-tallying system which has previously been used in state-level elections but faltered when tested on the federal stage. 

The PDP and Labour call for a reelection is perhaps unsurprising given the closely contested nature of the race and popular distrust of Nigeria’s electoral system, though it does violate their previous promises to accept the results regardless of the outcome. Most recently, the APC, PDP, and Labour parties gathered on February 22 to reaffirm their commitment to accepting the election results, signing a peace statement and drawing commendation from U.S. President Joe Biden, who urged the political parties and their candidates to “live up to their pledge” in a statement. 

Many observers predict post-election violence in the coming days given the deep-seated tensions at play in the election. Among other flashpoints, Tinubu abandoned the long-standing tradition of presidential candidates choosing a running mate from a different faith when he chose Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim and former governor of Borno State, to join him on the APC ticket. 

A recent statement by the Christian Association of Nigeria was critical of the election process, but stopped well short of questioning the results and instead urged “all political actors, elder statesmen, eminent personalities in our society as well as religious and traditional leaders to make proactive interventions to calm any tensions and nip signs of violence in the bud.”  

Tinubu comes to power amid raging religious violence in many parts of Nigeria, especially in the central and northern regions of the country where terrorist and militant groups are waging an effective war against government forces and targeting peaceful communities.

Nigeria has dealt with significant internal violence for years, mostly at the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group and militant Fulani herdsmen. Tens of thousands have been killed or abducted by these two groups, and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced.

Meanwhile, the government—under both Christian president Goodluck Jonathan and Muslim president Muhammadu Buhari—has failed to provide any kind of effective response to the violence or adequate protection to vulnerable communities regularly targeted for their religion, such as in southern Kaduna State where certain Christian communities have been attacked by Muslim extremists repeatedly over the years.

If Tinubu is serious about quelling the violence in Nigeria, one factor that he must address is religion. Though not the only factor at play—lack of economic opportunity is another—it is a major one, and one that he crucially cannot afford to ignore.

Whether through programs to counter religious extremism or through special efforts to provide security for vulnerable Christian communities in violence-torn areas, Tinubu can make significant strides towards peace if he is willing the address the religious tensions at play in his country.

The election was not as good a moment for Nigerian democracy as observers had hoped—in addition to election-day violence and technical issues, continued low voter turnout disappointed observers—but it was, perhaps, a step in the right direction. Even if the rollout was glitchy, digitizing the election process was an improvement. And even if he lost, the fact that Obi put up a serious fight is a good sign for the robustness of Nigeria’s political system which has previously been completely controlled by the APC and the PDP. And Obi’s ability to mobilize young voters is a promising sign for a country where the median age is just 18 and voter turnout has been dangerously low for years.

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