Nigerian president Bola Tinubu weathers challenge to electoral victory but faces resistance from labor

The Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) has dismissed all petitions filed by the opposition challenging the victory of President Bola Tinubu in the February 25 polls. The ruling was issued in the midst of a two-day strike organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress against the government’s economic policies

September 08, 2023 by Tanupriya Singh
President Tinubu Nigeria
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu. (Photo: @officialABAT/Twitter)

The Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) of Nigeria has dismissed all petitions challenging the victory of President Bola Tinubu in the elections held on February 25. The five-judge bench issued its ruling on Wednesday, September 6, in response to the challenges filed by opposition contenders including Atiku Abubakar from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi from the Labour Party (LP), and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM). 

The presidential election saw a record low voter turnout of only 29% of the total 93.4 million eligible voters. On March 1, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Tinubu as the winner with 36.6% of the votes, followed by Abubakar (29.1%) and Obi (25.4%)—whose LP had been popular among the youth and was backed by trade unions as a potential third force in Nigerian politics. 

“We won the elections and we will prove it to Nigerians… It will go down as one of the most controversial elections ever to be held in Nigeria,” Obi had stated at the time. 

Obi and Abubakar, who were among five petitioners that initially approached the PEPC, asked the court to either pronounce them as the winner of the February polls or order fresh elections. The petitions raised issues related to Tinubu’s educational qualifications, his citizenship of Guinea, and his indictment on drug trafficking charges in the US. 

The two candidates raised allegations of major irregularities and corrupt practices in the polls, including suppression of votes, manipulation of results, and deliberate delays by the INEC in uploading virtual copies of the real-time results from polling units. 

The APM’s petition was centered around the alleged double nomination of Tinubu’s vice-president and running mate, Kashim Shettima. Obi and Abubakar both claimed to have won the election. 

However, in a 12-hour marathon judgment issued on Wednesday, the court dismissed all the petitions, stating that the petitioners had presented no “credible evidence” to prove the allegations of irregularities and corrupt practices, and had failed to present alternative results to prove their victory. 

In a brief statement published on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday, the LP stated that it rejects the outcome of the judgment in its entirety “because justice was not served and it did not reflect the law and the desire of the people.” 

The PEPC ruling came on the second day of a nationwide strike declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), while President Tinubu was in India ahead of the G20 Summit. The strike was called in protest of the recent economic reforms undertaken by the government, particularly the removal of subsidy on fuel in May. The move followed years of financial crises and neoliberal policies pursued by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari at the directive of the IMF and World Bank, under which energy distribution was privatized and subsidies were cut down. Tinubu had announced the removal of the fuel subsidy during his inaugural speech, resulting in fuel prices rising by almost three times to reach record high levels. 

Speaking to Peoples Dispatch soon after, prominent Nigerian journalist and author Chido Onumah had highlighted that despite being the largest producer of crude oil in Africa, Nigeria is forced to rely on fuel imports. 

“We have four refineries in the country, none are working. We should look at the political economy of subsidy and fuel importation…how many trillions of naira are going into importing fuel, much of this fuel is diverted. It is [an issue of] elite capture of the state…they are the ones in control of the state and the ones in control of the petroleum sector. According to them, trillions of naira [are being] spent to subsidize petrol… [meanwhile] how much does it cost to build a refinery?” 

On the impact of subsidy removal, Onumah said that “fuel subsidies [in Nigeria’s context] is not about cars, it is about the barber, the hair salon, the market woman…because everything needs an alternative source of power to function. So you are not just targeting the middle class who own cars…When there are no efficient public transport systems….no alternative transport systems like rails…or effective public buses, it is difficult for the majority of Nigerians.” 

The two-day shutdown on September 5 and 6 came just weeks after the NLC and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) held major countrywide protests to demand the “immediate reversal of all anti-poor policies of [the] government including the recent hike in PMS [Premium Motor Spirit or petrol] price, school fees, and VAT,” fixing local refineries, and addressing issues related to corruption. 

The NLC also denounced the government’s decision to merge the foreign exchange rate in the official and parallel markets, which was done with the floating of the naira. The NLC stated that at a time when Nigeria “has nothing to export other than crude oil,” the decision raised the country’s debt stock from N72 trillion (USD 91.1 billion) to N81 trillion (USD 100.2 billion) and put “enormous pressure on local manufacturing capacity utilization,” impacting the cost of locally-produced goods as many input materials were imported. 

Other issues raised included the provision of comprehensive social protection for poor and vulnerable households and government support for the health and education sectors instead of a move towards privatization. 

The NLC has warned of organizing a “total and indefinite national shutdown” starting September 21 if the government does not take steps to “address the excruciating mass suffering and impoverishment being experienced across the country.” 

Meanwhile, Tinubu is also facing a tense situation internationally as the chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In Niger, while thousands continue to take to the streets in support of the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, the West African bloc has imposed severe sanctions on Niamey and threatened military action. 

However, the Senate of Nigeria, which was expected to have a leading role in any potential intervention, immediately rejected Tinubu’s request for the mobilization of forces. Late in August, Tinubu stated that “We [ECOWAS] are deep in our attempts to peacefully settle the issue in Niger by leveraging on our diplomatic tools. I continue to hold ECOWAS back, despite its readiness for all options, in order to exhaust all other remedial mechanisms.” 

While talks between ECOWAS and Niger’s leadership are ongoing, the people of Niger have continued to hold mass protests against attempts to violate their country’s sovereignty, the threats and sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, and demanded the removal of French forces from their soil.