To Whom ‘Too Much’ is Given INEC’s Disappointing Conduct of the 2023 Presidential Election

Despite spending N305 billion, INEC’s conduct in the 2023 presidential election failed to show any real progress. Instead, the electoral commission has eroded the gains made in the past few years in Nigeria’s path to achieving true democracy through credible controversy-free elections.

Ahead of the 25 February 2023 presidential election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that 93,469,008 eligible voters had registered to vote. It was the highest registration level in Nigeria’s political history and an indication of citizens’ interest in being part of the transition to a new presidency (since, by law, President Muhammadu Buhari was ineligible to participate after his two-term administration). 

Compared to 2019 when the number of registered voters was about 84 million, the 2023 spike in the interest in politics was arguably due to the large number of young Nigerians who registered to participate in the electoral process; the same demography that for a long time has been accused of voter apathy. INEC’s data revealed that 37,060,399 or 39.65 per cent of the eligible voters were between the ages of 18 and 34, making young Nigerians INEC’s largest age group. 

The 2023 election has also been the most expensive in Nigeria’s history—the electoral commission spent N305 billion, a 62 per cent increase over what was spent on the 2019 general elections. The reason for this was not only to improve the electoral process but to also make the system more credible through the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing (IREV) portal.  

These technologies were expected to provide fool-proof authentication of voters and near real-time uploading of results to the point where electorates would have been able to do their own computation and calculation of votes even before the official declaration of results at the INEC collation centre in Abuja. 

Instead, when compared to other polls in the past in terms of budget, logistical deployment and expectations of the electorate, the presidential and National Assembly elections were a failure in all parameters. Perhaps the only area INEC got right was conducting the election on the scheduled date, a situation that would have likely been forgiven if the election had been postponed to guarantee a more successful exercise. 

The vote count during the presidential election was the lowest in more than 40 years especially when compared to the number of eligible voters. INEC accepted 24 million voted in the 2023 election representing less than 30 per cent of voters. Four years ago, valid votes were 34.7 per cent of the total expected votes. 

The low number of votes during the 2023 presidential election also meant that the ultimate winner, Bola Tinubu, who scored 8.79 million, had the lowest number of votes for a presidential election winner in Nigeria since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999. Each winner since 1999 had scored not less than 12 million votes. In 2011, Buhari, despite scoring 12 million votes, lost to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. 

When put into further perspective, Kenya’s presidential election which took place in August 2022 had about two-thirds (65 per cent) of the electorate participate in the exercise with the winner, William Ruto, finishing ‘with four-fifths the number of ballots that Tinubu received despite Nigeria having four times as many eligible voters’ according to Bloomberg. 

In the 1983 presidential election which was won by Shehu Shagari before a military coup toppled his administration, 25.4 million Nigerians participated in the election, a number that is still higher than the 2023 turnout. Nigeria’s population in 1983 was around 80 million, a number has almost tripled in 2023. 

Despite INEC’s repeated assurance that there would be no going back in the use of BVAS and IREV, the commission failed to live up to its promises and expectations. As of 05 March 2023,  one week after the election, only 92 per cent of the results had been uploaded to IREV while Nigerians questioned the integrity of the information on the portal. 

The election was also featured violence and ballot box snatching. There were reports of disruption of voting exercises in different parts of Nigeria, with one incident widely reported in Lagos of a woman who was stabbed in the face by thugs. 

So what went wrong? Why did a record number of Nigerians express willingness to participate in the 2023 presidential election through voter registration yet fail to exercise their civic responsibility? 

INEC had promised to correct all the electoral anomalies that characterized voting in the past and its new technology was expected to improve public confidence in the transparency of the election. Instead, cases of overvoting, despite the use of BVAS, were rife forcing elections to be cancelled in some polling units. Even before the results were officially announced, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, the leading candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party respectively rejected the election and vowed to go to court to ‘reclaim their stolen mandates’.  

INEC had failed to deliver on its promises to ensure a credible election and preserve the sanctity of voting, the main process that differentiates between a military dictatorship and a civilian government.  


In fragile democracies, election periods are delicate as they raise uncertainty about the sustenance of representative governance. It is in the period after elections that most coups take place as the military leadership in the guise of stabilizing the nation takes control of the government.  

An election is a defining exercise that separates a civilian government from a military-led one. The more credible the election process is, the more enhanced its democratic legacy is. An election that lacks credibility, however, bears little difference from military rule as both are characterized by the imposition of unpopular leadership. 

In 1983, following a military coup that prematurely ended the second-term administration of Shagari, Buhari who took over as military head of state said in his first speech: 

The last general election (1983) was anything but free and fair. The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties. This conclusively proved to us that the parties have not developed confidence in the presidential system of government on which the nation invested so much material and human resources. 

Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Nigeria’s military ruler from 1985-1993 echoed a similar reason in 1993 following his annulment of the presidential election when he said that the factors required for a true democracy include: ‘A. Free and fair elections; B. Uncoerced expression of voters preference in election; C. Respect for electorate as unfettered final arbiter on elections; D. Decorum and fairness on the part of the electoral umpires.’ 

Non-credible elections have also been the trigger for military coups globally as soldiers breeze in like messiahs ironically on the claim of mending the system that they came to truncate. From Algeria in 1992 to Guatemala in 1982, elections that have failed to meet the expectation of the people have been the catalyst for populist military regimes. This is a situation Nigeria has experienced in the past and hopes it has put behind it with the longevity of the Fourth Republic (1999-present). 

While soldiers’ reasons for military coups do not justify the termination of democratic governments, the failure of the electoral commission to engender confidence in the system provides a fertile ground for anarchy to fester and for dictatorial elements to take advantage. When elections are credible, they sustain the interest of the people to continue to participate in the democratic process. Credible elections also create democratic integrity accepted and respected by non-democratic actors.  

Additionally, credible elections help to improve governance as elected officials are wholly aware of the power of the people to either retain them during the next electoral cycle as a vote of confidence or opt for another candidate. This puts political power into the hands of the electorate as expected rather than promoting governance entrenched by unpopular candidates due to voter apathy and voter suppression.  

With INEC’s conduct in the 2023 presidential elections falling below expectations, it comes as no surprise that the opposition has been swift to approach the court further subjecting the country’s electoral process to now-common judicialization. The less credible an election process is, the more likely the court will always be called upon to intervene, a process that portrays the electoral commission as incompetent and incapable. 


On 29 May 2007 during his inauguration speech as the newly sworn-in president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that the election that brought him into office was flawed saying it had its ‘lapses and shortcomings’. It was an understatement as the election was widely condemned by local observers and the international community. INEC’s chairman, Maurice Iwu, was accused of being partisan towards PDP. Not surprisingly, the commission has not been able to provide a state-by-state breakdown of the election results according to The Cable. 

The 2007 election was marred by rampant violence, ballot box snatching, bare-faced electoral malpractice and subjugation of opposition voices. The European Union described it ‘as the worst they had ever seen anywhere in the world, with rampant vote rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation’. 

Yar’Adua followed up his admittance of electoral fraud with promises of initiating electoral reforms. He told Voice of America later in the year that he was committed to implementing electoral reforms that would strengthen the democratic system. He said: ‘I sincerely believe that we need to conduct our elections and affairs in accordance to the ideals of democracy’. 

The president followed through with his promise with the inauguration of a 22-man Electoral Reform Committee and appointed the former chief justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Uwais, as its head. This began the long road to reforming INEC. 

In 2010, under the Jonathan administration, but still as part of this electoral reform journey, a new voters’ register was introduced with a database created to capture information about voters. Attahiru Jega, the then-INEC chairman supervised this technology introduction into the system. This reform carried on into the 2015 general elections where permanent voter cards or ‘PVCs’ and smart card readers were introduced to curb over-voting and authentication of voters. 

INEC received praise for its conduct during the 2015 and 2019 elections. Although not perfect, the commission sowed the seed of public confidence, a feat that made many looked forward to the 2023 exercise. 

With the introduction of BVAS ahead of the 2023 general election, more was expected from INEC to deliver a near controversy-free election that would be better than existing ones and perhaps create the standard for future exercises to be built upon. Instead, the electoral commission seemed to have eroded the gains made in the past and set the country back to a period where confidence in the electoral system was at an all-time low. While INEC failed to solve well-known old problems, particularly in the areas of logistics which forced voting in some parts into the following day, it created new problems where there were allegations of disparity between results from polling units and the ones uploaded to IREV.  

Chatham House, where many of the main players involved in the 2023 election spoke (including INEC’s chairman) scored INEC low in its review of the presidential election noting that ‘[INEC] failed to adhere to its own statements and guidelines, which derive from its laws, that election results would be uploaded to its portal using the BVAS directly from the polling unit in real-time for the public’s viewing’.  

If properly used as promised, real-time uploading of the results from polling units to IREV would have provided a transparent account of the voting process which would have fostered the election’s credibility and INEC’s integrity. Instead, INEC is left to grapple with an underwhelming performance that has further reduced the electorate’s confidence in Nigeria’s democratic system and set Nigeria back in its pursuit to be a true democracy. Despite the fact that Nigeria has had a 24-year Fourth Republic, the electoral process delivered by INEC fails to show any real progress. Instead, electorates and political participants have expressed little confidence in the umpire’s conduct and have, instead, turned to the courts to provide justice, a situation that should never have happened if INEC, after spending N305 billion, had delivered on its promises

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