LAGOS, Nigeria — Former Lagos governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu has won Nigeria’s presidential election, officials said early Wednesday, marking a victory for the ruling party despite the unpopularity of its outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari.
“Please be assured of our determination to fight the injustice that has been perpetuated on Nigerians through all legal and peaceful means,” the Labour Party’s vice-presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed, said at a news conference in Abuja on Wednesday.
Hours before the results were announced Tuesday, the opposition alleged widespread technological problems, delays in poll openings on Election Day, violence and voter intimidation, and manipulation of results.
Pockets of protest, including in the capital, Abuja, emerged Tuesday, and political analysts warned it could spread. Leaders of the opposition and ruling parties urged calm.
Tinubu, 70, known as a kingmaker in Nigerian politics, received 36 percent of more than 24 million votes cast, according to results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He also received over 25 percent of the vote in more than two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja, thus meeting both requirements to win Nigeria’s presidency.
In his acceptance speech early Wednesday, Tinubu promised to be a leader for all Nigerians — including those who had not supported him.
He commended the INEC “for running a free and fair election,” saying that “the lapses that did occur were relatively few in number and were immaterial to the final outcome.”
“With each cycle of elections, we steadily perfect this process so vital to our democratic life,” Tinubu said as he addressed his elated supporters.
As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, neither Abubakar nor Obi, who came in second and third, respectively, had publicly addressed the results.
Turnout was lower than in 2019, according to election officials, with 27 percent of people casting ballots Saturday compared with 35 percent four years ago. Nigeria, a country of 220 million, usually has low turnout for its elections, but analysts warned it could be even lower this year because of a nationwide cash shortage caused by a currency redesign.
In the week leading up to the election, many voters in the largest city, Lagos, said they didn’t have the cash needed to travel to their home states to vote or had lost the desire because of how hard life has become in recent weeks.
Tinubu, who had the support of Buhari and a massive get-out-the-vote effort behind him, ran on the slogan “It’s my turn.” He benefited because the opposition was divided between Obi, 61, a former governor popular among the youth, and Abubakar, 76, on his sixth bid for the presidency.
Now, Obi’s and Abubakar’s campaigns have joined forces to call for a fresh election, saying that the INEC’s poor performance overseeing the election led to a loss of confidence in the results. “This election was not free and was far from being fair or transparent,” Julius Abure, the Labour Party chairman, said at the news conference.
Analysts and international observers have also criticized the INEC. Election observers from the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) said the election “fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ legitimate and reasonable expectations.”
Rotimi Oyekanmi, a spokesman for Nigeria’s electoral body, defended the process as “free, fair and credible,” dismissing calls for a rerun. Oyekanmi said in a statement that any concerns should be addressed in court.
While analysts said it is not clear whether delays and vote discrepancies could have altered the election outcome, they said that such problems undermined the confidence of voters in Africa’s largest democracy. Many were already deeply frustrated with their government after years of spiraling economic and security crises.
“People definitely have a reason to ask questions, and INEC definitely has a lot of questions to answer,” said Tunde Ajileye, a partner at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical intelligence consultancy.
He noted that the INEC had failed on multiple fronts: Many of its officials arrived hours late to polls on election day and failed to make results available online as promised. “There is a huge disparity between the actual experience of people and the promise that INEC made as to how the election would go,” Ajileye said.
Matthew Page, an associate fellow with Chatham House’s Africa Program, said the INEC, which is composed of civil servants and presidential political appointees, made mistakes both deliberate and unintentional.
“They raised the hopes about the election and its transparency, and then they dashed them,” Page said. “When the opposition says the process was broken, it’s hard to argue with them.”
Mucahid Durmaz, a senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said that “failure to oversee a credible and transparent process in the highly anticipated vote risks plunging the country into electoral chaos at a time when public discontentment toward the state institutions is already significantly high.”
The election marked the first time in Nigeria’s modern history that a third-party candidate posed a substantial challenge to the two candidates from its main political parties. In a sign of his support among young people in urban areas, Obi bested Tinubu in his home state of Lagos — a major blow for the man whose supporters call him the “Godfather of Lagos.”
But Obi, whose campaign had little infrastructure in vast swaths of the country, failed to make a dent in some of its more populous states in the north and southwest. And some supporters of Tinubu said they appreciated his decades of experience, including serving as the governor of Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria, from 1999 to 2007.
“Look at Lagos — all across the country, people bring their business here,” said Olatungi Salami, 48, who cast his vote for Tinubu in Lagos on Saturday. “And our country right now, the way we are, we need a messiah.”
Tinubu has faced corruption accusations, which he denies, and questions during the campaign about his health after fumbling his words during multiple appearances. Tinubu and his supporters have said there is no cause for concern. His campaign highlighted a video last year of Tinubu on an exercise bike to demonstrate his fitness.
The election came at an inflection point for Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country and rapidly growing. Despite its vast oil riches, more than 60 percent of people here live in poverty. Under Buhari, the country experienced two recessions, soaring inflation, massive youth unemployment and a proliferation of kidnappings and violence.
By 2050, Nigeria is projected to have a population of 440 million, making it the world’s third most populous country, behind China and India. What happens here has ripple effects throughout the region and world, including for global migration. More than 50 percent of Nigeria’s young people say they want to migrate.
At a polling station in Mushin, a working-class Lagos neighborhood, 35-year-old Kayode Coker said he decided to support Tinubu because “we need someone who understands the system.”