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Buhari votes on Saturday

A brief look at election fraud in Nigeria

27 February 2019

President Muhammadu Buhari has been declared the winner of the presidential (s)election that took place last Saturday.  But his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, has refused to make the call to congratulate the winner, saying: “If I had lost in a free and fair election, I would have called the victor within seconds of my being aware of his victory to offer not just my congratulations, but my services to help unite Nigeria by being a bridge between the North and the South. However, in my democratic struggles for the past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was on Saturday, February 23, 2019”.   He added: “I hereby reject the result of the February 23, 2019 sham election and will be challenging it in court”. It is likely that this challenge will go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Atiku rejects the result, court battles looming

Buhari removed Nigeria’s Chief Judge on the eve of the (s)election.  Many thought it was done in anticipation of legal challenges to the (s)election results.

The reality in Nigeria is that elections there are just an almighty fraudulent exercise, hence we tend to refer to them as (s)elections here at  This is because the powers that be decide (select) who is going to win and then fix the results to guarantee the desired outcome, regardless of how people vote.  So official results generally bear little resemblance to actual voting patterns.

The fixing of official results happens at several levels in the electoral process.

Registration of voters

Incumbency helps with this type of fix.  The ruling party, with an eye on the next (s)election, makes sure hundreds of thousands are registered.  It doesn’t matter if many or most of them are ineligible.  With electoral commission officials paid to look the other way, many underage voters are registered.  This is generally prevalent in the north, where extreme poverty is more pronounced, making inducing multitudes to register a lot cheaper.

After registering to vote, you should then collect your permanent voter’s card (PVC).  Those PVCs could be picked up by party agents and would include thousands of fictitious and underage voters.  All this would not succeed without the connivance of commission staff.

Early “voting”

Nigerian electoral law doesn’t allow early voting by post.  For starters, the Post Office stopped delivering post ages ago.  But ballot papers can be delivered from electoral commission officials for a fee in order for early “voting” to commence.  During one governorship (s)election in one state in the southeast, staff were thumbing ballot papers at the governor’s official residence about two weeks before polling day, according to a source that was involved.  This can sometimes be done at an industrial scale, with the “voters” accommodated in a warehouse, fed and watered for days as they go to “work” on the ballot papers.

Ballot box snatching

This is purely a polling day operation and usually involves gunmen.  During one (s)election in the early 2000s, a cousin was staying in a hotel next to a polling unit.  He heard gunshots, looked out of his window and saw an SUV pull up with gunmen firing shots in the air.  Voters that were queuing ran away and a woman got out of the car to pick up the ballot box.  Ballot boxes are generally snatched either to be replaced with stuffed ones from early “voting”, or to be destroyed in areas where the other candidate is strong.  Videos on social media circulated from Saturday’s vote showing thugs burning ballots. 

Ballot destruction in Lagos

Vote suppression with violence

Violence is a tool regularly deployed to guarantee favourable outcomes in Nigerian (s)elections. In regions like the Niger Delta, well-armed “militants” take over polling units to scare away voters.  In one incident in Rivers State in 2015, a bottle was broken on the head of a woman that insisted on voting.  Sometimes the gunmen force election commission staff to swap ballot boxes or to allow illegal thumbing of ballot papers.  There are times when the police and army are used to perpetrate these acts.  The result is that the “votes” in each of these polling units are “delivered” for the chosen one. Occasionally, violence is also used so that the votes in a particular area that the opponent is strong are cancelled.

Disappearance of party agents

This continues the trend of fixing the vote via a show of strength.  Agents of each party are meant to be at each polling unit and collation centres to ensure that no one else is cheating and certify result sheets as reflections of the count.  But armed thugs and security forces can be used to make sure that only one party has agents in some areas.  For example, it was alleged that the police and army ensured that only the agents of the governor’s party were at all the polling units in Anambra East Local Government Area (Governor Willie Obiano’s LGA) during the November 2017 governorship (s)election.

In some cases, agents for the “wrong party” that showed up at polling units or collation centres would be lucky to escape with just a severe beating.

Falsification of result sheets

This step can be done to supplement the other steps above or as a standalone operation.  It is done in connivance with commission officials, who provide the sheets to whoever has bribed them.  It is a bit like “insurance” for the “right” result because each party believes the other side has undertaken the steps above and the voters can’t be trusted either.  So result sheets that should have been authenticated at each polling unit are swapped for ones that were prepared earlier and submitted to the local government collation centre.

Announcing a different result (aka “result writing”)

Before the 2015 (s)election, a governor seeking re-election was alleged to have met the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in his state and offered him 2bn naira ($5.5m) to “write” him the result.  This basically means announcing a result that has no reflection on what happened at the polling units and local government collation centres across the state.  The governor allegedly said “write the result and let us go to court” – the last bit was in anticipation that his fraud would be challenged by his opponent. 

A blatant case of this “result writing” became the stuff of urban legend during the Second Republic  As results were being announced in a senatorial (s)election in Bauchi State, the official then said: “No, this can’t be right” and there was a power outage with complete darkness.  When the lights came back on, he read the “right” result declaring the incumbent as winner.  This was in 1983. Shortly afterwards, the military took over power with Muhammadu Buhari in charge.

Today, Buhari has been declared the winner of another seriously dodgy (s)election and his main opponent is citing some of the “anomalies” mentioned above as his reasons for rejecting the result.

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