Bola Ahmed Tinubu was on Wednesday declared the winner of Nigeria’s controversial presidential elections, as opposition leaders decried the polls as rigged and called for a fresh vote.
Tinubu, 70, represents the ruling All Progressives Congress party, which received close to 8.8 million votes – about 36.6% of the total, according to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu.
He defeated vice president Atiku Abubakar of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and popular third force candidate Peter Obi, who has gained in popularity among young people in particular.
In an acceptance speech, Tinubu thanked voters and said he was “profoundly humbled.”
“This is a shining moment in the life of any man and an affirmation of our democratic existence,” he said. “I represent a promise and with your support, I know that promise will be fulfilled.”
He also appealed to his “fellow contestants,” asking them to “team up together” to strengthen the country.
Videos from the capital Abuja showed Tinubu’s supporters cheering and celebrating the win.
This election is one of the most fiercely contested since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, with more than 93 million people registered to vote, according to the INEC.
But Yakubu said on Wednesday that 24 million valid votes were counted, representing a turnout of just 26%.
Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos state, represents the same party as outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, who Tinubu said he helped propel to the top seat in 2015.
After decades spent behind the scenes, Tinubu launched his campaign for the presidency with the motto: “It’s my turn.”
He will become Nigeria’s fifth elected president since 1999, winning the race for the country’s top job on his first attempt.
Buhari congratulated his soon-to-be successor in a statement Wednesday, calling him “the best person for the job.”
Vote counting since Saturday’s polls has been vehemently challenged by many who allege the process has been marred by corruption and technical failures. On Tuesday, the country’s main opposition parties described the results of the election as “heavily doctored and manipulated” in a joint news conference.
They said they had lost confidence in Yakubu, the electoral body chairman, and that the results “do not reflect the wishes of Nigerians expressed at the polls on February 25, 2023.”
The INEC has rejected the calls for a fresh vote, with a spokesperson insisting the election process had been “free, fair and credible.”
In his speech, Tinubu also commended the INEC for “running a credible election no matter what anybody says.”
But several observers, including the European Union, have also criticized the election for lacking transparency.
“The election fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ reasonable expectations,” said a joint observer mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Samson Itodo, the head of Nigeria’s largest independent election monitoring body, said on Tuesday there was “serious cause for concern.” He cited multiple critical issues that had hampered public trust in the election process, including violence and technical impediments.
Woman tells CNN she went to vote and ended up defaced
Some logistical problems reported across the country included voters who could not locate their polling stations after last-minute changes, he said.
His non-profit civic organization, Yiaga Africa, deployed more than 3,800 observers across Nigeria for the election – with one observer being kicked out of a voting center after “thugs invaded” it, Itodo said.
Many voters in Lagos complained of intimidation and attempts to suppress their votes. In February, CNN visited a polling unit in Lekki, Lagos, which was attacked and the military was forced to intervene.
In other instances, voting was delayed or people didn’t get to vote at all, as election officials failed to show up.
On Tuesday, the United Nations urged “all stakeholders to remain calm through the conclusion of the electoral process,” and to avoid misinformation or inciting violence.