The recently concluded presidential election in Nigeria was met with various reactions, as numerous Nigerians took to the polls to cast their votes in hope of electing a leader with the best capacity to curb the increased dilapidations and cause a change in the social, economic, and political status quo. Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressive Party, the emerging winner, was declared the President-Elect, with PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party’s Peter Obi clinching the second and third positions respectively. However, the low voter turnout recorded has been the salient concern as the country prepares for the gubernatorial election.
Since the return of the democratic system in 1999 after series of military interventions, Nigeria has enjoyed uninterrupted democracy, the longest since the independence in 1960. The aversion of most Nigerians to elections and politics generally has been evident. However, the recently concluded presidential and National Assembly elections experienced a new low in the suffrage apathy. Despite being Africa’s largest population and biggest economy, about 93 million Nigerians were registered to vote in the 2023 general election.
Lagos, Kano and Rivers recorded less than 40% of voters voted.
Prior to the commencement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections, immense scarcity of petrol and a severe cash crunch ravaged the social space, further complicating the living status quo in the country. This situation ensured an increased interest in the impending electioneering process by Nigerians, the youths especially. In spite of this increased interest, the voter turnout still experienced an abysmal performance, the lowest turnout since the country’s independence. No state across the country recorded over 40 percent turnout.
Based on voter’s registration, Lagos Kano and Rivers, the states with most voter’s registration, less than a third of the registered voters came out to cast their votes. Rivers state, for instance, had an abysmal 15.6 percent turnout, the lowest recorded across the 36 states, despite having more eligible voters. The national turnout was at 29 percent, the lowest participation rate since Nigeria’s independence. Despite about 87.2 million of 93 million registered voters collecting their permanent voters card, the actual voters during the first leg of the election was about 24.9 million, with barely 9 million voters voting for the President-Elect.
INEC’s late deployment of officials & materials affected the low turnout.
According to reports, elections had been witnessing a decline in the voters’ turnout since 2011. In the 2019 election, a turnout of about 34.75 percent. Only 26.6 million voters enacted their right to vote out of the registered 82 million eligible voters. President Buhari, the winner of the 2019 presidential election, was Re-elected with only about 15 million votes in a country where more than half the population was within the legal age to vote. According to data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance disclosed that the 2019 election recorded the lowest rating across recent elections in Africa. Now, the 2023 election even records a worse outcome than the 2019 election.
Factors such as apathy and the lackluster economic outlook have been considered to have affected the low turnout. However, reports has disclosed that the contribution of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was also evident in its late deployment of electoral officers and materials to the various polling units. Ms. Idayat Hassan, Director of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) noted that the low voter turnout could be as a result of democracy’s failure in delivering developments.
Voter turnout decline places Nigeria in top 10 countries.
In the 1999 election, 30.2 million voters of the 57.9 million registered individuals voted. Over the next election in 2003, there was an increase in both the numbers of registered citizens and voters, with 42 million out of 60 million registered individuals voted. In 2007 however, there was a drop in the number of voters, despite an increase in the number of registered voters. Only 35.3 million of the 61.5 million voters casted their votes. This decline placed Nigeria amongst the 10 countries with the lowest voters turnout world wide. Ahead of the gubernatorial election, Ms. Idayat Hassan however urged the electoral body to further enhance its election management.