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Voter Apathy Worsens Ahead Of 2023

Rising voter apathy is generating concerns among election managers and democracy campaigners, with the latter group expressing fears about implications of declining citizens’ interest in…

Rising voter apathy is generating concerns among election managers and democracy campaigners, with the latter group expressing fears about implications of declining citizens’ interest in the electoral process.

As the 2023 general polls draw near, the electorates are becoming more disinterested in the electoral system, an analysis by Daily Trust has revealed. 

Our findings showed that voters’ turnout in various elections, including off-session polls like local government elections, has continued to slide. Off-season elections conducted after the 2019 general elections in states recorded all-time low voters’ outing.  

Critical stakeholders in the country’s electoral processes spoken to, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society organisations and political scientists, raised the alarm over the danger posed by the development. 

Key reasons causing the rise in the poor turnout, according to the stakeholders, include the failure of politicians to fulfill their campaign promises, bad governance, fielding of unpopular candidates, insecurity, among others.

INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu and Chairman of APC Caretaker Committee, Governor Mai Mala Buni


Statistics by the INEC on the ongoing continuous voter registration revealed that Nigerians embraced the exercise, but stakeholders said they were registering for it to get voters’ card for other uses and not necessarily for voting.

With escalating conflicts and resultant displacement of residents from their communities, elections in some parts of the country may be difficult to conduct.

A major puzzle currently before INEC and security agents is how to conduct the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State. Last week, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, said the federal government may declare state of emergency on the state if attacks by the armed wing of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) persists. Malami’s comments drew wide criticism.

Experts also fear that with the chaos and displacement caused by activities of bandits in states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger, there is little prospect for a seamless elections in many rural areas in those states.  

How low turnout rocked 6 presidential elections 

Analysis of voters outing since 1999 when the country returned to civilian rule showed that Nigerians are becoming less interested in the electoral system.

The general elections conducted by the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar had 57,938,945 Nigerians registered for voting. However, only 30,280,052, representing 52 per cent turned out for the poll.

Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olusegun Obasanjo, had the highest vote of 18,738,154 while the candidate of an alliance between the then All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Chief Olu Falae, came second with 11,110,287 votes. 

During the 2003 elections, 60,823,022 were registered while 42,018,735 were accredited on election day, representing 69.3 per cent. The PDP won the election with 24,456,140 while the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) came second with 12,710,022 votes.

In 2007, 61,567,036 were registered, while 35,397,517, about 57.4 per cent, came out to vote. The PDP won with 24,638,063 votes while the ANPP had 6,605,299.

For the 2011 general elections, 73,528,040 Nigerians were registered, but 39,469,484, about 40 per cent, were accredited on election day.

The presidential poll was won by the PDP, having received 22,495,187 votes while the candidate of the then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) garnered 12,214,853 votes to come second.

In the 2015 elections, there were 67,422,005, out of which 29,452,083 came out to vote, marking a 44 per cent turnout. The poll saw the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari polling 15,424,921 to defeat his closest rival of the PDP, former President Goodluck Jonathan, who scored 12,853,162 votes.

The 2019 general elections recorded an all-time low in term of turnout. Out of 82,344,107 registered voters, only 27,324,583 were accredited by the INEC on the election day, recording a 33.18 per cent turnout. 

Incumbent President Buhari scored the highest votes of 15,191,847 to defeat his main challenger and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, of the PDP, who garnered 11,262,978 votes. 

File photo of scant turn out at a polling booth

Off-season polls worst hit

Since the 2019 general elections, the electoral umpire has conducted off-season elections in some states.

During the 2015 gubernatorial election in Kogi State, a total of 1,379,971 voters were registered, but only 526,389 were accredited, about 39 per cent. The election was declared inconclusive and there was a supplementary poll.

In 2019, the total number of registered voters in the Confluence State was 1,646,350 while turnout was 624,514, about 38 per cent.

In 2015, Bayelsa had a total of registered voters numbering 654,493, but only 230,069 turned up for election, representing 35.2 per cent.

In 2019, the total number of registered voters was  922, 562, but 517,883, 55.9 per cent turned out to vote.

During the 2016 election in Ondo State, 1,647,973 voters registered, but only 584,997 were accredited on election day, representing 35.5 per cent.

In last year’s election in the state, a total of 1,812,634 voters were registered, but 591,193, were accredited, less than 34 per cent.

In 2016, the total number of registered voters in Edo State was 1,900,233, while 622,039 were accredited for the governorship election. 

In 2020, 2,272,058 voters were registered by the INEC, but only 550,242 cast their votes (less than 25 per cent).

It’s a vote of no confidence on politicians – Rights groups  

The executive director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said one of the factors contributing to voter apathy in two decades after the return to civilian rule is that the political space in Nigeria still featured a thriving authoritarian governance and concentration of power in the hands of the elite, to the exclusion of the masses, especially the local and urban poor.

“Authoritarian governance in Nigeria, through the imposition of candidates, vote buying, thuggery, among, pervade all aspects of social life and manifest in such forms as intolerance of dissent, impatience with due process, adoration of power, authority and their possessors, the use of command, intimidation and force as a primary means of social control, and values that place primacy on the achievement of ends, irrespective of the means. Therefore, there is a big gulf between political leaders and their constituents.

“Apathy among Nigerian voters is thus a reflection of a vote of no confidence on the political elite. Unfortunately, our laws do not recognise apathy; therefore, even if it is one vote that is cast, a winner will still emerge,” he said.

Also speaking on the matter, the convener, Good Governance Team (GGT), Mr Tunde Salman, told Daily Trust that voter apathy is a global phenomenon linked to democratic deficit by scholars, arising out of popular distrust with key democratic institutions and politicians.

According to him, empirical data from all the elections conducted since return to civil rule in 1999 hardly surpassed half of registered voters in Nigeria’s general elections, which is not far from global average of voters’ turnout.

“More lamentable is the mockery of electoral democracy called local government elections. And the resultant emasculation of grassroots governance in the last two decades has further plummeted enthusiasm of the citizens to take grassroots democracy seriously in Nigeria.

“Until there is a serious reform of governance process to improve the quality of life available to Nigerians and rebuilding the lost trust between the state and the society, the voters would not be motivated to turn up at the poll stations any time soon,” Salman said.

Also, the director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, told Daily Trust that voter apathy by citizens is spurred by several reasons, including the belief that their votes would not count.

“Voter apathy has further deepened distrust in the political system, so less people turn out to vote,” she said.

Electoral offence commission will restore confidence – CNPP

The secretary-general, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Chief Willy Ezugwu, told Daily Trust that contrary to views blaming politicians alone for voter apathy, the National Assembly should be blamed for not enacting a law that would create agency for punishing electoral offenders.

He said that just as Nigeria has agencies dealing with financial crimes like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), politicians are human being and not spirits, thus should also be checked through the proposed electoral offences commission.

“The argument has been that there are adequate laws in the books to punish electoral offenders. That is the same way we had laws criminalising financial crimes and corruption, but we had to deliberately create agencies like the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).

“In the same way, a special agency should be created to punish electoral offences because voter apathy will continue until all electoral crimes are promptly and severely punished. Electoral crimes are even worse than economic crimes; and if electoral crimes are punished promptly, it will reduce the influx of corrupt people into politics,” he said.

On his part, the national publicity secretary of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Ambassador Agbo Major, said the major cause for voter apathy was the fact that people’s votes did not count.

He said one would very often hear voters say that winners were predetermined, so there would no need to vote.

“Other reasons for voter apathy include insecurity/violence, religious beliefs, connivance with electoral officers, and incumbency advantage,” he said.

Acting PDP national Chairman, Yemi Akinwonmi

Failure to fulfill campaign promises causing rise – INEC

The chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said if politicians kept their campaign promises, voters’ confidence would increase and appetite to vote in subsequent elections would be there.

“When promises made during campaigns are not fulfilled, many people tend to get discouraged and disappointed. They will lose interest in casting their ballots in the future because they will see no point.

“Nevertheless, it is important for the Nigerian political class to understand that voters are now sophisticated, well informed and impatient. They yearn for the good things of life, which they truly deserve. They also want to enjoy the dividends of democracy. The INEC, on the other hand, will continue to ensure that our elections are free, fair and credible.

“Politicians must, therefore, take responsibility. There is no alternative to good governance. When people are satisfied with the way they are governed, the zeal to participate in the electoral process will be visible,” he said.

Unpopular candidates worsening situation – APC 

The APC has said the rising voter apathy in the system stem from the failure of political parties to field the right candidates. 

The deputy national publicity secretary of the party, Yekini Nabena, in a telephone chat said, “The issue is that everybody has their own candidate. Politics is about interest. From day one, before the primaries, people have their own interest. And if that interest does not come to play, you will question the need to vote on election day? At the end of the day, it still falls back on political parties,” he said.

Solution lies with INEC – PDP

When contacted, the national publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiya, tasked the INEC to look inward by ensuring that votes count during elections.

Ologbondiyan said people lost interest in the electioneering process because of the belief that the predetermined winners would be declared by the electoral body.

When told that stakeholders like the INEC blamed politicians for voter apathy because of failure to fulfill promises, the PDP spokesman said, “They (INEC) should also look inward because Nigerians are losing interest in the electioneering process.

“They believe that whether they vote or not, the INEC will declare results.

“The INEC needs to come clean to prove that votes will count. That is one of the ways that will bring the people back to participation in elections.”     

Dons proffer solutions

An associate professor of Political Science in the University of Ilorin, Dr Gbade Ojo, said insecurity was a major reason a lot of people would not go out to vote. 

He said the situation was worse in local government elections because a lot of people believe the ruling governor or party would emerge victorious at any cost. 

Ojo said, “At the local government level, voter apathy is worse because the assumption is that the sitting governor will rig the election because he appointed the state electoral body members. In virtually all the local government elections conducted in the past, the sitting governor won.

“Again, government’s performance in the last eight years has not been encouraging. People don’t see the reason they should elect people and they will go there and lay back. The level of corruption being reported every day in the media is another reason. The electorates believe that politicians are thieves, so they don’t need to go out and elect people that will plunder their resources. It is unfortunate that they are not getting it right.”

He also tasked the INEC to do more in terms of voter education. 

Voter Apathy Worsens Ahead Of 2023

Asked if electronic voting being proposed would encourage people to vote, he said it would not change anything.

On his part, Dr Kayode Esuola noted that many Nigerians were no longer convinced that election would bring about any change to their lives. Therefore, they are disillusioned and tired of going out to vote.

He said, “The disaster of democracy in Africa is peculiar, in that we are running a system that assumes that everyone has equal vote power when the gap between the poor and the rich is highly skewed.

 “Under this circumstance, how do you checkmate those who will roll out N5 million to convince a candidate to stand down, even when he has the greatest political idea ever? How do you arrest the one who rolls out N500m to some people with the instruction to ensure that his winning list manifests, do or die? Then, how do you end the disaster of the common voter who depends on the N1,500 he gets from these transactions to cast their votes for consciousness? 

“The neo-liberal democracy we practise in Nigeria is not working and cannot work. The idea is perfect, but the structures and institutions have to be domesticated to suit the realities of our situation.”

By: Ismail Mudashir, Saawua Terzungwe, Abbas Jimoh, Muideen Olaniyi, Faruk Shuaibu (Abuja) & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos)

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