Nigerians’ interest in general elections has reached a record high ahead of the 2023 polls, according to an Africa Polling Institute (API) conducted in partnership with BusinessDay.
In a survey that aimed to gauge the perception of Nigerians towards the 2023 elections, an overwhelming majority of the public, the poll revealed, are eager to vote in the 2023 general elections.
The survey, which was conducted nationwide between July 18 and 22, 2022, a few days after the Osun State governorship election, in which only 42.16 percent of the 1.95 million registered voters in the state voted, revealed that 92 percent of Nigerians are looking forward to voting in the 2023 general elections.
Voter turnout in the general elections in 2015 and 2019 was 43.65 percent and 35 percent respectively. Data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance show that voter turnout in Nigeria since 1979 has historically been low, with the highest turnout of voters in any election recorded during the 2003 presidential election, during which 69.08 percent of the registered population voted. The 2019 presidential election saw the lowest voter turnout in 43 years, as only 34.75 percent of registered voters voted.
Leena Kona Hoffman and John Wallace, in a 2022 report for Chatham House, said voter turnout “has steadily decreased as voters have become disillusioned by the recycling of political candidates, the lack of internal democracy in political parties, and the failure of government to deliver real progress”.
Electoral malpractices are quite common in the country, from voter inducements to ballot box stuffing to improper counting procedures.
Dhikru Adewale Yagboyaju, professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, in a 2011 essay published by the Centre for African Studies, said: The open declaration by President Yar’Adua, shortly after the inauguration of his administration in 2007, that the process of his election was faulty and the establishment of the Uwais Electoral Reforms Commission before Yar’Adua’s death also helped to confirm that the INEC did not sufficiently perform its role.”
Several reports and comments of election observers from within and outside the country since 1999 have supported the controversial nature of most of these exercises.
“The 2019 general elections fell significantly short of standards set in 2015,” lamented Daniel Twining, president of the International Republican Institute, which observed the election.
He said citizens’ confidence in elections was shaken, urging election stakeholders to “take concrete steps to address the concerns of citizens with regards to the polls in order to rekindle their faith in the power and possibility of credible elections.”
The 2019 elections, according to Ambassador Derek Mitchell of the International Democratic Institute, which also observed the elections, highlighted for many Nigerians the need for a national conversation about the country’s democratisation since the 1999 transition to civilian rule.
The 2023 elections present a significant opportunity to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy. The 2022 Electoral Act passed in February enjoys wide stakeholder support and has elevated public confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver democratic elections next year.
The recent surge in voter registration numbers and increased voter turnout in the 2022 Osun polls, especially among young people, point to a renewed interest in political participation among Nigerians. The 2023 elections are a departure from some of the political dynamics that defined previous polls.
Findings from the API/ BusinessDay poll show that this time, 93 percent of respondents are interested in the coming elections, with 80 percent of the respondents having Permanent Voters Card (PVCs), and 13 percent awaiting PVC collection.
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For many new voters, the devastating economic and security situations in the country are driving them to vote, and to impose electoral costs against the major parties and identified politicians.
“I do not know if my vote will count,” an architect in Abuja who identified himself simply as Kalat told BusinessDay. “I am keen to vote to make a difference though. The next election in 2023 would be my second time voting. Two reasons are driving me to vote in 2023. Firstly, I hope my vote will go a long way in supporting my preferred candidate in my state in the governorship election.
At the national level, I hope my vote will help change the deplorable narrative in the country. There is no hope or future for this country right now because those running Nigeria have completely run it aground. So, I want to vote for a candidate that understands and espouses sound economic principles, appreciates how a proper society should be structured and the way rational people do things.”
Another respondent who lives in Owerri, Southeast Nigeria, said many factors are pushing her to vote. “The economy is simply collapsing, there are no jobs, and many firms are either closing up or leaving the country. I just can’t sit down and fold my hands for another eight years. The killings across the country are escalating every day and this government has done nothing to end these killings. I have to vote for someone who I think can run the economy pretty well and put an end to the needless deaths,”
In January, the Northern Elders Forum bemoaned how the region ended up with what the organisation’s director of publicity and advocacy, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, described as the “Buhari mistake”. The North, he said, was deceived into voting in Buhari believing that the country would be better off.
A key finding of the BusinessDay/API poll shows that 67 percent of the respondents do not consider religion as a factor in deciding who should lead the country in 2023. On the other hand, 27 percent affirmed that religion is very important when deciding who should lead the country in 2023.
The poll also revealed that 62 percent of respondents trust INEC to conduct a hitch-free election come 2023. Furthermore, 30 percent of respondents identified capacity and competence to revive the economy as the top three qualities Nigerians expect to see from the next president.
Twenty-nine percent identified commitment to tackle insecurity, and for 17 percent of respondents, commitment to promoting good governance and cohesion was identified as the top quality they want to see in the next leader of the country.