• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria’s voter turnout fails to offset huge expenditure on elections

Transaction risks soar as Nigeria elections near

A few days before Anambra’s governorship election, Emeka Arinze, a spare parts dealer in Onitsha, a metropolitan city close to Awaka, was in an anticipatory mood.

Although he had a voter’s registration card and also a preferred candidate, Arinze said he would not vote, and he would not buckle to any persuasion to travel back home for the election.

Why? He fears that “there would be violence,” and apart from that, “votes don’t count”.

In the end, Arinze’s preferred candidate lost the election thanks to only 253,388 votes cast out of a total registered voters of 2,466,638. This means only 10 percent of the registered voters in the state voted during the election.

The above developments mirror the consecutive declines in Nigeria’s elections turnout despite the soaring cost of conducting elections.

Data gleaned from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Yiaga Africa, a non-profit civil group showed the last three national elections of 2011, 2015 and 2019 cost Africa’s biggest economy some whooping N444.5 billion despite low turnouts.

For instance, Nigeria spent a total of N139 billion conducting the 2011 general election for 73.5 million registered voters. The election budget for that year was based on an average cost of N1,893 or $9 per voter.

However, data from INEC shows only 39.46 million actually voted while 34.04 million registered voters stayed at home. The registered voters’ decision cost the country N64.4 billion.

For the 2015 elections, N116.3 billion was budgeted at the rate of N1,691 or $8.5 per voter for the 68.9 million citizens who had registered prior to the election funding stage. However, Voter’s turnout for the year reduced to 43.7 percent, only 29.43 million votes were recorded showing a wastage of N66.63 billion.

The highest number of registered voters and the lowest voter’s turnout coincide in the last general elections in 2019. The electoral commission recorded 80 million registered voters and a voter’s turnout of 34.75percent. This means Nigeria budgeted N2,249 or $6.24 per voter.

Read also: Women group sensitises councillors, community leaders ahead of 2023 election

For the 2019 general polls which had a budget of N189.2 billion, 28.61 million Nigerians participated in the election out of 80 million voters. The decision of the 52 million voters to stay at home came at a cost of N124 billion to the country.

“A cost-benefit analysis of public expenditure on elections is an essential component of the electoral reform agenda. This analysis is highly recommended given the country’s economic recession due to bad economic choices, disruptions in public finance, and negative externalities,” Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo said in a report.

Voters’ turnout elsewhere

Nigeria’s election turnout is at odds with Ghana’s last presidential elections’ turnout at 68 percent. The 2017 election that brought in Liberian President George Weah had a voters’ turnout of 56 per cent.

Beyond Africa, about 66.8 percent of the eligible voters in the U.S. 2020 presidential election turned up despite challenges surrounding COvID-19.

The turnout in last year’s American presidential election is said to be even much higher than 2016’s rate of 54.8percent.

BusinessDay’s analysis also showed the latest elections in Canada recorded 62 percent turnout, Brazil had 79.5 percent, and India also recorded 66 percent.

In Brazil, those who don’t vote without justification are subject to a fine of R$3.51 ($0.63), and proof of voting compliance is required for obtaining a passport, admission to public universities, government employment, and loans from government-owned banks.

Belgium, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Australia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Ecuador are some other countries with similar stipulations.

Reasons for Nigeria’s poor turn-out

Although INEC has said Nigeria’s next general election will hold February 2023, Nigeria has a long history of torturous voter registration processes. When that is added to the difficulty in switching polling units due to relocation, turnout for elections is bound to fall.

Oladipo Tolani, a resident of Ogun State, said he could not vote in 2019 because “I was not residing in the local government I registered. I was in school.”

For Bunmi Jaji, a trader at the popular Oshodi Market, she has not voted in three consecutive elections because she kept running out of luck each time she tried to renew her voter’s card. Long queues and long treks with little successes have discouraged her from still trying.

Her 34-year-old daughter, Khadijah would only “take the stress” if obtaining the voter’s card won’t be as difficult as it has been.

Hassan said abstinence from elections could also be to show civic rebellion due to failed promises after previous polls.

More than this, elections in the country are often marred by violence and disruptions. From 2006 to 2015, about 4,000 lives have been lost during elections, Crisis group, an independent, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict said in its 2018 report.

Despite these flaws, politicians have continued to use legal technicalities to overturn election results, and some would say, rob the people of their mandates. “The conduct of the political class fueled by our winner-takes-all system is a disincentive,” Itodo, Director of Yiaga Africa said.

He added, “We need proportional representation where every party gets something in the end; electoral reforms to unburden INEC, and work more with the citizens.”

2023 elections

According to a Budget document for 2022, the federal government has earmarked N100 billion for 2023 elections, an amount which Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman, said is inadequate.

Yakubu’s argument is that if N189bn was appropriated for in the 2019 general elections, there is no way N100 billion for 2023 would be sufficient.

“We would need more money because we’ve expanded our polling units and we are introducing new technology for elections among many other new innovations. The number of registered voters will increase beyond the 84 million for the 2019 general elections,” he said.