• Friday, June 14, 2024
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BusinessDay

An evaluation of Nigeria’s electoral process post 2023 voting

“Increasing transparency throughout the electoral process would be critical for boosting public trust in the integrity of Nigeria ‘s nascent democracy moving forward and attaining next logical level”- Geopoll 2023

The 2023 election was a four-horse race between Ahmed Tinubu APC, Atiku Abubakar PDP, Peter Obi LP and Rabiu Kwakwanso NNDP.

After four days of vote tallying, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria formally declared Ahmed Bola Tinubu former senator and governor of Lagos the winner of the country’s highly contested presidential election.

The declaration is not without controversy, however, as multiple opposition parties have disputed the legitimacy of the election and promised to challenge the results in court. For his part, president-elect Tinubu has appealed for reconciliation with his rivals and urged all Nigerians to unite behind his administration when he takes office in May 29, 2023.

In fairness to INEC, all election results at the presidential level in Nigeria since independence have been contested and settlements attained in the courts except for the 2015 elections that President Goodluck Jonathan conceded.

GeoPoll conducted a survey prior to the election to gauge public sentiment about the state of the country, people’s trust in the electoral process, and their intention to vote. Now that the presidential election is over, GeoPoll implemented a follow-up study to learn about people’s voting experiences on election day, as well as their confidence in the election process and results.

Key take out highlighted as follows

Declining interest in the democratic process

Voter turnout in Nigeria has been on a steady decline since peaking at 69% in 2003. Although 74% of respondents in our study claim to have voted in the 2023 election, only 29% of registered voters in Nigeria actually voted on election day – the lowest participation rate since Nigeria’s independence.

Of the 26% that did not vote, 41% say it was due to “registration/PVC problems.”

Another 18% say they had problems at the polling station.

Aside this, other studies have confirmed a clear disconnect between the people and the leaders. Constituency and town hall meeting are usually for sharing petty gifts for constituents instead of highlighting and solving big issues. Local issues and challenges are usually neglected and really addressed by these gatherings.

Reasons for not voting in the elections

For those that did vote, most had a “good” or “very good” voting experience (61%).

Only 19% had a “poor” or “very poor” experience. 61% of voters report a “good” or “very good” voting experience. Both the expectation and initial reports of late starts at polling stations may have dissuaded some voters. Delays were blamed on a variety of issues, including technical difficulties, late-arriving officials, cash shortages that affected transport, and attacks on polling stations. Most of the voters in the report experienced at least minor delays (61%), with 21% saying their polling station opened more than 2 hours behind schedule. Although the elections were held over weekends , it’s not too early to start looking at the concepts of online voting, early voting, and mail-in ballot. Our polling logistics also need to be upgraded as equipment failure and malfunctioning devices marred the elections. It also no crime if we go back to full paper and pen elections if that’s what we can successfully manage at this time.

Read also: Tribunal adjourns Obi, Atiku’s petitions against Tinubu

Safety at polling station

Frustration continues to be the most common sentiment now that the election is over, but the percentage dropped from 58% to 45%. The percentage feeling “scared” also decreased, while those experiencing positive feelings (hopeful, blessed and happy) increased. The efforts of the various peace committees seems to have worked just as the warning from regional leaders helped in stabilizing the situation and calming frailled nerves.

Current situation in Nigeria post-election

The report says the electoral process for the 2023 Nigeria Presidential Election has been plagued by controversy since before the first votes were cast. While acknowledging technical glitches with its vote tallying platform, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stands by its declaration of Bola Tinubu as the president-elect, and has asked opposition parties to take their grievances to court.

Perceptions pre- and post-elections

Opposition party-led protests have dampened respondents’ hope that the results of the 2023 general elections will be accepted by all Nigerians. The percentage that “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with that statement climbed from 24% in the pre-election survey to 64% in the post-election survey. Disputes over the electoral commission’s handling of the vote also increased perceptions of fraud. Those that disagree or strongly disagree that the elections will be/were free of fraud more than doubled pre-/post-election, rising from 29% to 67%.

While the report says election day has been deemed mostly peaceful, voters expected better. While only 33% disagreed or strongly disagreed that the elections would be free of violence and intimidation before the election, 63% disagree or strongly disagree with that statement now that the election is over.

Perceptions of INEC’s Performance

On election day, delays at polling stations, technical difficulties, and allegations of irregularities raised concerns about INEC’s planning and performance. After the election, glitches in INEC’s results viewing platform and delays in announcing the results appear to have amplified those concerns. Overall voters’ express significant dissatisfaction with INEC’s performance.The new youth movement that call themselves *obedient* expressed dissatisfaction for the process before commencement. Only 31% of respondents agree or strongly agree that all parties and candidates were treated equally and fairly during the election process. Most appear to support opposition party claims of an overall lack of fairness and equity in the total process. Only 31% agree that all parties and candidates were treated equally and fairly.

In the pre-election survey, almost 2 in 3 respondents (65%) agreed or strongly agreed that INEC is transparent and informs the public and media about its activities. That percentage dropped to 34% after the election. Several independent observers, including the European Union, have criticized the election for lacking transparency.
The largest segment of respondents (39%) strongly disagree that INEC performed its duties with honesty and integrity during the 2023 elections. Only 9% strongly agree. The delay in announcing a winner appears to have sapped public confidence in a free and fair election. Most agree or strongly agree (70%) that the delay in announcing a winner negatively impacts my perceptions of election integrity. Most also say they have very little to no confidence (63%) in INEC’s vote tally and declaration of a winner.
63% have very little or no confidence in INEC’s vote tally and declaration of a winner.

Confidence in INEC

Before INEC formerly declared Bola Tinubu the winner of the 2023 presidential election, opposition parties called for a rerun, alleging widespread vote rigging and violence. Overall, more than 1 in 3 respondents claim they or a friend personally witnessed incidences of vote-buying (37%), voter suppression (40%), ballot tampering (36%), and violence near polling stations (39%). Similar percentages say they were only told about those incidences happening by the media. Smaller percentages say they did not see or hear about those incidences happening at all.

Perceptions of Democracy

With disruption, delays, and irregularities weakening public perception of transparency and integrity in the electoral process, it follows that most respondents say they are “very dissatisfied” with the way democracy works in Nigeria (52%).

Final take out from this study is that Nigeria’s democratic system is fragile and needs nurturing, guidance and protection to enable it grow for the benefit of all stakeholders not only in the country but also the region and the continent.

Michael Umogun is a chartered marketer with interest in public policy