BusinessDay

How Nigerians have voted since 1999

As the clock ticks down to the 2023 general elections, we take a look at how Nigerians have historically voted while unravelling unique patterns that have been formed over the years.

The voting patterns in Nigeria’s presidential elections since 1999 have culminated in the creation of three distinct voting blocs, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis of election data by consulting firm, Viisaus.

These three voting blocs have been named by Viisaus as “the Northern Alliance”, “the Bible Belt” and “the Rockies.” The groupings were made based on how each state voted in each election since 1999, excluding 2007 where INEC did not provide a state-by-state breakdown of votes.

Northern Alliance

It wasn’t until the 2003 election that the Northern Alliance was born. The Northern Alliance comprises 11 states mainly situated in northern Nigeria with the exception of one south western state.

The bloc has the country’s most active voters measured by voter turnout.

Nearly 5 in 10 people in these states vote, with an average voter turnout of 41 percent. That’s higher than the 28 percent turnout for the Bible Belt and 27 percent for the Rockies. The Northern Alliance includes states such as Gombe, Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kano, Kebbi, Bauchi, Katsina, Yobe, Borno and Osun.

Together they accounted for 25.4 million voters in the 2019 election. “This group of people are not that homogeneous. However, when it comes to politics, they are uniquely united. This unity that was formed here in 2003 has never broken since then,” Jiro Ejobe, managing partner at Viisaus, said in an interview with BusinessDay.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s most dominant political party since 1999, has not won any of these states in 19 years. The last time being in 2003 when the party won in only Osun state but would still lose in the remaining 10 states that form the Northern Alliance.

“Osun voted for the PDP in 2003, and that’s the only time they’ve ever voted for the PDP. So this is the reason why we’ve grouped them with the Northern Alliance. Not so much that they are aligned with the North, but what keeps the Northern Alliance together is their unity versus the PDP and Osun has that in common with them since 2011,” Ejobe said.

Bible Belt

The Bible Belt is a bloc of 17 states drawn from the South East, South South and eastern North-Central. They have the highest number of voters. At the 2019 election for instance, they had 34.5 million registered voters.

Low voter turnout however mutes the potency of this powerful bloc. In 2019, voter turnout came to only 28 percent, the second lowest among the voting blocs. They have always voted for a PDP candidate as president.

The Bible Belt states have never been lost by PDP in 24 years. The states include FCT, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Cross-river, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Plateau and Taraba. Adamawa, Benue and Nasarawa are also in this bloc even though they voted against PDP once in five elections.

Rockies

The Rockies, Nigeria’s most unpredictable voters, emerged in 2015 when APC was born. The bloc comprises nine states whose voting patterns have been discovered to be uneven and uncertain. They include Kaduna, Niger, Kogi, Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, Kwara and Ekiti and are considered swing states.

They have the largest mix of Christian and Muslim communities and have been won by up to 4 political parties since 1999, the most in Nigeria. They are viewed as the tie breakers and historical data suggest that whoever they align with goes on to win the election.

They however have the lowest voter turnout of the three blocs with 27 percent of a total of 24 million registered voters coming out to vote at the last election.

From Obasanjo to Buhari: Who each bloc has supported since 1999

With hindsight, the Bible Belt states’ loyalty to PDP first emerged in the 1999 presidential elections, with all 17 states that form the bloc voting for the PDP’s Olusegun Obasanjo. The Northern Alliance was also largely won by the PDP with the exception of Sokoto, Zamfara, Yobe and Osun states which were won by Olu Falae, who was running on a joint Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All People’s Party (APP) ticket.

The Rockies states were split between both parties but it was AD/APP that won in terms of total votes by a margin of 1 million. Former president Obasanjo would eventually win the election with 18.7 million votes as against the 11.1 million votes garnered by Falae.

Read also: Why conducting election in Nigeria is expensive- INEC chair 

Ejobe told BusinessDay that the 1999 election data analysis is interesting because even though it looked like it was a PDP whitewash that year, it was purely a representation of certain trends that have already started to occur, some of which may never change. The voting patterns were slightly altered in 2003.

The Northern Alliance at this time had begun to take shape and voted for All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) whose candidate was President Muhammadu Buhari. In the previous election, the Northern Alliance had largely voted for the PDP and the 2003 election would mark the start of the PDP’s failure to win the bloc over.

The Bible Belt and Rockies went to the PDP, helping Obasanjo to a second term with 24.4 million votes, outperforming Buhari who came second with 12.7 million votes. The 2007 election data was not broken down into state voting patterns and as such was excluded in the report presentation by Viisaus.

The 2011 election painted a picture of the established and growing Northern Alliance bloc. Again, the Northern Alliance, with the exception of Osun state, would vote for President Buhari who was representing the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) this time.

It would however be the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan, who captured the Bible Belt (which by now were established loyalists of the PDP) and the Rockies, that would emerge winner with an estimated 22.5 million votes, almost double of Buhari’s 12.2 million votes.

The 2015 election saw a repeat of the trend where the Northern Alliance voted for Buhari. The loyalty of the Bible Belt states to the PDP waxed stronger with victory for the PDP’s Jonathan yet again.

The Rockies can be said to have been formed here as the West broke free from the Bible Belt and voted for a different party.

This time, the Rockies voted in unison with the Northern Alliance, and made history in the process. For the first time, an incumbent president was defeated with President Buhari emerging winner at the fourth time of asking.

The Rockies proved to be the game changers for Buhari who had always won the Northern Alliance since he first contested in 2003. The 2019 election was more of the same with the 2015 election save for few but instrumental changes, one of which was the drastic drop in voter turnout in the Bible belt states.

Each state that forms the Northern Alliance voted against the PDP for the fifth election running but favoured the APC’s President Muhammadu Buhari. That’s in keeping with the trend since 1999 which shows that the Northern Alliance has always voted against the PDP and another trend which shows the bloc has voted for Buhari since 2003.

The Bible Belt voted for Atiku Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), similar to 2015 when they also voted for the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan who was seeking a second term against Buhari but would eventually lose out.

Seven out of the nine states that form the Rockies were won by APC in 2019, while the PDP won in Ondo and Oyo. The year before that, in 2015, eight out of nine voted for APC with the exception of Ekiti state.

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