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Is Voter Apathy on the Rise in Nigeria? Brief Analysis of 2015 and 2019 Presidential Elections

On Wednesday the 28th of February, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the polls, which were held on the 23rd of February across the country.

In the official results collated from all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, President Buhari polled 15,191,847 votes and his closest competition, former Vice President Atiku, recorded 11,262,978 votes, despite the cancellation of elections and results in certain parts of the country.

In 2015, the Independent Electoral Commission recorded about 68 million registered voters across the country and only about 31,746,490 voters were accredited during the time. This number was about 47% of registered voters.

In 2019, the number of registered voters increased to 82,344,107, an increase of about 38,057,796, giving hope to many who thought there was an increase in active political participation from citizens.

However, the number of accredited voters this year reduced to 29,364,209 which is 2,382,281 lower than it was in 2015.

Speaking on the low turnout of voters, Mr Obed Monago, the continental chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora organisation, America attributed the low turnout to insufficient voter education. He noted that citizens should be sensitized beyond the need to acquire a voter’s card, focusing on why it is necessary to vote.

Mr Caleb Ojewale, a Senior Analyst at Business Day, drew a link between the negative disposition towards election (which has grown over time) and the low turnout of voters. He said, while a few were not inspired by any of the candidates, for some it was the postponement of the election and the inconvenience it came with. For another group of people, it was the ‘shoot at sight’ order given by the president that kept them away from polling booths for fear of being hit by stray bullet.

Mr Ojewale also said that people who fail to vote, make themselves politically irrelevant and increase the tendencies of being marginalized.

Mr Louis Uzo, a lawyer, adds that voter apathy exposes the entire process to the risk of rigging, thereby enabling unpopular candidates to attain political heights which reflects on the economy with bad policies. He also noted that the growth, or otherwise, of an economy is dependent on the drivers of the economy. When people do not vote, it allows the government to spiral downward, exposing the process to manipulation which could stimulate strife and civil unrest.

Stephanie Adams, a Program Officer at Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism noted: “The election was postponed at the last minute and that could be considered one of the major problems. Nigerians were willing to cast their votes but the system (INEC) was a little bit unprepared as at when due.

Nigerians who travelled from far and wide for the elections on the 16th found out too late that it was postponed with no feasible explanation except for complaints on logistics. INEC had years to plan for this, but they failed.

This also speaks to problems attached to the card readers for accreditation. Even though I would say there was a large turnout, there was also a large number of unaccredited voters who were disenfranchised. Should we also talk about the large number of unclaimed PVCs?

Should we talk about the stress Nigerians went through just to register for the PVC yet they couldn’t vote? This election process is not only about Election Day, but it’s also about the initial step which is registration and the process of receiving the PVC. This means that the Nigerian electoral system needs to evolve. It is a threat to democracy where Nigerians are intentionally disenfranchised, either by the stress of going through the registration process, claiming the PVC and even casting a vote.”

Resultantly, as exemplified by the lower number of voters this year, a lot of Nigerians have lost faith and hope in the phrase: “Your vote matters, your vote counts.”

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