2023 elections: Nigeria’s voter turnout drops to lowest

ON February 25, Nigeria had its presidential election, a widely anticipated affair, with the lowest number of voters recorded since 2011.

It was a race between 18 candidates, but considered between four leading contenders; Bola Ahmed Tinubu, candidate of the All Progressive Congress, Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso, the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) candidate and Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate.

The days preceding the election were tense and filled with passion between candidates and their supporters. The election for its dynamics drew the attention of many — Nigerians within the country, Nigerians in the diaspora, and spectators.

But as popular as the election was among Nigerians, the turnout was low.

Increased registration, decreased votes

The turnout of voters for the presidential election is a new record in Nigeria’s long history of political apathy, with 93 million registered voters  – the highest in any election – and 87 million collected PVCs.

Trends in the voter turnout in the last four presidential elections
Trends in the voter turnout in the last four presidential elections

The 2023 presidential election is the 10th and has the lowest voter turnout rate in the last four election cycles.

More than 93 million Nigerians registered to vote, but only 25 million voted. This is to say, only 2.7 in every ten registered voters determined the out of the election. With a 29 per cent turnout rate, the 2023 election might also be the lowest  turnout of voters in Africa.

The election in 2019 had 84 million (84,004,084) registered voters and 82 million (82344107) PVCs collected; in 2015, it was 68 million (68,833,476) and 67 million (67,422,005) PVCs collected. And in 2011, there were 73 million (73,528,040) registered voters.

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Since 2011, the turnout for elections has been declining. That year, turnout for the presidential polls stood at 53.68 per cent, with 39 million votes cast. In 2015 it fell to 47.09 per cent, with 31 million votes. Then to 35.66 per cent, with 29 million voters in 2019, an ICIR analysis showed.

Turnout in geopolitical zones 

Turnout for the 2023 presidential election varied across geopolitical zones.

Using the number of PVCs collected in each geopolitical zones, The ICIR analysis showed that turnout in the southeast  was lowest  and highest in the north-central.


Percentage of turnout during the 2023 presidential election
Percentage of turnout during the 2023 presidential election

Turnout in the southeast was 22.30 per cent out of 10.4m PVC collected. In the south-south, turnout was 23.28 per cent out of 13 million PVCs collected. Voters in the southwest comprised only 28.71 per cent of the 15 million PVCs collected.

The northeast had a 30.39 per cent turnout out of 11.9 million PVCs collected. The northwest turnout was 32.61 per cent out of 21.4 million PVCs collected. And in the north-central, turnout was 32.83 per cent of 14.6 million PVCs collected.

The registered voters in the southeast were 14.4 million; the south-south had 10.9m registered voters; the southwest had 17.9 million registered voters.

The northeast had 12.5 million registered voters, the northwest had 22.3 million, and the northcentral had 15.3 million.

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Lowest majority

The ICIR report indicates that the total votes that secured Ahmed Tinubu’s victory as the president-elect is the lowest majority ever recorded.

The president elected in 2011, Goodluck Jonathan had 22 million majority votes; the APC candidate that emerged in 2015, ending the PDP winning streak, got 15 million votes and retained his office in 2019 with another r 15 million votes.

The majority vote in the 2023 election is 8 million.

Low turnout in governorship polls

Few weeks after the presidential election, the governorship election held on March 18, dotted with low turnouts across the 28 States.

There are several reports of empty polling units.

The ICIR reported that very few voters turned out for the governorship polls; others unenthusiastic busied themselves with their day-to-day activities.

In Borno, the election was delayed by INEC officials in ward 2, Jere local government, due to the absence of voters at the polling unit.

The case was also the same in Anambra state, where officials sat idly at polling units awaiting the arrival of voters.

Party agents at ward 10 in Onitsha North LGA begged passers-by to use the polling unit.

In some parts of Lagos, voters had not arrived at the polling units as of 8.40 a.m.

Voters in Rivers strolled scantily to polling units; the state’s total votes was only 496,852 despite having over 3.5 million registered voters.

Why low turnout of voters

Some identified reasons for the low voter turnout are violence, poor economic situation and citizens’ distrust in elections.

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a pro-democracy think-tank, said the diminishing confidence of the people in the electoral process to produce elected leaders influenced the actions of electorates.

The non-profit also said the harassment and intimidation of voters before the election created fear and disinterest.

Also, this report highlighted abnormalities and the poor behaviour of the electoral commission across states.



    It identified that the voters were discouraged by the late arrival of sensitive materials and INEC officials.

    “While large turnouts of voters were recorded in some parts of the country, late arrival of voting materials to polling units, malfunctioning of the BVAS devices and different degrees of rancour, among others, have disenfranchised many accredited citizens from exercising their civic rights so far.

    “Also, terrorist attacks and lingering fears of insurgent attacks have affected voting processes across states in the country’s Northeastern regions coupled with the naira scarcity.”

    *Data analysis was done by James Emmanuel. 

    Beloved John is an investigative reporter with International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

    You can reach her via: [email protected]

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