© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Voter turnout for presidential/NASS election is lowest in recent history, here is why
THE just concluded presidential and national assembly elections in Nigeria witnessed a voter turnout of just over 35.6 per cent, the lowest in the country since the return to democracy in 1999
According to figures by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the total number of accredited voters in the election held on Saturday, February 23, 2019, was 29,364,209, out of the 82,344,107 registered voters in Nigeria.
In 1999, the voter turnout was put at 52 per cent, in 2003 it was 69 per cent, in 2007, 57 per cent of voters came out to vote, and in 2011, the figure was 54 per cent.
Why was the 2019 election different? Especially at a time when the federal government claimed that security has been boosted as Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” and no longer hold a single local government in Borno State, as opposed to 2015 when the insurgent group controlled several local government areas in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States.
Many factors could be said to be responsible for the poor turnout of voters on Saturday and here are a few:
Contrary to the rhetorics by the federal government that security has improved in the last four years, available statistics and news reports show otherwise. While Boko Haram may no longer be holding territories, the terrorist group has continued to wax strong.
Just days to the election, the convoy of the governor of the state, Kashim Shettima, was attacked as he was returning to Maiduguri, the state capital, from a campaign rally in Gamboru.
In Kaduna State, violent killings happen on a regular basis. The governor, Nasir El-Rufai disclosed that over 100 people were killed in an area of the state called Kajuru, a day to the initial date of the election (February 16, 2019).
Also in Zamfara, bandits and kidnappers have held the citizens to ransom, operating almost freely and giving security operatives a hell of a time.
Plateau, Katsina, and Taraba are also some of the states that have face security challenges in recent times.
On the other hand, states like Rivers, Bayelsa, and Akwa Ibom had a significant presence of security operatives. This was done in a bid to check electoral violence as these areas are traditional flashpoints and hotbeds during elections, but many say the over-militarisation of the areas was counter-productive as it further scared the voters away from the polls.
Unfortunately, a good number of Nigerians still believe that their votes do not count, therefore, they would rather stay indoors than endure the ‘stress’ of standing on long queues to vote only for the process to be rigged.
Similarly, in some parts of the country, the South East for instance, where the Biafra secession movement is in top gear, many stayed away from the polls because they felt they do not belong in Nigeria.
In fact, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, who is currently on exile, had called on all the members of the group to stay at home on election day. He would later reverse the call some days to Election Day, asking people to go and vote, but it appeared not many heeded the call.
Journalists and election observers reported that a good number of youths were seen playing football or discussing in small groups on the day of the election, rather than go to vote.
The 11th-hour postponement of the election could have also impacted the voter turnout. The election had been scheduled to hold on February 16, but at about 2 am on that day, INEC announced that the election has been shifted by one week.
This, when many had travelled far distances, many from outside the country, to the areas they registered in order to be able to vote. Many who made the trip, but could not vote because of the postponement, and had to return to their bases, were unable to vote.
Recall that the current system in Nigeria is such that one is allowed to vote only at the polling unit where one registered or where one had transferred one’s voting centre prior to election day.
Despite the many assurances by the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, with regards to the commission’s readiness for the elections, the day came and it was like INEC had been joking all along.
For instance, INEC officials were supposed to be at their polling units nationwide as at 7 am, to set up their materials and get ready for voting to start at 8 am. But as at 8.15 am on Saturday, February 23, officials of INEC were nowhere to be seen in several polling units across the country.
In Abuja, voting started in some places by past 9 am, and in some rural areas across the country, voting did not commence until 2 pm, at which time many had become impatient and returned home.
A video clip went viral on the social media, showing two elderly women, mother and daughter, who brought a sleeping mat, pillows, their lunch and dinner, to their polling unit, determined to wait for however long it takes in order to vote. Many were not that patient and went home without voting.
Also, there were reports of many who could not vote because the INEC officials at the polling units did not come with one voting material or the other. In a polling unit in Lagos State, a Channels Television correspondent reported that the INEC officials did not come with stamps.
In a fortnight, Nigerians will return to the polls across the various states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, to elect their governors and state assembly members. Many are not optimistic that the voter turnout will be any different from what was witnessed during the just concluded presidential and national assembly elections.