ANALYSIS: Lagos and the problem of low voter turnout in Nigerian elections

PU 012, Ward 02 Somolu Local Government Lagos East Senatorial District. Voting ends with an unsealed ballot box.
PU 012, Ward 02 Somolu Local Government Lagos East Senatorial District. Voting ends with an unsealed ballot box.

Despite the record number of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) collected ahead of this year’s general elections, Nigeria recorded lower voters turnout in the February 23 presidential election, compared to that of 2015.

It was the climax of a trend that started in 2007 when voters turnout dropped almost 12 points to 57.4 per cent, compared to the figure for 2003.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said 72,775,585 PVCs were collected by registered voters across the country for the 2019 elections.

Although the commission said it registered over 84 million voters, only those with PVCs are eligible to vote. The number of uncollected PVCs is 11,228,582.

In spite of the high number of collected PVCs, some states recorded low turnout of voters on Election Day.

According to INEC, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) polled 15.2 million votes to beat Atiku Abubakar of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who recorded 11.3 million votes.

The overall turnout of voters across the country was 28,614,190 or 35.6 per cent of registered voters or 39.3 per cent of eligible voters. Voter turnout in the 2015 presidential election was 43.6 per cent of registered voters.

An analysis of the result of the election presented by INEC shows that states which recorded high voters turnout in 2015 returned low numbers this year.

There is speculation that the low turnout was a result of the shift by one week of the 2019 polls. The presidential and National Assembly elections were to hold on February 16 but eventually took place on February 23.

There were also cases of violence in some states in the build-up to and during the elections, which may have hindered voters from exercising their franchise.

States with lowest voters turnout

The numbers of accredited voters dropped in 18 states in 2019 compared to 2015.

The states are Abia, Niger, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Ondo, Oyo, Bauchi, Lagos and Imo. The others are Plateau, Kano, Akwa Ibom, Zamfara, Cross River, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers.

Of these states, however, three were the worst in terms of voter turnout.

Less than 20 per cent turnout

Three states had less than 20 per cent voter turnout in this year’s presidential election. They are Lagos, Abia and Rivers states.

Lagos State led the states with the lowest voters turnout with 17.25 per cent (1,089,567), followed by Abia with 18 per cent or 323,291 votes and Rivers with 19.97 per cent (642,165).

Lagos is Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan state as well the richest state in the country. It is a major financial centre and would be the fifth largest economy in Africa if it were a country. Its total generated revenue in 2017 was around ₦334 billion (equivalent to US$920 million), growing by 10.43 per cent, compared to 2016.

In terms of population, Lagos is Nigeria’s most populous state with an estimated 20 million residents.

In Lagos, there are 6,570,291 registered voters but only 5,531,389 collected their PVCs. About 1, 038,909 PVCs remain uncollected. All these factors have, however, never translated to a high voters turnout.

Although considered relatively peaceful in the 2015 elections, Lagos also recorded the lowest voters turnout that year. In 2015, the voters’ turnout in the state was 29 per cent.

Abia State has 1,932,892 registered voters in the 2019 presidential election and 1,729,943 of these collected their PVCs as at February 11, 2019. Voters turnout in the state is 18 per cent, a decrease from the 30 per cent recorded in the state in the 2015 election.

In Rivers, there are 3,215,273 registered voters while 2,833,101 PVCs were collected as at February 11, 2019, but the turnout of voters was low.

In contrast, Rivers had a high turnout of voters in 2015 with 71 per cent. In 2019, the figure dropped to 19.97 per cent (642,165).

Voters turnout in Nigeria since 1999

Data obtained from the website of INEC and other sources revealed that 52.3 per cent of the registered voters voted in the 1999 elections.

The figure rose to 69.1 per cent in 2003 but has fallen since then. In 2007, it went down to 57.4 per cent, 53.7 per cent in 2011 and 43.6 per cent in 2015.

Nigeria’s registered voters rose from 57,938,945 in 1999 to 84,004,084 in 2019.

In 1999, out of the 57,938,945 registered voters, the total votes cast in the presidential election of that year was 30,280,052, representing 52.3 per cent.

There were 29,848,441 ‎valid votes and 431,611 invalid votes, representing 98.6 per cent and 1.4 per cent of the total votes cast respectively.

As stated earlier, the voter turnout rose in 2003 to 69.1 per cent.

That year, INEC had 60‎,823,022 registered voters, out of which ‎42,018,735 turned out and cast their votes with 39,480,489‎ valid votes and‎ 2,538,246 invalid votes.

The turnout in 2003 at 69 per cent represented an increase of 16.8 per cent over that of 1999.

‎In 2007, there were 61,566,648 registered voters, out of which 35,419,262 voted, representing 57.4 per cent turnout of voters.‎

This represented a drop in the voter turnout of 11.04 per cent.

The voter ‎turnout dropped further to 54 per cent in the 2011 presidential election. That year, there were 73,528,040 registered voters but only 39,469,484 turned out for the poll, with 38,209,978 valid votes and 1,259,506 invalid votes.

This represented a drop of 4.36 per cent over that of 2007.

The decline in voters’ participation continued in 2015 when only 29,432,083 voters, which was 43.6 per cent out of the ‎67,422,005,‎ registered voters turned out and cast their votes.‎

That year, there were 28,587,564 valid votes and 844,519 invalid votes. The drop was 10.1 per cent.

Experts React

Giving the reasons for the low turnout in the 2019 election, the Head of Research, SBM intelligence, Cheta Nwanze, said most people believe their votes will not count.

“A lot of people registered for the voters’ card because of the population growth. People believe their votes do not count, they believe their voices are not heard so they feel reluctant to come out and vote,” he said.

Mr Nwanze said the best way to resolve the issue of low voters turnout is ‘good governance. “When the people start noticing positive changes then the turnout will increase,” he said.

For the Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, one of the reasons for the low turnout of voters was the postponement of the election by one week.

“So what is the essence if people do not have the basics of life provided for them? The nature of politics, the fear of violence and people not being contented with the system are also a major factor for the low turnout,” she said.

Ms Hassan advised the government, politicians and the electoral body to show credibility in order to gain the people’s trust.

“It is important that people see that democracy is working for them. It is about better governance,” she said.

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