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Why low turn-out characterized 2023 elections

By Adetokunbo Abiola


Folorunso Ajala joined youths blocking the street at Oda in Akure  around 12 pm, playing football when millions of Nigerians across the country queued up to cast their votes in the presidential and National Assembly elections. The football game took place  less than 50 meters from a polling unit, with lots of others gathering to watch, shouting at the top of their voice, waving hands, some clapping.

Muyiwa Ojolo  stayed at home in Okitipupa, watching television when the polls took place, or simply watched others going to vote, and in the evening, he sat at a  nearby shop, drinking beer or smoking cigarette, other people turning the place into political debate centres, arguing about  the credibility or otherwise of the candidates and the achievements and failures of their respective political parties.

Haruna Abdullahi, a 42-year-old IDP-resident in Talata Mafara area of Zamfara State, told Premium Times he stayed at the camp during the exercise, listening to the event on the radio, and sometimes browsing through the net to get news of the elections, feeling excluded from the entire exercise.

Folorunso, Muyiwa and Haruna belong to  a group of Nigerians who  refused to join 28.63% of the registered voters who took part in the recent presidential  elections, forming part of the 79 percent of over 93 million people who registered to vote but didn’t, a familiar trend in the recent past, with data from the election management body showing that Nigeria’s voter turnout has been declining,   57.5% in 2007, 53.7% in 2011, 43.7% in 2015 and 34.8% in 2019.

Muyiwa lost confidence in elections after reading reports  on the 2019 polls, where five states accounted for 46 per cent of violent incidents, with an estimated 626 persons  killed across Nigeria in the six months between the start of the election campaign and the commencement of the exercise.

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In the 2019 general elections, Folorunso became disillusioned in elections on hearing    numerous accounts of election-day violence created by state security forces and political thugs, leading to recorded deaths of at least 629 people during the election cycle, with Human Rights documenting 11 deaths specifically related to violent interference in the election process during the presidential  and subsequent state elections.

Haruna refused to take part in the elections due to the loss of his PVC, and the number of Nigerians with PVC problems are many, with no fewer than 6.7 million Nigerians across 17 states not having collected their permanent voter cards less than eight weeks to the general elections, with 313,200 Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) yet to be  collected in Ondo State by December, from a total number of registered voters at 2,047,598, while the total PVC received as at 31st October, 2022  was  1,843,516.

With lots of people losing their PVCs or not collecting their PVC, and the numerous accounts of violence that plague Nigerian elections, and the loss of confidence in elections results in general, it becomes understandable when almost eighty percent of registered voters, including Folorunso, Muyiwa and Haruna, refused to take part in the recent governorship and presidential elections.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I-IDEA), an intergovernmental organisation that supports sustainable democracy worldwide, reveals that the turnout of voters in the last election represented the second lowest in the history of elections held in African countries, as only two in 10 registered voters were at the polling booths to exercise their civic duties, with barely 9 million people voting for President-elect Bola Tinubu, who will now govern 220 million Nigerians, among whom would be Muyiwa.

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An estimated 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population fall within the age-group of people under the age of 25, including Haruna, who celebrated his 20th birthday on May 6 last year, but over eighty percent of this segment of the population boycotted the polls, meaning decision makers would not be able to plan good policies for this segment of the population, projected to form 74 per cent of the global growth of youth population aged 18–23 in Nigeria and nine other countries from 2015 to 2035.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) proposed the sum of N305 billion for the conduct of the 2023 general election, putting the voting cost of Haruna at an estimate of $5.39, with a target of 100 million registered voters for the election, using the N565 to $1 parallel market exchange rate the Commission quoted in its EPP document.

With the low turnout, it means much of the N305 billion has been wasted at a time of dire economic conditions, while Haruna, Folorunso and Muyiwa and a lot of the nation’s large youth population find themselves unable to make an impact at electing people  to their cause, a condition worsened by the continued decline in the turn-out of voters, which might imply tiredness with democratic practice, an impetus many people could use to disrupt the nation’s political process.

When speaking to newsmen, Folorunso admitted that Nigeria’s politics and state institutions continue to exclude people like him, rather than include them, and that he wasn’t surprised the low turnout put Nigeria among the 10 countries with the lowest voter turnout in the world, in contrast to Rwanda, which  recorded a 98.15 per cent voter turnout in 2017, the highest in the world.

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For the third consecutive year up to 2022, Nigeria dropped in the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking released by Transparency International (TI), a rating that irked Muyiwa when he heard and one of the reasons he preferred playing football instead of going to vote, meaning if Nigeria could be transparent and truthful during elections more people will go to vote.

About 279,000 persons were displaced in Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina by the end of 2020, while more than 2.6 million people across the three states are facing food insecurity in 2021, among them Haruna,  and the situation could even be more challenging, when seen in the context of  about 1,527 people killed by bandits in 2020, higher than the 1,508 persons reportedly killed by terrorist groups in the Northeast in January to March 2021, with armed groups in Kaduna State killing 323 people.

If Nigeria puts an end to banditry, perhaps Folorunso could have voted in the elections, but the nation’s politicians have to improve on the issue of transparency and trust to attract Muyiwa, and give an opportunity for inclusiveness rather than excluding Haruna and many of the nation’s youths. 

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