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Citizens participation remains low as Nigeria keeps spending billions on elections

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Citizens participation remains low as Nigeria keeps spending billions on elections

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Ahead of the Bayelsa governorship election, Ebelechukwu Tamar, a 100-level student of Niger Delta University, departed campus for her hometown in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

Ms Tamar, 22, rooted for the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but she did not vote. She said she has lost faith in the electoral system of the country, hence, she considers voting “a waste of time.”

The result of the election shows that Governor Douye Diri of the PDP defeated the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Timipre Sylva, to win a second term in office. Mr Diri polled 175,196 votes to beat Mr Sylva who came second with 110,108 votes, and Udengs Eradiri of Labour Party who polled just 905 votes.

Because of eligible voters like Ms Tamar and others who shunned the poll, only three out of every 10 people (28 per cent) in the state who registered and collected voting cards cast their ballots, according to official figures from the electoral body, INEC.

The figure is way down from the 54 per cent recorded in the same election in 2019.

In the 2015 election too, of the 654,493 eligible voters in Bayelsa, only 32.8 per cent (or 230,069) turned out to vote.

However, voter turnout in the preceding 2012 governorship poll had been 79 per cent.

This means between the 2012 and 2023 elections, voter turnout dropped sharply from 79 per cent to 28 per cent.

On Saturday, governorship elections were also held in Imo and Kogi states – both won by candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

In Imo, Hope Uzodinma won with 540,308 votes and Samuel Anyanwu of the main opposition PDP came second with 71,503 votes.

In Kogi, APC’s Ahmed Ododo got 446,237 votes while Muritala Ajaka of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) came second with 259,052 and PDP’s Dino Melaye got 46,362 votes.

However, all three states saw low voter turnout – indicating that many Nigerians have little interest or confidence in the system that produces their leaders.

Since 2011, there has been a steady decline in election participation in Imo State. The turnout was 29 per cent in Saturday’s governorship election.

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INEC official data shows that out of the 2,419,922 eligible voters, only 701,338 votes were cast.

In 2019, the turnout was 35 per cent, a decline from 45 per cent in 2015 and 46 per cent in 2011.

Observers believe that the deteriorating security situation in several local councils, including Oru East, Oru West, Oguta, Orlu, Okigwe, Orsu, and Njaba in the state, contributed to the low electoral participation in Imo.

In Kogi, central Nigeria, election participation was 40 per cent in last weekend’s poll. This percentage is more than the 38 per cent recorded in 2019 and well greater than the 24.6 per cent recorded in the presidential election in February.

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However, observers and opposition parties in the state questioned Saturday’s figures from the Kogi Central senatorial district where turnout was as high as 90 per cent in some local governments with almost all the voters voting for the ruling APC. The controversial Kogi Central result contributed to the relatively high 40 per cent turnout which would have been much less without it.

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In 2015, only 37 per cent (or 511,648) of residents voted out of the 1,379,971 eligible voters. In 2011, the turnout was 39 per cent.

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Nigerians’ aversion to voting in elections is well documented, but the challenge saw a new low in the 2023 elections, an exercise that cost the country billions of naira. INEC budgeted N305 billion for the 2023 general election.

The commission also got an extra N18 billion for Saturday’s Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi elections.

PREMIUM TIMES reported the abysmal turnout in February’s presidential election. Just over a quarter of the eligible population turned out to vote, and no state had a turnout above 40 per cent in the general election.

Up to 93 million people in Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy registered ahead of the 2023 elections. But, the national turnout was 29 per cent; no election had a lower participation rate in the six decades of Nigeria’s independence.

Fewer than nine million people voted for President Bola Tinubu while the total number of actual voters was only 24.9 million.

Since 2011, the turnout of voters has seen a steady decline in presidential elections; first from 54 per cent in 2011, then to 44 per cent in 2015 before dropping to 34.7 per cent in 2019.

The 2023 rate is the lowest of all recent elections held on the African continent.

Data compiled by 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 that election was the lowest in the history of elections held in African countries.

Several factors have been given for the low voter turnout in Nigerian elections.

These include voter apathy and poor economic situation. PREMIUM TIMES also reported how the electoral commission, INEC, contributed to the low voter turnout in the recent elections through the late deployment of officials and materials to polling units.

In a statement on Monday, Yiaga Africa, a non-governmental organisation monitoring elections, said it was concerned about the continuous decline in the quality of elections and the proclivity for lowering the integrity standards of elections irrespective of reforms introduced by INEC and reforms to the electoral legal framework.

“The November 11 elections were another missed opportunity to rebuild trust and confidence in the electoral process. The elections question the commitment of democratic institutions, electoral integrity and credible elections,” the group said.


READ ALSO: Off-cycle elections: Imo, Kogi, Bayelsa, By Reuben Abati


President Tinubu has words of encouragement for voters in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa for their participation in the electoral process, saying the resilience of democratic institutions and the power of the people is central to shaping the nation’s political landscape.

The president further said he was pleased that the outcomes of the elections reflect the wishes of the people, noting that democracy thrives when voters reward competence, transparency, and good governance.


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