The 2019 Elections have come to an end with a lot of controversies surrounding the way and manner the process was executed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Based on commentaries by Nigerians, so some Local and International observers, the elections remain the worst in Nigeria with regards to turnout.
In a country of 195 million people, only 84,271,832 people registered to vote, according to INEC. This number actually rose from the 69,720,350 voters registered for the 2015 general elections, as the commission registered 14,551,482 new voters. Out of that 84 million, 72,775,585 million collected their Permanent Voters Cards that made them eligible to vote at the polls.
The high number in PVC collection, however, did not reflect at the polls. The overall turnout of voters across the country for the Presidential and National Assembly elections was 28,614,190 million or 35.6 percent of registered voters according to Reuters. This compares to the 43.6 percent voter turnout in the 2015 presidential election.
On March 9, during the governorship and State House of Assembly elections, the voter turnout was even lower. The total number of votes for the Presidential election, according to INEC, was 15.2 million and 11.3 million for the Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly Elections. There were several reports and pictures online showing near empty polling units, which were even fuller during the previous elections. In some areas in Lagos, officials had to call voters out with the use of a bell.
More than half of all registered voters about 51.1 percent, are between 18 and 35, according (INEC) and yet the youth didn’t seem to show interest in going to the polls. This is very unfortunate considering that in the years to come, this will be the generation that will be expected to lead the country.
Three states had less than 20 per cent voter turnout in the Presidential election; Lagos, Abia and Rivers states.
Lagos State led the states with the lowest voters turnout with 17.25 percent (1,089,567), followed by Abia with 18 percent (323,291 ) votes and Rivers with 19.97 percent (642,165).
In a state like Lagos that has an estimated population of 20 million, they were only 6,570,291 registered voters of which 5,531,389 collected their PVCs. These numbers did not translate to a high turn out at the polls. In 2015, Lagos also had one of the lowest turnouts at only 29%. Compared to this year’s 17.25%, it was quite a
dip in that number.
The implications of these numbers may very well show a democracy in jeopardy.
Mr. Yinka Odumakin , a spokesperson for Afenifere believes that the turnout will be better when true democracy is established.
“Well, you can only have proper democracy when true democrats are running the system. You saw how APC that went to court in 2015 manipulated the votes all over the country even in a state like Lagos. You saw the violence that was reported. They have killed the people’s interest in the process. Until they restore true democracy, the electorate won’t be interested in going out to join the process,” Mr. Odumakin said.
The general assumption is that the turnout was affected by a number of factors such as the sudden shift in dates of the elections. Also, after the first set of elections and the violence and disenfranchisement that characterized the process, some people refused to go out to vote during the second round of elections.
Giving the reasons for the low turnout in the 2019 general elections, Head of Research, SBM intelligence, Cheta Nwanze, in an interview with Premium Times, said most people believed their votes would 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.
The 2019 general elections should be a lesson to Nigeria and Nigerians. It’s hoped that all the parties involved would learn from it and make amends to have the confidence of the electorates so as to ensure a higher voter turnout come 2023.