OPINION: Worrisome decrease in voter turnout despite improved election conduct by Moshood Isa

OPINION: Worrisome decrease in voter turnout despite improved election conduct by Moshood Isa

Editor's note: Moshood Isa, the media officer of YIAGA Africa, writes on the diminishing turnout in Nigeria’s recent governorship and National Assembly elections, which he notes might affect the upcoming general elections scheduled for February 2019.

Read below:

The controversy that shrouded the outcome of the just concluded Osun governorship elections amidst lack of confidence in the electoral commission may just be another reason behind diminishing turnout in Nigeria’s election ahead of 2019 general elections. Since the 2015 general elections, statistics have shown that while the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) may have steadily improved in deployment of materials and conduct of elections generally, this has not translated into increased voter turn out during elections. This is no doubt a worrying trend ahead of the upcoming 2019 general elections.

With just over 29 million Nigerians coming out to vote in 2015 and just over 15 million determining the president out of 67 million registered voters, it is left to be seen if the current 84 million registered voters will translate into increased total votes cast. Unfortunately, recent off circle elections does not give a good indication.

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Since after 2015 elections, Nigeria has successfully conducted up to six governorship elections, three of which came within the last one year, with the latest one being the just concluded Osun governorship election. Interesting trends and exciting figures were recorded across all three elections. On 18th November, 2017 the Independent National Electoral Commission conducted a governorship election in Anambra amidst very low turnout with the incumbent governor of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) - Willy Obiano emerging victorious. This was followed by the Ekiti governorship elections held on 14th July 2018 with opposition party All Progressives Congress defeating the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). There are still reactions trailing the results from the just concluded Osun governorship elections after supplementary polls in seven polling units cutting across 4 local government where elections were either cancelled or did not hold.

From all the off-circle governorship elections, available data from YIAGA Africa who observed all the off-circle governorship elections after 2015 shows that Independent National Electoral Commission has consistently improved on deployment of election materials to polling units. Having deployed over 500 observers to sampled polling units, YIAGA AFRICA - Watching The Vote Project, is the largest citizen movement on credible election observation. Reports from the data shows that in the just concluded elections in Osun ztate, as at 9:00 am on election day, 95% of polling units had commenced accreditation and voting. This is a slight improvement on the 91% observed in Ekiti state few months ago. Interestingly, during the Anambra governorship elections, as at 10:00am only 75% of polling units were opened and by 12:00 noon 92% of polling units were opened.

The steady increase in percentage in commencement of accreditation during elections shows appreciable improvement in the deployment of sensitive materials to polling units. More so, the creation of Registration Area Centres (RACs) at various wards has also enabled faster deployment of electoral materials to polling units.

However, the inconsistent nature of turnout of voters for elections should be a source of worry ahead of the 2019 general elections considering what is being recorded in the off-circle elections pre and post 2015 general elections. The 2018 Osun gubernatorial polls saw the highest number of political parties ever to compete for an election in the history of Nigeria’s democracy with 48 parties presenting candidates for the elections compared to 20 we had in 2014. Interestingly an additional 200,000 prospective voters registered to vote which increases total number of registered voters from 1.4 million to over 1.6 million.

Unfortunately, these interesting figures doesn’t match with the voter turnout for the 2018 Osun governorship elections. As a matter of fact, voter turnout dropped from 54% in 2014 to 45% in the just concluded elections. The situation in Anambra state last year was even more discouraging as less than a quarter of the total number of registered voters participated in the November 2017, governorship election. The Returning Officer of the election, Zana Akpagu said, a total of 2,064,134 residents registered as eligible voters for the election with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Of this number, only 457, 511, about 22.16 per cent, came out on election day to be accredited.

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Similarly, with a registered voter of over 1.6 million, the Ondo state governorship elections in 2016 recorded 35 % voter turnout having seen about 585 thousand people coming for accreditation. While Ekiti state governorship elections recorded just over 44 percent turn out in 2018 compared to 50% turn out it recorded in 2014, Kogi state similarly presented just less than 40 percent of registered voters for its governorship election that was conducted between November and December 2015 which is relatively poor.

In a nutshell, since after the 2015 general elections, all the off-circle elections conducted has not crossed the 50% voter turn out mark. This is worrisome because the electoral commission on its own part has made effort to improve in the conduct of elections since introduction of the smart card reader and use of registration area centres which has enabled early deployment of materials. While INEC is the main body responsible for administering elections in Nigeria, It is pertinent to know that without effective deployment of security and other stakeholders, the commission may just be working in a vacuum.

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