In the wake of the 2019 general elections, Nigeria had the lowest voter turnout in its presidential elections in Africa compared to the most recent elections held in other countries. When further drilled down, the presidential elections had a higher voter turnout than the subsequent state level elections that held a week later. The low voter turnout is a source for concern as it indicates that enthusiasm for democratic rule appears to be on the wane. Beyond the problems that were displayed in terms of logistics, thuggery, protests, vote buying and violence, 15% of the incidents and 20% of the fatalities occurred on Election Day.
Violence is used as a means of voter intimidation to drive low turnout. The 2019 elections recorded the lowest turnout in the last 4 election cycles – stretching back to 2003. Violence has been legitimised as a tool for keeping turnout poor in opposition areas. Pre-existing violence makes electoral violence significantly more fatal.
Regionally, while incidents in the North-East were relatively fewer, they were by far the most lethal in terms of fatality count. This may be indicative of two things: election campaigns were muted because of the more overarching security issues of Boko Haram and ISWAP in the region; and the climate of violence meant that there was a higher propensity of loss of life, leading to higher fatality rates.
While the North-Central accounted for 15% of all incidents, it made up 22% of the fatality count. This is indicative of the higher degrees of tension in the region as well as the underlying security issues the region faces. The high incident count in Southern Nigeria was primarily driven by Delta and Rivers states in the South-South and is indicative of the following: the presence of willing fighters in the form of both current and ex-militants and gang members in this region makes the scale of such clashes larger than would otherwise be the case.
The antecedents of the military in being willing tools in the hands of the ruling party to intimidate voters remains a key variable in assessing the South-South’s security.
Following the elections, SBM conducted a nationwide survey to ascertain perceptions of how the elections had gone.
Vote buying has been said to be a prevalent part of the Nigerian electoral system, with various reports of party agents paying voters and inspecting ballot papers sometimes in the full view of security agencies. We asked the respondents about vote buying. 48% of them said they had indeed heard of incidents of vote buying during the last elections in the areas where they voted. Votes cost from ₦500 and up to above ₦10,000 in some locations, while other areas focused on food and non food items as opposed to cash.
This violence and cheating is showing up in the perceptions.
The distribution of trust for INEC by state does not follow clear regional patterns. However, the South East and the North Central produced the lowest trust rates for INEC. There appears to be a pattern that where there are prevailing issues leading to already reduced trust in the Nigerian state and its leadership, trust in INEC suffered as well. Specific states that need to be watched include Abia, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Taraba. We note that these are are states that have pre-existing security issues (secessionist protests in Abia), and farmer-herder conflicts in the other three.
The pattern seen in perception of INEC by age is repeated in the perception of fairness of security agencies. The youngest voters have the lowest percentage of positive perception of the security agencies, at 51%, followed by the oldest voters above 40, at 60%. Concomitantly, the pattern for employment status is also the same for both INEC and Security agencies, with security agencies being marginally better in perception.
Finally, and most worringly, is that across board for all questions asked during the survey, the youngest respondents (ages 18 to 22) showed the most apathy to the electoral process, turning in the lowest positive responses for all questions asked.
By voters’ admission, the 2019 general elections in Nigeria were greatly flawed. Some of the blame adduced to INEC’s shoddy preparation for the elections, some electoral officers’ willingness to participate in fraud and politicians’ lack of sportsmanship.
Security agencies and violence instigated by loyalists to political parties and politicians also contributed to the flawed process.
Voters’ perception of the electoral commission, politicians and security agencies varies based on geopolitical zones, age, level of education and employment status.
While there is a need to understand the regional variations better, it is clear that the quantum of work to be done over the next four years is huge, and the best time to begin to prepare is now.
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