Concern Rises As INEC Records All-time Low Voter Turnout. The 2023 presidential and National Assembly polls in Nigeria experienced the lowest voter turnout rate in the country’s history. With more than 93 million people registered to vote, only about 25 million voters participated, which represents a turnout of less than 30%, far from previous showings in terms of voter turnout. This has left stakeholders, including international observers, with concerns. The inconsistent turnout of the electorate and the voting pattern in the last four decades has always been a source of worry for political stakeholders, but it has become more concerning with the declining voter turnout.
In preparation for the 2023 elections, the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had introduced a Bimodal Voters Accreditation System and live transmission of results. Yakubu had told those who cared to listen that the technological device, which is specially designed to capture the biometrics of prospective voters and upload polling results, would be a game changer. Consequently, the zeal to become part of the history makers to decide the next president, state governors, and lawmakers fired up many youths in the country to rush to secure their PVCs. At one point, INEC acknowledged that the statistics of youths represented the highest number of registered voters who would cast votes in the 2023 general elections. Concern Rises As INEC Records All-time Low Voter Turnout.
The National Commissioner of the Commission in charge of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, had predicted that young Nigerians would determine the outcome of the 2023 general elections, putting the figure of youths between 18 and 34 years old at 7,286,871, which represents about 76.56% of the voting population. Despite the high number of registered voters, the voter turnout was not as high as anticipated.
Dating back to the 1979 presidential election using the database from the African Elections, National Electoral Commission, and the Independent National Elections Commission, the trajectory of the electoral processes has proved to be quite unpredictable. In 1979, the voter turnout for the presidential election was 34.6%. In 1983, the poll witnessed 38.9%; in 1993, it was 35%, and in 1999, 52.3%. However, the year 2003 witnessed a giant leap in the slope of the electoral process when an unprecedented 69.1% of Nigerians across the six geopolitical zones turned out for the April 19, 2003 poll to elect a new president. But there was a drastic downward slide after the 2003 election because the statistics of voters dropped to 57.5% in 2007. By 2011, it had dropped to 53.7%, 43.7% in 2015, 34.7% in 2019, and 27.1% in 2023, an all-time low.
The decline in voter turnout can be attributed to many factors, including low trust in the electoral process, poor governance, and insecurity. The citizens’ trust in the electoral process has been eroded by widespread electoral fraud, voter intimidation, vote buying, and the politicisation of security forces. Many Nigerians feel that their votes do not count because the electoral system is flawed and rigged. Poor governance, especially in the areas of economic development, job creation, education, and healthcare, has resulted in apathy and disillusionment among citizens, especially the youth. Insecurity, including terrorism, banditry, and kidnappings, has also discouraged people from voting. Concern Rises As INEC Records All-time Low Voter Turnout.
To address the declining voter turnout, INEC must tackle the issues that discourage Nigerians from participating in elections. There must be a concerted effort to build trust in the electoral process by ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections. The use of technology can help to curb electoral malpractice, like the introduction of similar gadgets like the BVAS.