05 Apr Despite Pre-election Euphoria, 2023 Has The Lowest Turnout Since 1999
Activities ahead of the 2023 presidential election, which held on February 25, 2023, had given an indication that it was going to be a historic one. Tension heightened, awareness was intensified, social engagements soared, and political apathy was never identified as an issue that could subvert the outcome of the election.
The euphoria, particularly on social media, and amongst youths, who make up about 40% of the voters’ register, had influenced predictions that the turnout would be high, if not massive. Hashtags such as #ihavemypvc #Speakwithyourpvc among others, trended for days on Twitter, but the outcome of the election showed that many eligible voters failed to turn up to vote.
The buzz about the election was so high that the Independent National Electoral Commission had to postpone the deadline for the collection of voter cards thrice due to the rush for collection and protests for extensions. In fact, INEC and its senior officials predicted that the 2023 election would have the highest turnout. Their prediction was premised on not just the awareness campaigns and voter sensitization sponsored by the commission, but particularly on the enthusiasm displayed by youths ahead of the election. The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Enugu State, Dr Chukwuemeka Chukwu, in a meeting with stakeholders in the state in December 2022, predicted a 50% turnout at the polls. The National Commissioner of the Commission in charge of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, also opined that young Nigerians would determine the outcome of the 2023 general elections and that they would troop out to vote.
Some pre-election polls had predicted a large turnout of voters, while others premised their predictions of winners of the election on the turnout of voters. Stears which conducted the second largest public opinion poll on the 2023 presidential election, with 6,220 respondents, predicted that the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi would win if the turnout were high; but that the APC candidate, Bola Tinubu would win with a low turnout. The latter was what played out on February 25.
The 93,469,008 eligible voters registered in 2023 was an 11% increase over the number registered in 2019 – 84,004,084, but the turnout recorded in the last election was than the former. Of 93 million people registered to vote, only about 25 million of the electorate voted. The abysmally low turnout has also raised a question of legitimacy, based on popular endorsement for the winner of the election. Tinubu won with only 8.7 million votes. This is the lowest scored by any presidential election winner in Nigeria since 1979.
The turnout in 1999 turnout was 52.3 per cent. The highest election turnout in the history of Nigeria’s democracy was recorded in 2003, when an unprecedented 69.1 per cent of registered voters came out to vote on the April 19, 2003 poll. The downward slide in election turnout started in 2007 when the turnout dropped to 57.5 per cent. 53.7 per cent turnout was recorded in 2011. By 2015, it had dropped to 43.7 per cent; and 34.7 per cent in 2019. The 2023 presidential election has the lowest since the beginning of the present democratic dispensation with 27.1 per cent.