17 May Party, Personality or Ethnicity? How Nigerians Voted in the 2023 Elections
Various adjectives have been used to qualify and describe Nigeria’s 2023 general elections. It was an unprecedented three-horse race, at least in the current democratic dispensation; it has the lowest turnout in the history of elections in Nigeria; and it was one fraught with irregularities such as violence, intimidation, technical manipulations, and deliberate disenfranchisement of some eligible voters. However, while public conversations around the characterisation of the elections continue, here is an analysis of how Nigerians voted premised on official results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Certain factors are inextricable from elections in this country. They include ethnicity, religion, and party affiliation. While these factors play crucial roles in the just concluded election, another factor that played a more significant role is the personalities of the candidates, particularly the three leading horses. A candidate desired by a fraction of the electorate was observed to be detested by another fraction. While some considered a candidate a messiah; they perceived another candidate as a reprobate.
After the last ballot was cast, a winner was announced and the two runner-ups are currently in court, each claiming that he won the election. Bola Tinubu of the All Progressive Congress polled 8,794,726 to defeat Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party and Labour Party’s Peter Obi who scored 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes respectively. In the governorship election, APC maintains majority of states, winning sixteen out of 28 states where elections held; PDP won 9, while Labour Party and the NNPP won one state each; Adamawa state is yet to be declared even after a supplementary election on April 15. The third horse, Labour Party, caused upset in places like the Southeast, South-South, North Central and Lagos, with its novice candidates retiring some veteran politicians.
Studying the voting patterns in the various states and regions, it is undeniable that the quartet of personality, party affiliation, ethnicity and to some extent, religion, played key roles in the choices of the Nigerian voters. Before we delve into the roles played by each factor here is a breakdown of how things played out in each of the six geopolitical regions.
HOW EACH REGION VOTED IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The Southeasterners divorced their long-time spouse, the PDP, and embraced the Labour Party in the Presidential election. The dominant factor is suspected to be their clamour for an Igbo President, which they probably intended to actualise through Peter Obi. He secured 90 per cent of votes in the region, while many legislative candidates rode on his popularity to win seats in the Senate, House of Reps and State Houses of Assembly.
The Yoruba-speaking people of the Southwest region also preferred their son even with the various controversies hanging around his neck. Tinubu won four of the six states in the region, and in the remaining two, he came second with slim margins. One might credit his win in the region to the strength of his party there-in, but his win in Oyo State proved that he was favoured more for his ethnicity. Weeks after he won the presidential election, Eng. Seyi Makinde won his reelection as governor with the highest margin in the March 18 elections, while the PDP also won the majority of seats in the state house of Assembly, leaving only four to the APC. So the APC had little or no impact on Tinubu’s win in the pacesetter state.
PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, a Fulani from Adamawa state won in all states of the region except Borno State, which the APC Vice Presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima secured for his party. Although the margin of Atiku’s victory in the region was too slim to make the necessary impact for him to win the race against Tinubu.
The three leading parties shared the South-South but majority of the electorate in the region preferred Peter Obi. He won three out of the six states in the region – Edo, Delta, and Cross River; the PDP won two, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa, while APC was declared the winner in Rivers State.
The Northwest was also keenly contested among APC and PDP, and NNPP, although Tinubu got majority of votes in the region. NNPP won Kano, PDP won Sokoto, Kaduna, and Katsina, while APC won Jigawa and Zamfara.
This region, albeit tightly contested, arguably handed Tinubu the victory. He won four out of the six states in the region leaving the remaining two and the FCT to Obi. Atiku Abubakar did not win any state in the region. Tinubu won in Benue, Kwara, Kogi, and Niger states, while Obi won in Plateau, Nasarawa and the FCT.
Now to the underlying factors that influenced voters’ choices in the general elections
The three major candidates in the presidential election who personally commanded an army of ardent supporters are Tinubu, Obi and Rabiu Kwankwanso of the New Nigeria People’s Party. Although the latter came a distant fourth with 1.4 million votes, he garnered this figure almost solely based on his personality. His Kwankwasiya movement with its trademark of red caps is solid in Kano State where he had governed for eight years, and it is spreading to other parts of the Northwest region. He won Kano with almost one million votes, displacing the APC which currently rules the state. He came third in Bauchi, Jigawa, Kaduna, Yobe and Zamfara. His party’s candidate also won the governorship election in Kano while it also won majority seats in the state assembly – 23 out of 40. The only candidate who commands similar cult followership in the North is President Muhamadu Buhari. If Kwankwanso is indeed playing the long-term game as believed by many, he might be warming up to be President in the next four or eight years.
Another candidate with a forceful personality in the election is Peter Obi, with the Obidient movement still rooting for him even after he emerged third. His followers believe he was robbed and they are keen on ‘reclaiming’ his mandate through legal means. Obi won in the South East and the South-South; he had an unexpectedly good outing in the North Central where he came second to Tinubu; and he won the president-elect’s Lagos state. After he was forced to resign from the PDP as it was clear he couldn’t win the party’s ticket, he was welcomed into the not-so-popular Labour Party to contest. Many who voted for him did not mind his party affiliation, they believe he is an outcast in the political class, and that he could achieve a fresh start for the country. Many who voted for him especially non-Igbos do so for his personality.
Tinubu also commands an army of cult loyalists who insist “it is his turn” to be President. It was with this sense of entitlement that he wrestled with several forces within his party and particularly against the infamous ‘cabals’ in Aso Rock, to secure the party’s presidential ticket. While one may argue that the votes he got in the Southwest region are due to his being Yoruba, this may not be entirely true as many APC members who voted in the party’s direct primary, preferred him to other Yorubas who aspired for the ticket, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former Governor Ibikunle Amosun and former Governor Kayode Fayemi.
Apart from the presidential election, the personalities of candidates did not play much of a role in governorship and parliamentary elections. Many rode on the popularity of their parties.
Perhaps this played the most pervasive role in the election, as some unpopular candidates rode on the strength of their parties to win elections. Like in 2015, when Nigerians sacked the PDP from Aso Rock and embraced the newly-formed APC, the Labour Party seems to be the new darling of particularly Southern Nigerian youths, and in Plateau State of the North Central. Many candidates were swept to victory by the “Eluu P” wave. In Lagos State, an Unpopular Thaddeus Atta won a House of Representative Seat to represent the Eti-Osa federal constituency in Lagos. He defeated popular music producer, Bankole ‘Banky W’ Wellington of the PDP, as well as Olajide Obanikoro, candidate of the ruling APC and son of a former federal Minister. While Obi’s popularity in the Southeast and South-South is unwavering, other candidates of the Labour Party in the regions are not so popular. The party won the governorship election in Abia State; including many senate and HOR seats in all the regions, defeating governors and lawmakers who had been in power for at least a decade. Many believe that the party could have won more parliamentary governorship seats if the APC and PDP had not allegedly manipulated results in some states.
The PDP presidential candidate also rode almost solely on the Party’s structure. The states he won outside of his Northeast, are states where the party either controls or has a strong structure. They include Osun, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Kaduna, Bayelsa, Kebbi, and Sokoto states.
ETHNICITY AND RELIGION
Ethnicity also played a key role in the last election as each of the three major presidential candidates won his ethnic region. Atiku won all the Northeastern states except Borno State which he lost to the APC Vice Presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima. Tinubu also won the Southwest region. He only suffered narrow defeats in Lagos and Osun which can be attributed to the strength of the opposition party in the case of Osun, and the large population of non-Yorubas, who preferred Obi in the case of Lagos. Obi also won the Southeast region with none of his opponents getting 20 per cent of votes in any state in the region.
It was also observed that states with high Christian populations went in the way of Obi, while he did not win in any Muslim-dominated state. Many churches and Christian leaders kicked against the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket and this protest evidently reflected in the election results.