Updated: May 4
Democracy is a game of numbers; in essence, the government draws its power and legitimacy from the number of votes cast in a free, fair, credible, and acceptable election. Invariably it means that active citizen participation is vital to sustaining Democracy. However, a virile democratic system is an illusion when many citizens are less concerned and disinterested in their country's political activities, especially regarding voting (Aliyu, Mohammed, & Bello, 2020). The history of General elections in Nigeria since the return to Democracy has been marked by a reduction in voter turnout, with the 2023 general election being the lowest. Voters' apathy refers to a general decline in citizens' involvement in the political activities of a particular country. It means a decrease in voters' participation in elections. Voter apathy is when electorates lack interest in participating during elections, resulting in low voter turnout. The use of elections for selecting competent individuals for public office, otherwise referred to as the legitimacy effect, maybe jettisoned when voter apathy manifests itself in an election. A government produced with a considerably low turnout of voters or weak legitimacy during an election is far less democratically judgmental (Aliyu, Mohammed, & Bello, 2020).
Femi Falana stated that over 93 million people registered to vote in the 2023 general elections, and more than 87 million collected their Permanent Voter's Cards (PVCs). Despite the great enthusiasm that marked the 2023 elections, only about 25 million persons voted (Igwe, 2023).
The turnout in the 2023 election could have been higher regarding the number of registered voters. Statistics of turnout in Saturday's presidential and national assembly election show that voter apathy has worsened from 35 percent in the 2019 election. According to Dataphyte, voter turnout in the first round of the election was 26.7 percent (Editorial, 2023). In Niger State, registered voters were 2,698,344, while accredited voters on Election Day were 827,416 voters. In Benue, registered voters were 2,777,727, while accredited voters were 804,189. In Akwa Ibom, registered voters numbered 2,357,418, while accredited voters numbered 594,450. In Oyo, the number of registered voters was 3,237,310, while the number of accredited voters was 854,439. In Kaduna, registered voters were 4,335,208, while accredited voters were 1,418,046. For Kebbi, the number of registered voters is 2,032,041, while voters accredited on Election Day was 599,201. In Kano, registered voters were 5,921,370, while accredited voters were 1,769,525. In Zamfara, registered voters were 1,926,870, while valid votes in Saturday'selection were 502,923. In Sokoto, registered voters numbered 2,172,056, while accredited voters numbered 19,492 (Tribune Online, 2023). In the three largest states based on voter registration (Lagos, Kano, and Rivers), less than a third of the eligible population voted. Rivers had only 15.6 percent, the lowest in the country (Yusuf, 2023).
Also, the gubernatorial election which followed afterward witnessed an even lower turnout. According to Leadership, Nigeria's second round of the 2023 general elections was marred by violence, voter intimidation by thugs, and voter buying (Leadership News, 2023). Centre for Democracy Development (CDD) said that the governorship and state house of Assembly witnessed low voter turnout. The Centre went further to note that there was a general sense of discouragement across the region due to the unfavorable outcome of the presidential election, with voters saying there was no point in coming to vote (Leadership News, 2023).
Factors that cause voter apathy
Despite the prevailing cash and fuel scarcity surrounding the general election, most Nigerians, especially youths, were determined to cast there. However, the number of accredited voters was less than half the total registered voters. This paper examines the cause of the low voter turnout in the 2023 general and the implication for the state.
Inefficiency on the Electoral Commission: complaints from different areas of the state about the challenge of collecting permanent voter cards by people. The PVC enables one to vote; hence those who cannot collect their card will not cast their vote. Also, on the day of the elections, there were issues of inadequate electoral material, electronic equipment malfunctioning, and officials' lateness. These issues led to some persons not participating in the voter exercise.
Electoral Violence: Nigeria has a history of violence before, during, and after the election. This violence can be voter intimidation, bullying, ballot snatching, destruction of electoral material, falsifying election results, tribal insults, and hate speech. However, this 2023 election took a different dimension with the threat to Igbo ethnic not participating in the Lagos state election.
Other factors are Distrust of Political parties, Bad governance, Poor Justice System, Corruption, a vote of no confidence in the Nigerian state, and lack of confidence in the electoral commission to conduct free and fair elections (Nwangwu, 2023; Okafor, Odigbo, & Okeke, 2022).
Implication: Persistent voter apathy implies disenchantment of the majority of the citizens from the Nigerian state. Okafor et al. (2022) stated that voter apathy indicates disconnection between the people and the state. They posited that when the majority refrains from voting, it becomes a threat to the democratization process as there is a negation to majority rule. Not participating means empowering the minority to make decisions on behalf of the majority. It is a clear indication of the 2023 general election, where Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner with 8.8 million votes which was 36.61 percent of the votes cast to govern a state with a population of 220 million people. Also, poor voter turnout implies that the result of the election does not represent the choice of the majority but that of the minority.
Voter apathy can be controlled by strengthening the institution of the state to prevent strong men who manipulate the machinery of the state to capture power. It means that those politicians who instigate violence through whatever means should face the law. Also, the electoral body should be faithful to the independence attached to its name by upholding the people's decision through the ballot box without fear or favor. Security operatives should take the threat of violence seriously, irrespective of the position or influence of the person issuing the said threat, as no one should be above the law. Security of lives is paramount, and people should have the right to enjoy their fundamental human rights of being in a democratic state. Voter apathy in Nigeria is often institutional, resulting from the political environment the politicians created.
Aliyu, O. L., Mohammed, D. I., & Bello, F. M. (2020). The Blemish of Voter Apathy in Sustaining Democratic Governance in Nigeria: The Role of Political Parties. Journal of Social and Political Sciences, 3(3), 698–710. doi:DOI: 10.31014/aior.1991.03.03.203
Editorial. (2023, March 13). When they go Low: Lagos, Labour, and Leisure. Dataphyte. Retrieved from https://www.dataphyte.com/?_ga=2.240337539.1627646.1679471993-2034153537.1679471993
Igwe, I. (2023, March 13). 2023 Elections: Falana Decries Voter Apathy, Urges Police To Engage Stakeholders. Retrieved from https://www.channelstv.com/2023/03/13/2023-elections-falana-decries-voter-apathy-urges-police-to-engage-stakeholders/
Leadership News. (2023, March). Not Again: Thugs, Low Turnout Mar Governorship Polls. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/Not%20Again_%20Thugs,%20Low%20Turnout%20Mar%20Governorship%20Polls.html
Nwangwu, C. (2023, March 16). Nigeria had 93 million registered voters, but only a quarter voted: 5 reasons why. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://the conversation.com/nigeria-had-93-million-registered-voters-but-only-a-quarter-voted-5-reasons-why-201875
Okafor, O. C., Odigbo, J., & Okeke, C. R. (2022). Two Decades of Electoral Democracy: Voter Apathy and Democratization Process in Nigeria. SOCIAL SCIENCES AND EDUCATION RESEARCH REVIEW, 9(1), 84-96. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6794638
Tribune Online. (2023, March 1). Twenty-four years of civil rule: When shall Nigeria overcome voter apathy?
Yusuf, K. (2023, March 5). Analysis: The trend of low voter turnout continues in Nigerian elections. Premiumtimesng. Retrieved from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/586193-analysis-trend-of-low-voter-turnout-continues-in-nigerian-elections.html?_ga=2.128447308.1970058199.1679474278-745232126.1679474255