Away from the regal slap, March 2022 treated us to one of the more anticipated gubernatorial swearing-in ceremonies in recent times, with Gov. Charles Soludo being recognized as the No. 1 citizen of Anambra State. This was almost a year after the state elections which have been described as a “triumph of people power” as it saw him take almost 50% of the votes. In a country where low voter turnout is usually blamed on voter apathy, this might seem like an isolated event. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In 2018, the Osun State gubernatorial elections saw Gov. Gboyega Ayetola take the cake by a miserly 482 votes, while a political veteran in Aminu Tambuwal could only edge it by 342 votes in Sokoto in 2019. These numbers are the size of the average Lagos owambe. Simply put, ‘people power’ is becoming a thing. Despite Nigerians’ generally negative outlook on elections, here are four reasons why our votes are starting to count, and moreso, why you should get your PVC in preparation for the upcoming 2023 elections.
- INEC is getting better.
INEC history has definitely been an eventful one. First established at the advent of the country’s fourth republic in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has had it rough from the get-go. Being merely an offspring of its predecessors, which had been largely culpable for botching Nigerian elections in the past, trust was always bound to be an issue. And tellingly, INEC failed to prove Nigerians wrong in its infancy with the 1999 and 2003 elections merely being photos from electoral proceedings pre-INEC featuring electoral violence, voting irregularities, and chronic logistical problems.
2007 was a new low for INEC. In what has been described as the worst in Nigeria’s post-independence history, INEC demonstrated its worst electoral showing yet. However, electoral reforms beyond 2007 would be the foundation for credibility in Nigerian elections moving forward. The first step would be to implement the digitized voters’ register in 2011, which would result in elections that year receiving generally positive remarks from international observers. Up next would be the implementation of Permanent Voter’s cards (PVC) and smart card readers in the 2015 and 2019 elections. Yet, even more positive reforms are on the way with the recently passed 2022 Electoral Act featuring articles that promise to tackle recurring issues like overvoting, dubious result contention, minority voting, etc. Summarily, INEC has turned the curb and each election since 2007 has seen them implement strategies that have improved the credibility of Nigerian elections, progressively isolating the vote as the primary factor to electoral victory. Testament to this is the next reason why you should plan to get your PVC, and subsequently, vote in 2023.
- Rigging is harder when you vote.
Historically, Nigerian elections have almost always been accompanied by rigging—and not the subtle or sophisticated kind. From the competitive rigging sprees between regions in the pioneering 1963 elections to the daylight robbery of the 2007 elections in favour of the ruling party, this unvirtuous history can majorly be blamed for our aversion to elections. However, INEC’s reforms post-2007 have been game-changing. Without paper registers and ballots, rigging is no longer as simple as rewriting a register or stuffing a ballot box. Options for intending political miscreants have been narrowed to gimmicks and antics that surround the electorate rather than the voting system itself. Though it has taken them almost two decades and six election cycles to do so, INEC has virtually succeeded in creating a system that is more at the mercy of human integrity than it is of human error. Consequently, the most common form of electoral fraud in Nigeria is now vote-buying. This was recorded arguably at pandemic levels in the South-South and North-West zones in the 2019 elections.
Another point of vulnerability is with INEC officials themselves. Reports exist from the 2019 elections of suspected cases of inflated vote counts from certain polling units across the country. In these cases, the numbers were most likely cooked up by compromised INEC officials utilizing uncollected PVCs or aggregating no-show votes to the defrauding candidate. INEC has taken steps towards addressing these issues with the 2022 Electoral Act. However, the simplest mechanism for tackling them is to have more civilian eyes on the process, and more voters on election day which would mean less available votes for manipulation.
Summarily, whether by vote-buying, or count inflation, rigging elections is harder when you vote. So why won’t you?
- Not voting is voting; just not for a candidate you may like.
Voter apathy is becoming a worrying trend in Nigerian elections. Since the 2003 elections, voter turnout has been on a steady decline, with the last election recording the lowest ever turnout of just under 36%. But really, why don’t Nigerians vote? A poll conducted by Pew Research before the 2019 elections found that almost 60% of Nigerians cared little about the outcome of elections as nothing really changed regardless of the victors, while only 39% claimed they were satisfied with our democracy. These are two weighty claims that we must examine.
The first bears an uncanny resemblance to the common parlance of Nigerians that votes do not count. When examined in juxtaposition with the effects of INEC’s post-2007 reforms, it falls apart with a simple question; if votes do not count, why do politicians spend so much money to buy them? And not only buy them, but maybe also to good effect. Though no direct evidence exists, bullion vans suspected to have contained huge sums of money used for vote-buying in Lagos were seen driving in and out of All Progressives Congress (APC) strong man, Bola Tinubu’s house on election eve in 2019. Also, vote-buying was widely reported in the North-West region of the country, all of which turned out to be zones won outstandingly by the APC. Vote-buying has even been reported in the ongoing party primaries in preparation for 2023. Again, why waste good money on votes that do not count?
To examine the second claim, it would be helpful to go back to our poor voter turnout statistics from 2019. Question: If only one in three Nigerians registered to vote showed up at the polls, can those results really be posed as a true representation of the people’s will? A deeper look at the data tells an unassuming tale. Of the over 84 million registered voters, only about 28 million came out to vote resulting in a victory margin of just under 4 million to the incumbent. Over 3.6 million of that number came from victories in the top three states with the highest voter turnout; Kano, Katsina, and Kaduna. In fact, the APC won—mostly by large margins—all the top ten states with the most turnout, all of which were northern states. In contrast, turnout was abysmal in Nigeria’s south with only 27% of the 39 million registered to vote actually doing so. Could the remaining 73% of Southern voters have caused a different outcome in the 2019 elections? Well, we may never know. And it doesn’t really matter. It’s similar to our owambe example in the Osun and Sokoto gubernatorial elections. Could such a small number of voters have influenced the results differently? Again we will never know. But doing away with wishful thinking, the reality is this; uncast votes can as well be viewed as votes in favour of the victor, regardless of our personal opinions of that candidate. This is why sitting out elections would always be a lose-lose for the electorate. It’s a cliche, but it’s worth a restatement; your vote is your power as a citizen. The least you can do is use it.
- CVR Registration is at an end
A fourth and final reason why I think you should get your PVC is that if you haven’t, soon enough you won’t be able to do so. INEC is scheduled to close the Continuous Voters’ Registration (CVR) exercise after June 30th, 2022. Online registrations closed on May 30th. However, you can still walk into any INEC office in your area to get registered manually. CSOs like YIAGA Africa have also formed strategic partnerships with INEC to aid registration with their upcoming Youth Vote Count Mega Concert which would see INEC officials register interested citizens for a one-week period at the Tafawa Balewa Square, capping it all off with a star-studded concert scheduled for June 12th. Whichever means you choose, and whatever you do, get registered before June 30th. 2023 is on its way. For way too long, we have talked too much about issues in the country. It’s time we have more than our voices heard. It’s time we vote.
Photo Credits: by U.S. Embassy / Idika Onyukwu.