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Voting In, Voting Out – The age of the Nigerian voter

The shortest summary of the 2015 general election is that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which has been in power since 1999 lost to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) which was formed only in February 2013. Should the election be read primarily as the loss of the PDP or the victory of the APC? Indeed it is a fair mix of both perspectives – however, it was proven in the 2015 polls that Nigerians know how to vote in and to vote out and the prerogative is theirs alone.

On the other hand, in spite of the plethora of “opinion surveys” ahead of the Nigerian elections, many experts did not really believe that an incumbent Nigerian

president would be voted out in 2015. This victory of the erstwhile opposition party is an important milestone as a democracy is not mature until a ruling party has been voted out and replaced by the opposition. Ghana achieved this feat in 2008 when the two tenures of John Kuffor expired and the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) lost to the late President John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The next four years in Nigeria would reveal the sort of ruling party the APC would become and also what would become of the PDP in opposition.



PVC,Card Reader reforms

Already by 2011, the general election was a

big departure from previous elections in Nigeria, but it could not satisfy the rightful yearnings of Nigerians for a more honourable electoral process. The main game-changer in the recently concluded 2015 general election was the introduction of the permanent voter cards (PVCs) and use of card readers during accreditation. Many Nigerians underestimated the PVC and saw only the longevity and ruggedness it offers as opposed to the temporary voter cards. What the PVC did for Nigeria, however, is to ensure that every ballot paper found in the box in 2015 is backed by real and duly registered citizens. This innovation settled the challenge in previous election where the vote register is allegedly padded so that election results could be doctored to match the high number of registered voters.

From the election days on March 28 and April 11, the key issues observed were challenges with the card readers during accreditation. In some cases, the machines were abandoned and accreditation done manually. Nonetheless, the PVC has given back power to the voters. What remains is to ensure that the contents of each ballot box in the constituency are carefully and transparently collated and the rightful winners declared.

Fear of an Uprising

During the period of campaigns, Nigerians were inundated with a barrage of campaign messages, many of which featured inciting and hateful messages across all media. Importantly, the hate was noticeable from lowly 2go chatrooms to presidential campaign rallies. Many Nigerians and analysts were therefore concerned by the risk of violence in the elections. For instance, before the elections, the National Human

Right Commission warned about the spate of violence in an advisory on pre-election violence.

On February 7, INEC announced a six- week re-schedule of the elections “in the first instance” citing insecurity. It was not the Boko Haram conflict in the North East per se that warranted the postponement – rather, it was the unavailability of the military to provide support for INEC and the police that necessitated the postponement. Within the period between February 7 and the Presidential and National Assembly elections on March 28, not only was peace restored across the North East zone, but also the

distribution of PVCs rose from 60 to over 80 per cent by the eve of the polls. Politicians also used the opportunity to conduct more rallies. The re-schedule was in many ways a blessing in disguise.

Need for Change, Peace

The 2015 election was largely peaceful with incidents of violence restricted to a few locations – but there was some violence and loss of lives. However, it is the relative absence of post-election violence that gladdens most Nigerians more. Two theories claim to explain

gubernatorial elections. I would like to see more politicians exhibiting this spirit of sportsmanship; but I would not have the nation fooled into thinking that tensions which have been stoked for many months could be dissipated by a single telephone call.

My personal take away from the election was the interest shown in the election by Nigerians. As the results came in, many kept ledgers and tallies, predicted the chances of their candidates; others attempt to predict the votes anticipated from the other states and debated the possibility of re-run elections and

Nigerian voters queue to cast their ballot. PHOTO: HODIMAGES/Kunle Ogunfuyi

the absence of post-election violence in 2015: the first suggest that the outcome of the election agreed with the popular wishes as such there was no impetus for violent protests which would likely have occurred if Buhari had lost the election. A second theory ascribed this to the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to concede the election and congratulate Muhammadu Buhari even before the final results were announced. What Jonathan did was noble and shows courage and statesmanship – qualities often lacking in governance in Nigeria.

The trend of calling the challenger to concede the elections continued during the

so on. It was a moment of rare national communion. In hindsight, many boasts from the campaign trail would haunt the speakers for years to come. Consider the statement of Governor Jonah Jang that “democracy is not meant for poor people” – certainly the poor people of Nigeria had the last laugh in the 2015 elections. Nigerians have shown that they can vote out unsatisfactorily performing leaders and replace them with others who have their trust. However, in the years ahead of the next general election in 2019, can Nigerians keep their leaders accountable or will they wait to vote out/in again?


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