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Learn from Nigeria polls



THE just-ended election in Nigeria has dominated news headlines for days, with analysts expending considerable effort in dissecting both the electoral process and the result. A lot was at stake in this contest. Nigeria is Africa’s largest democracy and biggest economy.

This year’s election was the most competitive since the end of military rule in 1999. Predictably, the electoral process was fraught with embarrassing glitches. Nigeria, at this stage in its history, should not be committing elementary blunders in election management.

The count — in the full glare of international news cameras and observers — was hit by multiple technical and logistical problems that the Independent Nigerian Election Commission appeared unable to resolve.

Many people were disenfranchised and the electoral commission lacked transparency, eroding public trust. It must be stated, of course, that nobody realistically expected Nigeria’s election to be a perfect affair. There is no flawless plebiscite under the sun, but it is important for an election to be a true reflection of the people’s will.

Across Africa, we have generally witnessed growing disillusionment and discontent with democracy. Nigeria is a leading country in Africa and has serious responsibilities to live up to. But beyond the technical and logistical shortcomings, the rest of Africa was left with a lot to ponder.

The low voter turnout was a huge talking point. Of the 87.2 million eligible voters, only 24.97 million actually bothered to cast their ballots, which is equivalent to 29%. Comparatively, this is far less than the 35% and 43% recorded in the 2019 and 2015 elections respectively.

Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), romped home to victory with 8.79 million votes (35.2%), in a dramatic race that pitted him against Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who garnered 6.98 million votes, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party who bagged 6.1 million votes.

In pretty much the entire race, Obi gripped the public imagination as he appeared to strike a chord with mostly young voters. When the final tally came in, many analysts were puzzled. The turnout was underwhelmingly low — yet we had been told 10 million first-time voters had registered.

Well, although the surprise was understandable, there was a rational explanation for this outcome. Firstly, even though Obi and Abubaker fared strongly, their efforts were diluted in the end by their divided opposition.

 One of the enduring conundrums of African elections is that the electorate often votes along ethnic and regional lines, instead of coalescing around much stronger multi-ethnic opposition coalitions. The ruling party wins easily.

Tinubu won just 37% of the vote, but he is now in power. A staggering 62 million Nigerian voters did not cast their ballots. They will now have to live with the consequences, for years. Hopefully, Zimbabweans are learning from all this as our own elections beckon.

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