…when you look at the numbers in the Nigerian voter registry and take into account the fact that the baseline data goes back to 2011, there is a high probability that up to around 25% of the registry is dead, failed or displaced. When people complain about “voter apathy”, they miss an important point: Nigeria guarantees the dead the right to vote. That predates any talk of “voter apathy.”

Arithmetic is a Nigerian but electoral problem Democracy is about counting numbers. Nigerians will vote to elect a president and national legislators on February 25. On March 11 they will again elect state legislators in 36 states and governors in 28. The numbers that will frame all these contests are already defined. They deserve a lot of attention.

In total, 18 political parties will present a total of 15,307 candidates, including 1,553 women for 1,491 offices, including the presidency; 28 government offices; 109 senators; 360 in members of the House of Representatives; and 993 seats in the state assemblies.

Voting will take place in 176,846 voting units nationwide, located in 8,809 districts or Registration Areas in 774 local government areas. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has acquired at least 194,464 machines of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) that the election be led by more than 1.4 million ad-hoc officials.

By far the most important figure, however, is the number of registered voters. When Nigeria last voted in a general election in 2019, there were 84,004,084 voters on the electoral roll. Through its Continuous Voter Registry (CVR), the INEC says it has captured another 12,298,944 since then. When it ran these entries through its Automatic Biometric Identification System (ABIS), INEC found that 2,780,756 (22.6%) were ineligible or invalid. So, voter registration in Nigeria has grown by 9,518,188 or 11.33% to 93,522,272 since 2019.

The names on the registry theoretically represent the people who ultimately decide who becomes the next president of Nigeria. That is why the record deserves attention. There is another reason why voter turnout matters. complaints about “voter apathy” in Nigeria they persist. The numbers and patterns seem to confirm this.. In 1999, participation was 52.3%. Officially, it grew to 69% in 2003; and has fallen, since then, to 57.5% in 2007; 53.7% in 2011; 43.7% in 2015; and a record low of 34.8% in 2019.

Nigeria has always had a problem with numbers, especially people and votes. To be fair, voter numbers can be problematic everywhere because they are ambulatory. People are not static: they die by the second, relocate or migrate. The voter registration does not automatically change because a person whose name is on it has died or moved. So each voter registration, at best, represents a snapshot in time.

In the 20 years from 1999 to 2019, Nigeria’s population increased by 71%, but the voting population increased by only 50%. With the latest figures announced by INEC, Nigeria’s voter registration has grown by 36,522,272 since 1999 or 64.07%, a deficit of 25.83% compared to Nigeria’s population increase over the same period. It is possible to speculate as to what might explain this significant shortfall in growth patterns between the general population and voter registration.

However, there are many curious things about the number of voters in Nigeria. One, they are an island entirely unto themselves, with no rational relationship to broader population trends. Nigeria’s pattern of supposedly precipitous collapse in voter turnout, for example, is inversely proportional to the growth of the baseline Nigerian population.

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In 1999, the population of Nigeria was estimated at 115,766,000. By the time the country voted in 2019, it had risen to 199,039,000, a growth of 83,273,000 or 71%. When INEC announced the number of voters on record for the 2023 election on January 11, 2022, the population of Nigeria was estimated at more than 219,864,000. In other words, since 1999, the population of Nigeria has grown by more than 104,098,000 or 89.92%.

By contrast, in 1999, Nigeria had 57 million registered voters. This increased by 5.26% or three million to 60 million in 2003 and then by 1.67% or one million to 61 million in 2007. By 2011, the number of registered voters had increased by more than 12 million to 73 .53 million or 20.5%, which represents an average annual growth rate of almost 5.12%, where previously it had grown 1.31% between 1999 and 2003 and 0.42% between 2003 and 2007. By 2015, the registered voter population had shrunk to 68.83 million, a shortfall of 4.7 million voters or 6.83%, representing an annualized reversal rate of 1.71%. Yet over the same period, Nigeria, a country with a median age of just under 18, had grown in population from an estimated 162.9 million to 181.2 million, an increase of 15.174 million or 11, 23%, which represents an annual growth rate of 2.8 million. %

These numbers and the patterns they reveal do not lend themselves to easy explanation. However, as Judge Uwais presidential electoral reform committee noted in his 2008 report, much of what passed for election figures in Nigeria before 2011 was voodoo. Just to illustrate this point, the INEC does not have a breakdown of the official results of the 2007 presidential elections but there are turnout figures for that election.

In 20 years, from 1999 to 2019, Nigeria’s population increased by 71%, but Voter population increased by only 50%. With the latest figures announced by INEC, Nigeria’s voter registration has grown by 36,522,272 since 1999 or 64.07%, a deficit of 25.83% compared to Nigeria’s population increase over the same period. It is possible to speculate as to what might explain this significant shortfall in growth patterns between the general population and voter registration. Rational factors such as internal migration; agency dysfunctions at INEC, civic inertia or lack of registration, or high transaction costs may explain some of this. But worrisome patterns remain that are not easily explained by these factors.


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This leads to a second problem: Nigeria’s voter registry has always had invalid voters. Current voter registration in Nigeria dates back to November 2010 when the INEC led by Attahiru Jega set out to establish a credible voter registry for the country. The Commission had limited time to authenticate the raw data before the 2011 general election. When the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) finished its work on the 2011 record nearly four years later, INEC invalidated 4, 7 million entries, which reduced the number of registered voters from 73.53% in 2011 to 68.83% in 2015, but not before these 4.7 invalids. Millions were eligible to vote in 2011.

Over three election cycles since 2011, the number likely to be expunged from Nigeria’s electoral register could be as high as 20 million. Separately, at the end of 2021, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reported that Nigeria had at least 3.2 million people in internal displacement. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees added that there are at least another 343,000 Nigerian refugees outside the country.

Perhaps the biggest concern of all is with dead voters. At the beginning of 2022, explained the INEC that it cannot remove dead voters from the registry because “the country does not have reliable data on births and deaths and the commission cannot engage in the arbitrary removal of the names of persons it suspects to be deceased.”

The third problem, therefore, is evidently that the number of voters on the register is grossly overestimated. In INEC’s explanation, Nigeria’s voter registration is the classic Hotel California: You are “programmed to receive” and, for anyone with your name, the message is that “you can leave whenever you want but you can never leave”. The implications of this for electoral integrity are staggering.

Nigerian law only allows adults to vote. Over the decade between 2010 and 2020, Nigeria’s adult mortality rate it has fluctuated between 389.09 and 357.9 per 1,000 for men; and 359.8 to 318 per 1,000 for women. In 2020, the adult mortality rate in Nigeria was estimated at 34.25 per 100 of population annually. Applied to the 2019 registry and adjusted downward to take into account that the adult mortality rate is counted from the age of 16, two years less than the voting age, the number susceptible to being eliminated from the electoral roll would exceed with you grow the six million in any election. cycle.

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Over three election cycles since 2011, the number likely to be expunged from Nigeria’s electoral register could be as high as 20 million. Separately, in late 2021, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reported that Nigeria had at least 3.2 million internally displaced people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees added that there are at least another 343,000 Nigerian refugees Out of the country. True, not all of these are adults of voting age.

However, when you look at the numbers on the Nigerian voter registry and take into account the fact that the baseline data goes back to 2011, there is a high probability that up to about 25% of the registry is dead, failed or displaced. . When people complain about “voter apathy”, they miss an important point: Nigeria guarantees the dead the right to vote. That predates any talk of “voter apathy.”

Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, attorney and teacher, can be reached at chidi.odinkalu@tufts.edu.


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