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2019 general elections: Interesting trends in voter behaviour


A man places his ballot paper in a ballot box at polling unit in Lagos on March 9, 2019. – Nigerians are voting for a second time in a fortnight in governorship and state assembly elections, with heightened concerns from observers of violence and an increased military presence. Elections for governors are being held in 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states, for all state assemblies, plus the administrative councils in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. (Photo by STEFAN HEUNIS / AFP)

Apart from the elections in six states, which have been declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), leading to supplementary polls in areas were votes were cancelled, the assumption is that the Nigerian electorate has clearly voiced its preferences through the 2019 general elections. From the Presidential and National Assembly elections of February 23, 2019 to the Governorship and State House of Assembly polls of March 9, 2019, the political contests were settled by the verdict of the people.

Voter turnout for the Presidential elections was put by INEC at around 36 percent, signifying that a lot of work needs to be done to get voters to become much active in terms of participating robustly in the electoral process. According to data compiled by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I-IDEA), Nigeria recorded the lowest voter turnout figure for the recent elections conducted on the African continent. In terms of voter behaviour, anecdotal reports put the state elections even lower in terms of voter turnout. There are already early calls for a quick post mortem to interrogate the gaps, which affected the smooth conduct of the polls by INEC, and ultimately, the major factors informing negative perceptions about the overall integrity of the 2019 elections.

Vigilant poll watchers, and several domestic and international observer groups have pointed to several challenges, which affected the smooth conduct of the electoral process. Others have expressed worries about organised and systematised infractions, including electoral crimes like vote buying, which happened across the partisan divides, which contributed to tainting the integrity of the outcomes. These infractions made nonsense of the strident preachments by civic groups for behaviour change to tackle the grotesque reality of vote buying, and the overall transactional approach towards whittling down the power of the citizen to use his or her voting power to hold leaders accountable in a democracy. Vote buying was pervasive in several respects, just as it resulted in a situation in which the secrecy of the ballot was compromised.


Apart from the lapses on the part of INEC, as well as the violence, which undermined the legitimacy of the electoral process in several places, behaviours, which taint the sanctity of the vote, and elevate the role of money in influencing the choices of voters, have become the biggest worries of pro-democracy activists. INEC, the lead elections management body, experienced several challenges around the organisation and management of the elections. However, those who dwell exclusively on the gloomy and unsavoury developments in the 2019 general elections could take some consolation from some trends in voter behaviour, which pointed at an understanding of some of the key governance issues, which defined the electoral contest. As such, part of the story of the 2019 electoral process is that in some states, voters were flexible in the choices they made, while others continued with the normal voting pattern they had adopted for years. Across the states, the patterns and preferences favoured by voters spoke to the complexities of the political terrain, and the willingness in several respects by voters to adjust according to the political realities on the ground. These tendencies demand a closer scrutiny as would be seen in the ways voters exercised their franchise in the 2019 electoral process.

IN the context of the 2019 political process, the North Central State of Kwara was very interesting for political pundits on account of the position taken by the political camps jostling for the vote of the electorate. The race in Kwara was portrayed as a straight fight between Senate President Bukola Saraki and his former fellow change agents in the All Progressives Congress (APC). Saraki’s constant squabbles with the hierarchy of the APC, and the Presidency made the political contest a tantalizing one to watch. At the background of the fight for political supremacy was the Oto Ge campaign, which made allusion to notion that it was time to loosen the grip Saraki has had on the politics and governance of the state.

It is clear that voters responded positively and overwhelmingly to the call for power shift by resoundingly rejecting Saraki and all his protégés who stood in the elections. In the Presidential election in Kwara State, President Buhari of the APC scored 308,984 votes, while his major challenger and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar scored 138,184 votes. In the race for seats in the National Assembly too, the APC made a clean sweep of the Senate seats. In the process, Saraki lost his Kwara Central Senatorial seat to Ibrahim Oloriegbe who stood on the platform of the APC. In the end, the tectonic shift in the voting pattern in Kwara has been attributed to the desire among voters for a new political order, which is different from what they have experienced in the recent past.

ANOTHER interesting case of voter behaviour in the 2019 electoral contest is the case of Oyo State. With a sitting governor who is a member of the ruling party at the federal level, not many were prepared for the voting pattern, which emerged in the state. Several calculations, which had firmly put the state in the column of the APC, were shattered. In the Presidential result, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP narrowly edged Buhari of the APC with 366,690 to 365,229. With the slim margin, some optimists in the APC had hoped to make up for lost ground in the governorship election. That was not to be as the PDP inflicted a heavier margin of defeat on the ruling APC. According to the result as announced by INEC, Seyi Makinde of the PDP won 515,621 votes to defeat Bayo Adelabu of the APC who got 357,982 votes. The consistency of Oyo voters across the two election gives some credence to the theory that the inability of the ruling APC in the state to manage the crisis of confidence, which engulfed it in the build up to the election, and the alleged poor human relations skills of the governor, led to the party’s defeat. The interesting dimension of the situation in Oyo would be gleaned from the fact that even the incumbent Governor, Abiola Ajimobi lost his bid to proceed to the Senate, as he was defeated by the candidate of the PDP Muhammed Kola-Balogun in the contest for the Oyo South Senatorial seat.

LIKE Oyo State where an incumbent governor lost his bid for the Senate, the PDP in Gombe State lost ground to the APC. Current Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo joined his counterpart in Oyo State with the unenviable distinction of being sent into early political retirement, at least for the next four years. What was a solid PDP stronghold, which had been well placed in the Atiku column during the Presidential contest, proved not to be. In the presidential result, APC won the state with 402,961 votes to defeat the PDP, which got 138,484 votes. The national election result was a sign post of what was to come in the state election; the PDP could barely recover as it ceded more ground to the APC, which polled a total of 364,179 votes to beat the PDP, which scored 222, 868 votes. Inuwa Yahaya of the APC was thus declared winner.

IN terms of voter behaviour, Lagos presented a very interesting electoral scenario going by the results recorded in the national and state elections. In the presidential election, the contest was close between the APC and the PDP. President Buhari of the APC polled 580,825 to win the state, with Atiku Abubakar of the PDP following closely with 448,015 votes. The considerably close margin in the presidential contest was what gave the opposition in Lagos a ray of hope that an Oto Ge style political uprising could be instigated to prod Lagos voters to kick out the APC. It however appeared too little too late; the APC ditched its somewhat lethargic performance in the presidential contest going on to win the governorship with a wider margin. With 739,445 votes, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the APC vanquished his closest challenger, Jimi Agbaje of the PDP who polled 206,141 votes. The outcome practically put an end to the bid by the PDP to wrest Lagos from the control of the APC, at least until the next four years.


ALTHOUGH the election in Kano has been declared inconclusive with supplementary polls scheduled for places where votes were cancelled, the very strong showing of the PDP contrasts sharply with its performance in the Presidential election. Kano was one of the big voting blocs, which helped President Buhari coast home to victory in his bid for a second term. From Kano, the President was able to amass 1,464,768 to defeat his closest challenger who got 391,593 votes. With the huge margin in the presidential result, there were those who considered the governorship a walk over for the APC. That has however not been the case as the opposition PDP in Kano is in the lead in the vote count and looks well on its way to clinching victory in the state. The behaviour of voters in Kano State is made more interesting because at the level of the state elections, not many gave the opposition any chance to sniff victory. Another dimension is the role played by the bribe video in which the incumbent, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was caught on camera accepting wads of dollar bills from someone alleged to be a contractor to the state government. In the way voters have reacted, it would seem that the ordinary people are using their votes to make a statement repudiating that act of corruption, while demanding that relevant institutions investigate the issues around the bribe video.

IN the presidential results Anambra voters clearly rejected the APC, which had been thinking it would have a foothold to narrow the margin in the state. The incumbent Governor Willie Obiano has been at loggerheads with his predecessor Peter Obi, who ran for Vice President on the PDP ticket. One way the governor demonstrated his animosity with his predecessor was the not so veiled campaign for the APC presidential ticket. All those efforts to promote the APC ticket notwithstanding, the PDP triumphed in the state with one of its biggest margins, as Atiku polled 524,738 votes to vanquish Buhari who got 33,298 votes. With such a commanding victory in the presidential result, the PDP would have been hoping for a repeat of the feat in the State House of Assembly elections.

The usual calculation in the Nigerian context is to hope such momentum continues to favour the victorious party even without thorough political research to ascertain the preferences of voters. Those calculations did not however work because the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) maintained its dominance in the state by winning 24 of the State Assembly seats, while the PDP got six seats. Therefore, while voters embraced the PDP at the Presidential level of the elections, they remained nuanced enough to make a different set of choices when it came to the local elections.


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