From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
With the presentation of the comprehensive register of voters to the political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last week, all seems to be set for the conduct of this year’s presidential and other elections across the country.
Expectedly, hostile and commendable remarks have continued to trail the final voters’ list, especially as it concerns votes from the geopolitical zones that will likely decide the outcome of the presidential election.
For some, the election will be won and lost particularly with the votes from the North West zone, just as many have expressed disappointment that the South East votes still remained very poor to make any desired impact in deciding where the pendulum of victory will swing.
Perhaps, the disappointment in the voter figures from South East stems from the fact that the enthusiasm they showed during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) did not reflect much or translate into practical action in boosting the number of registered voters.
Some analysts were equally surprised that the Northwest zone still maintained the leading position in the current voters register.
The perceptions are understandable, especially considering the old trend of the Northern votes deciding which presidential candidate finally wins the election. It has, for a long time, been a case of politicians basking in the erroneous cliché of ‘capture northern vote, makeup with the ones from the South and coast to victory.
It was the same idea of targeting to harvest the decisive northern vote that perhaps forced the All Progressives Congress (APC), for instance, to settle for a Muslim-Muslim presidential joint ticket, ignoring the constitutional provision and status of the country as a secular nation.
But, regardless of whatever perception anyone holds about the voter register as a reliable decisive instrument of victory, what is however certain is that it has provided a dependable guide and compass, as a document to enable the candidates and their political parties to explore, manipulate and navigate towards either victory or making an appreciable impact during next month’s presidential election.
The electoral commission, matching words with action, with the presentation of the final register, has assured Nigerians and the international community, in unequivocal terms, of its readiness to conduct the crucial poll on February 25 and March 11 for the presidential/National Assembly and the governorship/State Assembly polls respectively.
And according to the register released by the commission, no fewer than 93,469,008 voters, in the proportion of 49,054,162 and 44,414,846 male to female, constituted the eligible demography that will participate in the general election next month and beyond.
Further breakdown of the register showed that Nigeria with a voter population of 84,004,084 in the 2019 general election now has an eligible voting population of 93,469,008. The commission had explained that after cleaning up the data from the last CVR exercise (June 2021-July 2022), 9,518,188 new voters were added to the previous register, which resulted in the preliminary register of 93,522,272 presented to Nigerians for claims and objections as required by law.
At the end of the period for claims and objections by citizens, according to the commission, 53,264 objections from Nigerians to the prevalence of ineligible persons on the register by virtue of age, citizenship, or death were received, verified, and removed from the register.
“For emphasis, what it means is that the register of voters for the 2023 general election stands at 93,469,008 and of the cumulative figures, 49,054,162, 52.5 per cent are male while 44,414,846, 47.5 per cent are female,” the commission announced while presenting the register.
Enumerating further the distribution by age group, INEC explained that youths between the ages of 18 and 34 lead the chart with 37,060,399, about 39.65 per cent.
Middle-aged persons between the ages of 35 and 49, trailed with 33,413,591, about 35.75 per cent, elderly voters between the ages of 50 and 69 stood at 17,700,270, about 18.94 per cent, while senior citizens aged 70 and above have only 5,294,748, about 5.66 per cent.
Further analysis of the voter register in terms of occupational distribution shows that students constituted the largest category with 26,027,481, about 27.8 per cent of all voters, trailed by farmers/fishermen with a population of 14,742,554, about 15.8 per cent and housewives that consisted of 13,006,939, about 13.9 per cent.
“The data on disability that was not collected for previous registration had a cumulative figure of 85,362 persons from the recent CVR, indicating that there are 21,150, about 24.5 per cent persons with Albinism; 13,387, about 15.7 per cent with physical impediment while 8,103, about 9.5 per cent are blind,” it noted.
In the context of voting strengths from geopolitical zones, which constitutes major interests to many Nigerians, the North West, comprising Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Jigawa, Sokoto, and Zamfara states, expectedly has the highest number of registered voters with a whopping 22,255,562.
Curiously, the indication is that the zone registered slightly above two million new voters from its previous 20.15 million voting strength the region had in the 2019 elections.
The South-West trailed with 17,958,966 registered voters against 16,292,212 in 2019 after adding 1,666,754 new registered voters. The North-Central, which had 13,366,070 registered voters in 2019, now has 15,363,731 to occupy the third position.
The distribution equally confirmed that the South-South came fourth with 14,440,714 registered voters, North-East currently with 12,542,429 registered voters while South East, expectedly has 10,907,606 as against 10,057,130 registered voters in 2019.
And further analysis by state classifications, Lagos has the highest number of registered voters, totaling 7,060,195. Kano and Kaduna states with 5,921,370 and 4,335,208 respectively, occupied the second and third positions, while Ekiti has the least number of voters across the federation.
To many analysts, considering the fact that the volume of votes from the Northwest almost equaled the South-South and South East geopolitical zones combined, it still holds the ace in deciding the eventual winner of the presidential election.
However, those with that perception may be far from the realities as several other factors may impede such old arrangement of delivering bulk votes that usually sway the trajectory of most presidential polls previously.
Such impediments, according to many analysts, include the presidential candidates’ catchment area and stronghold, religious considerations, and more importantly, the full introduction and deployment of electoral technology in the conduct of the 2023 election.
In the case of next month’s presidential poll, so many of these factors and many more will come into play. Unarguably, there is every possibility that three presidential candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu through the active presence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the North West states, may divide the votes from the zone. The projection by many analysts is that Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate may likely come fourth in the zone.
But beyond the permutations above, the introduction of BVAS and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) technologies in accrediting and transferring election results electronically might make it practically impossible for the zone to traditionally deliver the usual bulk votes for the candidate of their choice.
Using the 2015 presidential election in retrospect, as a reference point, Kano State made history in delivering close to two million votes for then APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, with an insignificant number of voided votes. The questionable circumstance led to the death of the then Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Minkaila Abdullahi, in a suspected arson attack.
Buhari also repeated the feat in the 2019 presidential election when he defeated Atiku with over one million votes to facilitate his coasting to victory. But, in the forthcoming presidential election, the situation might not be the same.
Apart from the new technologies probably making it impossible to manipulate the process, there is apparently no candidate from the North with cult following in the mould of Buhari to grab his 11 million vote banks in the Northwest and other northern regions.
“Atiku may not be from the Northwest, but he has all it takes to contest the votes with Kwankwaso and all the heavyweight APC stalwarts in the zone backing Asiwaju Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, with a strong presence.
“What is apparent is that the huge votes from the Northwest may not totally favour any single candidate to the detriment of others as it did to Buhari. The candidates of APC, PDP, and NNPP, including the Labour Party, are certainly going to balkanise the votes from the Northwest.
“In other words, if you ask me, the Northwest zone may hold an advantageous voter strength, but I don’t think their votes will be the major decider for the presidential election next month. In the contrary, it will be fertile ground and pond for all the candidates to fish,” an APC chieftain told Daily Sun in confidence.
He added, “However, I have a contrary view and hunch that Nigerian youths might seize the opportunity to make a bold statement with their voting strength in their favour, of their readiness to stake a claim in taking over the country.
“Therefore, instead of the regimented voting style previously, Northern youths might also want to take the bull by the horns by voting for someone with the political will to tackle endemic security challenges like insurgency and banditry. The youths, for me, hold the deciding instrument not the former style of harvesting bulk vote from the Northwest.”
For the Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON) and an APC founding member, Osita Okechukwu, factors like capacity, finer character, and evidenced transparency quotient to tackle the myriads of economic quagmire in the country, will certainly be the biggest decider, not regional sentiment and bias.
Reacting formally to the voter register, Okechukwu told Daily Sun in a chat that: “on the regional or geopolitical zones quantum of registered voters, methinks that it will not be the core determinant of presidential election results, as it has hitherto been.
“Yes, no one can discount ethno-religious factors in our elections; however, we cannot discount other salient factors like the earnest yearning of shopping for who among the leading four presidential candidates has the comparatively better capacity, finer character, and evidenced transparency quotient to tackle the myriads of our economic quagmire.
“Whereas every candidate has a stronghold, the truism is that some patriots have openly endorsed candidates from outside their geopolitical zone. For me, it is positive signs of deepening of our democratic frontiers,” Okechukwu argued.
But, notwithstanding the perception many analysts hold on how zonal demographic voting will determine the outcome of next month’s presidential poll, the ability of relevant authorities to deploy measures that will curtail or totally checkmate the menace of vote buying, underage voting, and other electoral infractions, to a large extent, will be the major decider of who emerges the president after the election.
“Don’t forget that hunger hears only one language of monetary rewards, during elections. I don’t know whether it is deliberately designed by the politicians to make the economy harsh and impoverish the people into unbearable suffering during elections so that they would find it difficult to resist the temptation of monetary inducement offered to them at the voting centres.
“With the current economic situation, most Nigerians found themselves in, it will be very difficult for the electorate to resist vote inducement. So, I strongly believe that monetary inducement will decide the outcome of next month’s presidential election not zonal population advantage contained in the voter register,” a party chieftain told Daily Sun on condition of anonymity.
Little wonder the electoral umpire considered it important to warn that Nigerians eschew and tackle electoral malfeasance like vote buying and underage voting among others as the needed panacea to ensure a peaceful emergence of an acceptable candidate among the contestants jostling for the position.
Only recently, the Chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, noted; “I would like to reiterate our commitment to transparent, credible and inclusive 2023 general election. We will continue to take every step to protect the sanctity of the votes cast by citizens and to deal with infractions, including the arrest and prosecution of persons that attempt to perpetuate illegality at polling units on Election Day, be they underage voters or vote buyers.
“The commission would like to appreciate the political parties, the leadership of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), development partners, traditional, religious and community leaders for their partnership and support in encouraging Nigerians to register and to collect their PVCs.
“The best way to reciprocate this support and the dogged determination of Nigerians to vote is to ensure a transparent election next month. This remains our avowed commitment to the people of Nigeria,” Yakubu assured.
The die is now cast with less than 35 days to the presidential poll as Nigerians wait with wrapped apprehension of what becomes of their political future. But one distinguishing feature of the forthcoming presidential election remains its unpredictability.