In less than two weeks, Nigeria will decide who takes the helm of affairs for the next four years. Campaigns in the political space have begun to ease, and many Nigerians are looking forward to voting on February 25th. However, many Nigerians are worried about electoral malpractice. The aforementioned is due to historical trends of electoral violence, rigging, and voter buying in previous elections across various levels of government. This article, based on surveys across the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, highlights the current level of trust in INEC among the electorate. Respondents are concerned about INEC’s ability to conduct a credible poll. The article also identifies the major factors that led to a shift in presidential candidate preference for the election.
What does the data say?
The data, as highlighted in Figure 1, revealed that a significant number of the respondents (26%), indicated their trust in INEC to conduct a credible election. 37.1% further agree with this conclusion that INEC would conduct a credible election. Based on the responses across the geopolitical zones, only 7.8% of the respondents do not trust INEC to conduct a credible election. Figure 2, however, highlights that the main cause of concern for the electorate is the fear of rigging the forthcoming elections. Furthermore, electoral violence accounts for a large proportion of concerns for the electorate. This is followed by vote buying and voter suppression.
The poll also revealed that social media and the party’s choice of a vice presidential candidate had a significant influence on Nigerian voters in the 2023 election cycle, with 20.30% citing the growing influence of social media in politics and 27.9% of respondents attributing their change in presidential candidate choice to the party's choice of flagbearer and running mate. Other factors cited included self-conviction (13.1%), physical campaign (11.6%), traditional media (8.7%), local conflict/insecurity (8.4%), and endorsement by religious/traditional leaders (6.8%). The survey results suggest a shift in the electioneering process in Nigeria, as traditional media appears to be losing its sway and social media gaining traction, likely due to increased smartphone and internet penetration and a relatively large proportion of young voters.
Further secondary data seems to corroborate this suggestion. In fact, Nigeria is home to a young population with a growing number of smartphone users. Over 90.8 million people have mobile internet access, with 32.9 million of those being active social media users. This has had a major impact on the way citizens make their political decisions. As more people turn to social media to stay informed, the influence of social media on political decisions has become undeniable. This is only likely to increase in subsequent elections.
The electorate's trust in INEC exemplifies Nigerians' belief that the upcoming elections will be free and fair. However, a large majority of respondents continue to feel that rigging, vote buying, electoral violence, and voter suppression could jeopardize the elections. This stems from historic precedent and calls for the government to ensure that the 2023 elections are free and fair. Beyond this, a sizable proportion of respondents claimed that their party preferences had changed, particularly as a result of their decision on the presidential candidate and the impact of social media.