Voter apathy and the future of Nigeria’s democracy

Cheta Nwanze
3 min readOct 30, 2020

One of the things I typically do when Financial Nigeria publishes my column is to talk about it on social media. When the last one was published on 16 October, I decided not to talk about it because I was keen not to be seen pushing an agenda that could be misconstrued as political while the #EndSARS protests were ongoing.

Big mistake.

As the Lagos State House of Assembly, and the rest of Nigeria’s political class, have shown the #EndSARS protests are political. Heck, anything that threatens their ability to steal away all of the commonwealth of the Nigerian people, is something to be attacked. This is the reason why, as the many videos published yesterday on Twitter show, they are not concerned with the fact that Nigeria’s Army killed peaceful protesters during the Lekki Massacre, rather, they are more concerned about the fact that criticism on social media makes them look bad.

This brings us nicely to talk of voter apathy. Back in 2014, I constantly kept reminding people that the legislative elections were a lot more important than the executive elections. Unfortunately, because of the glamour, I guess, the elections to the Executive always capture the imagination more, than those to the Legislature. What is even worse, both sets of elections have been seeing waning interest, because of the abysmal performance of the political class.

The image above is for presidential elections, our elections which generate the most interest. Think of it this way: the recent elections in Edo and Ondo states saw turnout hover just around the 30% mark based on the number of those who collected their PVCs. If we extrapolate it to the number of registered voters, both elections saw turnout at just above 25%. By the time you are talking about the general population of each state, then the current governor of each of Edo and Ondo state was elected by somewhere around 15% of his state’s population.

The same applies to President Buhari. In the 2011 presidential elections, voter turnout came in at 54 percent, down from 58 percent and 69 percent in 2007 and 2003, respectively. By 2015, it had fallen to just 44 percent. In the 2019 presidential elections, it was just 35 percent. Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected president by a paltry 18.5 percent of all registered voters. In effect, less than one in five registered voters backed Buhari in his re-election for a second term. When you consider that the number of registered voters as of last year (82.3 million) is less than half of the entire Nigerian population, it can be safely inferred that just over one in 20 people in our country voted in the current president.

This raises questions about our government’s legitimacy, and despite the hubris, they know it. This is behind the rising tendency to authoritarian behaviour. Deep down, our government knows that it no longer represents the people, so it is trying to shut down any avenues that may seize the legitimacy that it lacks.

I recommend you take the time to watch this video, so you’ll understand just how dangerous this move to censor social media is.

My advice would be this: our history shows that we cannot afford to let men with guns seize power. While protests and dissent are a valid part of democracy and given the Lekki Massacre, the #EndSARS protests should continue in one form or the other, our young people, whom I am very proud of, should also organise especially for the state and national assembly elections, and to attend every public hearing going forward. The show of shame where there was no debate in Lagos over the Lekki Massacre, or the fact that the current Senate has willingly subordinated itself to Buhari, shows just how important proper representation is.

The price of a just and democratic society is eternal vigilance. We must show that we are willing to pay that price.



Cheta Nwanze

Using big data to understand West Africa one country (or is it region?) at a time.