Much ado about the APC’s presidential primary elections that were held earlier. Interesting to watch the theatrics, the build-up, and the rumours about aspirants that included an ex-president, a serving Central Bank governor, and the AfDB president. The reason for the fanfare and hullaballoo is not far-fetched. As the ruling party, the APC remains the main contender for the Office of the President come 2023. The party’s presidential nomination form which cost an unprecedented nine-digit figure further strengthens this narrative.
The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party also wrapped up its selection process and chose a veteran politician who unsuccessfully has contested five times for the Office of the President of Nigeria, in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019.
As they jostle for the highest office in the land intensifies, some Nigerians, notably on social media, have expressed dissatisfaction with the two key political parties in the country and the clamour is undeniably getting louder for a “Third Force” candidate. But can a third force really defy the odds to clinch the presidential seat?
Theoretically, Nigeria operates a multi-party system but since the merger that birthed the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013 and the party’s subsequent sweeping victory in the 2015 general elections, the majority of electoral votes have swung between the now ruling party and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Political scientists say politics is a “game of numbers”. Politicians and their charlatans say “politics is local”. But according to data, politics is a Venn Diagram of both. Using business parlance, a “third force” contender must first understand the “target market” to come up with a solution to win the general elections.
Now, there are different subsets of the electorate in Nigeria and they all inadvertently play a part in the choice of the country’s leaders. If you dissect the numbers, either from participating, abstaining, or selling their votes – they all come together to deliver the final outcome.
So, what are these subsets?
APC voters – These are the voters of the ruling party spread across the country. According to the former Chairman, APC Caretaker/ Extraordinary Convention Committee (CECPC), Governor Mala Buni of Yobe State, the membership of All Progressives Congress (APC) rose from 11 million to 41 million. These numbers are difficult to corroborate as there is no public database to reference, but if we include states that have decamped to the APC and discount the effect of perceived poor government performance on some of their voters, the number of members would slightly regress to the mean. Now, it is expected that all these “41 million” party members would vote for the ruling party during elections.
PDP voters – These are the voters of the main opposition party. Although there is no public information on the number of members the party has, we would go with the number of votes the party scored in the previous election, which is over 11 million. I suspect, however, that the margin between these two parties is not wide given how closely tied they have been in previous elections.
Voters of the lower parties – In the last presidential elections, the combined votes of all the 71 parties amounted to 759,562, significantly below the APC’s 15,191,847 votes and the PDP’s 11,262,978 votes. As of today, there are 18 registered parties in Nigeria. A new surge of registered voters should see the numbers of the “third force” voters increase.
Lesser-evil voters – These are people who would say they are “realistic” and understand that the political system in Nigeria is predetermined to only produce a candidate between the two big parties. This premise leads to this subset of people making a choice between the “devil and the deep blue sea” between the two parties.
The sell-outs – This subset of the electorate are those willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder. They exist because the country is inherently one of the poorest countries in the world. Social commentators would say it comes from a place of privilege to tell someone living on the international poverty line of $1.90 a day to reject the $5 to $10 bribes offered to sell their votes.
Voters in the ‘Voter apathy’ subset – “Every election is determined by the people who show up.” ― Larry J. Sabato, Pendulum Swing. According to INEC data, 84,004,084 voters registered in the 2019 elections but only 28,614,190 votes were cast – representing a 35.66% percentage turnout. This means a worrying 55 million people did not vote.
There have been different theories in finding out the reason for voter turnout in Africa. An interesting academic literature by Lynge, H., and Martinez I Coma, F (2022) provides two competing hypotheses about the effect of economic downturns on voter turnout: the ‘mobilization’ hypothesis, which postulates that people go to the polls to express their discontent with the government’s performance; and the ‘withdrawal’ hypothesis, which puts forward that people stay at home on election day, either to attend to more immediate, pressing concerns or to punish the incumbent.
The result of the study after testing these hypotheses against novel data from 317 presidential elections in 40 African countries over the period from 1960 to 2016 finds out that economic growth has a positive effect on voter turnout, consistent with the ‘withdrawal’ hypothesis. Eight Nigerian elections were studied in this paper – so would it be safe to say that Nigerians would rather withdraw than express their discontent?
Potential voters in the ‘Political apathy’ subset
In political science, political apathy is a lack of interest in politics. It can be categorized as the indifference of an individual and a lack of interest in participating in political activities.
Nigeria’s voting-age population was 96,515,227 as of 2019. The total number of registered voters was 84,004,084. The difference between Nigeria’s Voting Age Population and Registered Voters is 12,511,143. Worth noting, that these numbers are higher than the voters of the opposition party (11, 262, 978 in the last elections).
Interestingly, INEC has said the number of registered voters has risen from 84,004,084 in 2019 to about 90.8 million, but notably, INEC also says that over 20 million PVCs are yet to be collected.
Now, the narrative from social media indicates that Nigerians are registering for their PVCs in droves, and a recent communique by INEC says they have been hit by overwhelming demand in the five South Eastern States, Lagos, and Kano. Also, according to INEC, there have been 6.8 million new registrations. 4.8 million of the 6.8 million new registered voters are youths. 2.3 million of the 4.8 million youths registered are students. Herein lies the misconception that all youths are in for third force candidates, but if we go outside, touch grass, and apply nuance, we would observe that there are youths outside social media that make up the core support of the two stronger parties.
Conscious voters – These are voters who conscientiously would pick out the best candidate amongst all the candidates presented, irrespective of their chances of winning.
Invalid voters – In 2019, about 4.51 % of votes cast were invalid which amounted to 1,289,607 invalid votes. This number was irrelevant in the eventual outcome but can make a difference in another election. Mollie Cohen’s (2016) paper highlights that in first-round presidential elections from 1980 to 2015, the proportion of invalid votes was larger than the margin of victory between first and second-place candidates in 68.3 % of contests. That is, invalid votes held the potential to change the final outcome in more than two-thirds of all Latin American presidential elections in the post-transition period.
Mistakes made during the voting process contribute to invalid votes. The recent primary elections highlighted how some delegates could not write the names of their candidates and were aided by agents/literate delegates. With the literacy rate at 62%, we can expect voting errors to be common. There is a skeptical angle that points out that the reason why the unpopular Nicolas Felix came 3rd in the 2019 elections was that he profited from voters unable to differentiate between his party and the PDP.
- Attract all the subsets of the voting population to a united third force. The APC is a good example of a merger between different political parties. Having lower parties posting inconsequential numbers and unanimously calling themselves “third force” is counterproductive when they are not “third forcing” but “sixteen forcing”.
- Spend money – One of the prerequisites of winning an election is financial capital. Money sourced from crowdfunding can help with financing logistics. Nigeria has 176,847 polling units, 8809 wards, and 774 local governments – you need party agents and mobilization in these areas.
- Focus on your strongest base – To win an election in Nigeria, you need 25% of the votes from 24 states out of the 36 states. Work on achieving this.
- Pick a strong Northern running mate – Very difficult to win elections without attracting strong northern votes.
- Door to Door campaign – Someone tweeted that she has 10 people within her circle ready to vote for a Third Force candidate, if 2 million Nigerians can follow suit, they can get 20 million voters”. Historical trends show that no candidate outside the PDP has achieved this feat, but as we say in finance, past performance is not indicative of future results. Optimism.
- Voting education – Voters need to know the closest polling unit to their house. Election day movement is very difficult because of vehicle curfews – making the distance strenuous on potential voters.