In a couple of days, Nigerians will head to the polls to elect a new President. It’s only the second time in our young democracy where the sitting President will not be on the ballot, with the other time coming in 2007. However, unlike in 2007 when there was only one likely winner, the winner of the 2023 election is quite tough to predict. I make an attempt to analyze this election by looking at the make-up of the voters; their influence, drive and expected behaviour. While I may not be able to predict the outcome of the election, I am able to use a combination of my critical and analytical thinking skills to accurately predict the expected behaviour of the voters and the recipients of their dispositions. Here we go.
In every election in Nigeria, there are typically four voter categories and they have been ever present since 1959 when the first Parliamentary elections were held in Nigeria. The four categories are:
- Those that vote along party lines
- Those that vote along ethnic lines
- Those that vote along religious lines
- Those that vote along stomach lines
There’s usually a 5th category but in previous election cycles, they have not been able to influence electoral outcomes given their small number, this category is for those who vote based on ideology. Most political campaigns spend energy focused on this fifth category instead of aligning their messaging to fit into any of the main four groups mentioned above. This fifth category can be found on Twitter threads, Spaces and IG Live sessions championing a new cause and striking supposedly intellectual debates about the polity, what many don’t know is that very few people off these platforms actually vote. Most people get their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) these days because it’s yet another means of identification and it’s become but trepidation and laziness hold sway during election day for these folks that they see it as a big risk going to their Polling Units. The people who brave the fear and sun to cast their votes are found in categories 1-4. But this election cycle is different and for the first time, we may be seeing this fifth category come alive. Let’s take an in-depth look into these five categories.
Voting along Party Lines
Most of the Voters who will vote along Party lines are mostly going to be found in the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC has performed poorly in the last eight years but people who feel strongly tied to the party will vote for them regardless of their performance or candidate. Most people take pride in saying things like “I have always voted for Party A as a diligent party member”. Most of these Voters will be found in the North Central and South West. The APC is predominantly a Northern and South Western party given its roots in the Northern-allied Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Southern-allied Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and thus their followership is rooted in the geographic interests that influenced their creation. The New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) is another party that will benefit from this category of voters. The NNPP is a relatively unknown party that received a major boost when the popular ex-Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso defected to the party to become its Presidential flagbearer. Almost all the votes the NNPP will get will come from this category of Voters given the huge following Kwankwaso commands especially in the North. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is another Party that has enjoyed patronage from this category of Voters in previous election cycles, especially in the South-East and South-South. These two regions have always voted for the PDP irrespective of the candidate given their strong alliance and identity with the PDP and the party’s dominance in the region but this election cycle will be different. The PDP will be the biggest loser from this category of voters given that most of those who voted along party lines will be pitting their votes for the Labour Party (LP) given the profile of their flagbearer, Peter Obi. The Labour Party will enjoy lots of votes from this category as the party has gained ground in the South in this cycle.
Winners: NNPP, LP, APC. Losers: PDP
Voting along Ethnic Lines
Nigeria’s elections have always been plagued by ethnic and identity politics. The 1999 election was probably the only election that was not too biased on ethnic lines given that Obasanjo won more votes outside his region than in his region, but even that election was tainted by all the ethnic wars that influenced the build-up to that election and the sentiments from the Yorubas that they deserved the seat given the unfortunate incident that happened with MKO Abiola. The two major candidates in that election were both Yorubas so you could see how ethnicity also played a role. This election will be heavily based on ethnic lines. Voters in this category will have the most influence in this election given their sheer number. The APC is the biggest beneficiary of Voters in this category given how resounding the “Emi Lokan” politics reverberated across the South West and the Yorubas. Most Yorubas will tell you the only reason they are voting for Tinubu is that he is their son. A lot of the Igbos will also tell you they are voting for Peter Obi because he is one of their own given the pent-up anger and marginalization the region has suffered. Atiku of the PDP will be the biggest loser here given that for some reason the North never warmed up to him as one of their own and he’s also made wrong political miscalculations that have not helped him. Additionally, Kwankwaso will take most of the ethnic votes that would have naturally gone to Atiku given how loved Kwankwaso is in the North. The turnout of this category of Voters will actually influence the winner of this election; if they turn out en masse in the South and not so much in the West, then Obi will stand a strong chance. If they turn out en masse in the West and not so much in the East, then Tinubu wins it.
Winners: APC, LP, NNPP. Losers: PDP.
Voting along Religious Lines
Nigeria is a very religious country and yet a sin-full country, as a result, it’s very difficult to not look at things through the prism of religion. If there is one country where religion is truly the opium of the masses, it has to be Nigeria, a country where we have more churches than schools, and more Pastors than water boreholes. There are two major religions in the country – Christianity and Islam. Out of the three major candidates, two are Muslims and one is a Christian. There is a fine distribution of both religions in this country and also a good spread. The Muslims dominate the North while the Christians dominate the South so this geopolitics will also play a role. The APC is running on a Muslim-Muslim ticket (the only party not representing the two religions on a ticket) and this will play into their hands as most Muslims will vote for them. The APC has also been a very religiously biased party, the current President, Party Chairman and Presidential Candidate are all Muslims. Most of the party positions are occupied by Muslims so this is likely to reckon with Muslims across the country who feel a Muslim-aligned party will meet their interests. The PDP is also fielding a Muslim from the North and there is a slight chance that some of the Muslims in the North will vote for the PDP candidate given that the APC’s Muslim is a Southerner. Most Christians will likely be voting for Peter Obi but that number is nothing compared to the sheer number of religious votes coming from the North. This category of Voters will favour the APC.
Winners: APC, LP. Losers: PDP
Voting along Stomach Lines
Nigeria has one of the highest poverty rates in the world with more than 133 million Nigerians living in poverty. The recent cash shortage in the country has also exacerbated the dire needs of the population and thus led to more hungry people. Most of the people affected by this cash crunch will be looking to feed their stomachs on that day. They will see their PVC as their get-out-of-jail card and offer their votes to the highest bidder. For some of these guys, you really cannot blame them. They mostly reside in rural areas and never feel the effect of government except during election day. The only sign of government they feel is the ballot box and the flood of party agents who come canvassing for their votes in exchange for money and of course, they are hungry and are more than happy to sell their votes. Given the enhancements to the electoral process where snatching ballot boxes have become futile and votes now count, parties will be ensuring their field agents have enough money to persuade and sway Voters in this category. Thankfully, the cash crunch and the enhancements to the electoral process have made the supply side of this equation scarce and thus the demand will be high. So, I do not think this category of Voters will have the sheer number to make a dent. However, this category of Voters will boost the APC and the PDP as they are the two parties with enough money in the bank to bankroll this category. The NNPP and LP do not have the financial muscle to make a dent here.
Winners: APC, PDP. Losers: LP, NNPP.
Voting based on Ideology
So many Voters in this category will be voting for the first time in this election and there is an expectation that their sheer number will decide this election. These voters prioritize specific issues or ideological principles when choosing a candidate. They may align with a particular political party or candidate based on their stance on issues such as healthcare, taxes, or security. For the first time, this category is poised to become a major bloc whereas they have been in the minority in prior election cycles. This category of Voters will be spurred by their different expectations and needs. Those in the North who have borne the brunt of insecurity will be looking for a Leader who can root out the weed of insecurity in their region, and those in the East will be looking for a Leader who can stop the economic decline of the country. Those in the West will be looking for a Leader who has the leadership skills to galvanise this country and steady the ship. Buhari has set the bar so low that any of the major candidates will appear as a better option to Voters in this category. Some of the Voters in this category will feel Obi represents the best option for their conscience and expectation given his brand of politics and his track record of being shrewd with Government resources. Some will feel Tinubu will meet their expectations based solely on his performance as Lagos State Governor and his ability to select brilliant minds. Some others feel Atiku represents the best hands to steady the ship given his experience and previous around the Centre. Kwankwaso just does not command any votes in this category of conscience for me, so does not count. The biggest winner from this Category is Peter Obi while the biggest loser would be Bola Tinubu given the make-up of the Voters in this category – young, first-time voters, not swayed by ethnicity, religion or sentiments.
Winners: LP, PDP. Losers: APC, NNPP
On a brighter note, much of the discourse around this election has been around the three major candidates that we seemed to have forgotten another major player – the incumbent. The most important news from this election is that Buhari’s tenure will soon be coming to an end. The current President has set the bar so low that anyone who replaces him cannot be as bad as he has been with governance, economy, security and the polity.
Based on my analysis, the political parties that appear to have an advantage with certain categories of voters are the APC and LP. However, it’s important to note that voters are not easily classified and can be influenced by a variety of factors and switch categories on election day.
I urge every eligible voter to go out and exercise their civic duty by voting on Saturday regardless of which party you support or which category of voters you may fall into, your vote matters and can help shape the future of our country. This election must show that power resides in the thumb of the masses and not the pockets of the powerful. Let’s ensure that every voice is heard and every vote counts.