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INEC hopes election postponement and extended naira cash deadline will entice more people to vote in gubernatorial elections 

9 March 2023
Reading time: 9 minutes

Two major factors since Nigeria’s general elections on February 25 have given political parties hope that many more voters will turn out for the coming gubernatorial elections.

The first was the extension of the deadline for the use and exchange of old banknotes for the newly redesigned ₦1,000, ₦500 and ₦200 to December 31, a result of an order made by the Supreme Court in March.

The original deadline of mid-February caused panic, fear and anger among citizens, especially those in rural areas where there are no banks and where online transactions are a foreign and largely unknown concept. Most rural people – traders and buyers – have always only used cash. And those that do execute online transactions complain that the network is either nonexistent or patently unstable.

But even in the towns and cities where banks and automated teller machines (ATMS) exist, the looming deadline forced crowds of people to stand in long queues day after day to exchange their old banknotes for the new ones. Tempers were frayed and there were riots and protests in some places. In other areas, ATMS were trashed and destroyed by angry and frustrated crowds.

The shortage of the new currency in circulation added to the fury of citizens.

The second major factor that occurred was the decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the gubernatorial elections – for 28 governors and members of the various states’ houses of assembly – from March 11 to March 18.

This, it was hoped, would enable INEC to ensure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Results Viewing Portal (IReV) machines were in proper working order, ensuring transparent electronic voting and doing away with the need for to manually collate votes.

Political parties and voters were furious about the number of glitches experienced across the country in the use of the BVAS and IReV machines in the general elections, which resulted in many votes being collated manually in some areas instead of electronically.

Some wanted the whole election process to be postponed and held only once INEC could ensure voters that the BVAS and IReV machines were working properly.

There was extreme distrust among voters of INEC’s election results, which saw Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) becoming the president-elect of Nigeria.

Political parties and voters in affected areas had little to no faith in INEC’s ability to ensure free and fair elections and some even accused INEC of rigging the vote in favour of the ruling party.


Mistakes and irregularities were said to be responsible for the extremely low turnout of voters.

Umar Sanda, a public affairs analyst and a political commentator, told RNI that it was evident there was a “drastic low turnout of voters”. Some estimated the low turnout at 27%, others said 29%.

He blamed INEC and the various political parties, which, he said, had not “done their duties and responsibilities”, including enlightening, educating and informing the voters about election processes and ensuring that eligible voters were aware it was their civic responsibility to vote – a right enshrined in the country’s constitution.

“Apart from a lack of awareness, there was also what we call ‘voter apathy’ among the citizens of Nigeria. One of the reasons for this was that many people believed there were no credible or appropriate candidates who deserved their votes. These ‘lost voters’ did not bother to make the effort to go to polling units to cast their ballots.

“The new naira banknotes, which were in hot demand and in short supply, were another reason for the low turnout. Ever since the new banknotes were issued in mid-December, there has been a cash crunch as citizens have tried desperately to exchange their old notes for the new ones before the mid-February deadline. The rushed attempt to introduce a cashless policy across the country was impossible for citizens, partivularly those in rural areas where there are no banks. All these factors infuriated citizens and contributed to the low turnout.

“The tight deadline given by the government and the withdrawal of the old banknotes from circulation became an election issue. Some citizens refused to take part in the elections because of cash shortages, widespread hardship and anger. Many could not even afford to go to polling units because they did not have money to travel.”

Sanda told RNI that the federal government and INEC had spent a huge amount of money buying the BVAS and IReV machines. They had been used in minor elections and had proved to be effective. But it was the first time these machines had been used in a general election and in many areas there were glitches that made voters suspicious of their efficacy. Political parties and their supporters questioned the results of the votes that were captured manually.

Of the 93.4 million eligible voters registered to vote, only about 25 million had done so.

“To stop the drastically low turnout of voters, INEC, the National Orientation Agency, as well as political parties, need to hold massive public awareness campaigns about the relevance of taking part in democratic elections. This needs to be done before the gubernatorial elections which have been postponed from March 11 to March 18, allowing more time for the electronic voting machines to be reconfigured.

“I urge all eligible citizens to come out in their numbers for the March 18 vote for the 28 state governors, as well as for members of the various states’ houses of assembly. It’s imperative that the electorate know that they can vote for the candidates of their choice; that by voting they are exercising their constitutional right; and that by voting they have a say in the transformational development of the states,” Sanda said.

Bulama Abiso, an election observer and the executive director of the Network of Civil Society Organisations in Borno State, told RNI that there were a number of factors that resulted in the low turnout at the polls, ranging from insecurity in some rural areas in Borno State and other parts of the country to the low circulation of the new naira notes.

“But even in places where elections were held in safety, the turnout of voters was very low. People should know that exercising their civic responsibility and constitutional rights is the path to nation-building and ensuring the overall development in all sectors.

“By not voting, we won’t get the desired national development that we are always clamouring for. Our population is our strength. I urge all Nigerians to come out en masse to vote in the coming gubernatorial elections.”


Khalifa Dikwa, a public affairs commentator and political analyst, told RNI that democracy was “here to stay” and the only way Nigerians could ensure it worked for all was by exercising their right to vote.

“Democracy is the appropriate way for people to choose their leaders,” he said.

“It is INEC’s responsibility to conduct democratic elections in transparent, credible, free and fair ways. But just a slight mistake or irregularity by the electoral umpire can plunge the country into a state of tension and confusion that can lead to protests, chaos, civil unrest and political instability.

“INEC made several mistakes in the recent general elections. The late arrival of INEC staff members at several polling units angered many people. The failures of the BVAS and IReV machines showed that INEC staff had not been trained properly to use the machines effectively. INEC needed to train its staff for at least two to three months, not just a few days or a week, before the elections.

“Some trained INEC staff refused to travel to their polling units because they were scared of attacks by insurgents. This resulted in INEC using unqualified and untrained people who did not know how to operate the BVAS and IReV machines.

“There were many glitches experienced by the introduction of the IReV portals to transmit elections results electronically. This resulted in multiple attempted cyber-attacks, which political parties said were evidence that some people were trying to rig the elections.

“It also resulted in many votes being collated manually, which some also said was an attempt to rig voting.

“INEC’s decision to collate the results manually instead of electronically has led to a lot of tension and arguments among various political parties.

“It is evident that INEC needs to come up with stringent measures to avoid these mistakes and irregularities in the coming gubernatorial elections. Their staff needs to be adequately trained in the use of BVAS and IReV and accreditation and voting must start at the right time.”


INEC confirmed that there was a total of 93,469,008 registered voters in Nigeria but only 87,209,007 – 93.3% – collected their permanent voters cards (PVCs), making them the only eligible voters in the 2023 general elections.

Of the total eligible voters, only 28.63% actually voted.

INEC said that since 2003, there had been a steady decline in the number of people who exercised their right to vote. But this year the turnout was the lowest in years.

In 1999, the total number of registered voters was 57.9 million. Only 30.3 million cast their ballots. Voter turnout was 52%.

In 2003, there were 60.8 million registered voters with only 43 million actually voting. The turnout was 69%.

In 2007, only 35.3 million people out of 61.6 million registered voters cast their ballots. The turnout was 58%.

In 2011, there were 73.5 million registered voters with only 39.5 million people casting their ballots. The turnout was 54%.

In 2015, the number of registered voters was 68.8 million, of which only 29.4 million people voted. The turnout was 44%.

In 2019, only 28.6 million of the 84 million people who were registered to vote actually cast their ballots. The turnout was 35%.

This year, only 25.3 million people of the 93.5 million registered voters cast their ballots. The turnout was a paltry 27%.



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