Numeracy is a Nigerian problem but electoral democracy is about counting numbers. Nigerians will vote to elect a president and national legislators on 25 February. On 11 March, they will return to elect state legislators in 36 states and governors in 28. The numbers that will frame all these contests are now settled. They deserve close attention.
In all, 18 political parties will field a total of 15,307 candidates, including 1,553 women for 1,491 offices, including the presidency; 28 governorship offices; 109 senators; 360 in the House of Representatives members; and 993 seats in state houses of assembly.
Voting will take place in 176,846 polling units nationwide, located in 8,809 wards or Registration Areas in 774 local government areas. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has acquired at least 194,464 Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines for the election to be managed by over 1.4 million ad-hoc officials.
By far the most important figure, however, is the number of registered voters. When Nigeria last voted in a general election in 2019, there were 84,004,084 voters on the electoral register. Through its Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), INEC says it captured another 12,298,944 since then. When it ran these entries through its Automatic Biometric Identification System, (ABIS), INEC discovered that 2,780,756 (22.6%) were ineligible or invalid. So, the register of voters in Nigeria has grown by 9,518,188 or 11.33% to 93,522,272 since 2019.
The names on the register notionally represent the people to ultimately decide who becomes Nigeria’s next president. This is why the register deserves attention. There is another reason the number of voters matters. Complaints about “voter apathy” in Nigeria persist. The numbers and patterns seem to bear this out. In 1999, turnout was 52.3%. Officially, it grew to 69% in 2003; and it has fallen, since then, to 57.5% in 2007; 53.7% in 2011; 43.7% in 2015; and a historic low of 34.8% in 2019.
Nigeria has always had a problem with numbers, especially of people and of votes. To be fair, voting numbers can be problematic everywhere because they are ambulatory. People are not static: they die by the second, relocate, or migrate. The register of voters does not automatically change because a person whose name is on it has died or moved. So, every voters’ register, at best, represents a snapshot in time.
In 20 years from 1999 to 2019, Nigeria’s population rose by 71% but the population of voters rose by only 50%. With the latest numbers announced by INEC, Nigeria’s register of voters has grown by 36,522,272 since 1999 or 64.07%, a deficit of 25.83% when compared with the increase in Nigeria’s population over the same period. It is possible to speculate about what may explain this significant deficit in growth patterns between the general population and register of voters.
However, there are many curious things about voting numbers in Nigeria. One, they are an island entirely unto themselves, with no rational relationship to wider trends in the population. Nigeria’s pattern of supposedly precipitous collapse in voter turnout, for instance, is inversely proportional to the growth in Nigeria’s baseline population.
In 1999, Nigeria’s population was estimated to be 115,766,000. By the time the country voted in 2019, it had risen to 199,039,000, a growth of 83,273,000 or 71%. When INEC announced the number of voters on the register for the 2023 election on 11 January 2022, the population of Nigeria was estimated to be over 219,864,000. In other words, since 1999, Nigeria’s population has grown by over 104,098,000, or 89.92%.
By contrast, in 1999, Nigeria had 57 million registered voters. This rose by 5.26% or three million to 60 million in 2003 and then by 1.67% or one million to 61 million in 2007. By 2011, the number of registered voters had climbed by over 12 million to 73.53 million or 20.5%, representing an average yearly growth rate of nearly 5.12%, where previously it had grown by 1.31% in 1999 to 2003 and 0.42% between 2003 and 2007. By 2015, the population of registered voters had fallen to 68.83 million, a deficit of 4.7 million voters or 6.83%, representing an annualised rate of reversal of 1.71%. Yet, over the same period, Nigeria, a country with a median age of just under 18 years, had grown in population from an estimated 162.9 million to 181.2 million, an increase of 15.174 million or 11.23%, representing an annual growth rate of 2.8%.
These numbers and the patterns they reveal do not lend themselves to easy explanation. However, as the Justice Uwais presidential committee on electoral reform pointed out in its 2008 report, much of what passed for electoral numbers in Nigeria before 2011 was voodoo. Just to illustrate this point, the INEC does not have a breakdown of official results for the 2007 presidential elections but there are turnout figures for that election.
In 20 years from 1999 to 2019, Nigeria’s population rose by 71% but the population of voters rose by only 50%. With the latest numbers announced by INEC, Nigeria’s register of voters has grown by 36,522,272 since 1999 or 64.07%, a deficit of 25.83% when compared with the increase in Nigeria’s population over the same period. It is possible to speculate about what may explain this significant deficit in growth patterns between the general population and register of voters. Rational factors such as internal migration; agency dysfunctions in INEC, civic inertia or failure to register, or high transaction costs may explain some of this. But there remain worrying patterns that are not easily accounted for by these factors.
This leads to a second issue: Nigeria’s register of voters has always had invalid voters. The current register of voters in Nigeria dates back to November 2010 when the Attahiru Jega-led INEC set about establishing a credible register of voters for the country. The Commission had limited time to authenticate the raw data before the 2011 general election. When the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) finished its work on the 2011 register nearly four years later, INEC invalidated 4.7 million entries, which reduced the number of registered voters from 73.53% in 2011 to 68.83% in 2015 but not before these invalid 4.7 million were eligible to vote in 2011.
Over three election cycles since 2011, the number liable to be expunged from Nigeria’s electoral roll could be somewhere in the region of about 20 million. Separately, at the end of 2021, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that Nigeria had at least 3.2 million people in internal displacement. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees added that there are at least another 343,000 Nigerian refugees outside the country.
Perhaps the biggest worry of all is with dead voters. At the beginning of 2022, the INEC explained that it cannot expunge dead voters from the register because “the country does not have reliable data of births and deaths and the commission cannot engage in arbitrary removal of the names of individuals it suspects are deceased.”
The third issue, therefore, is evidently that the number of voters on the register is grossly over-stated. In the explanation of the INEC, Nigeria’s register of voters is the classic Hotel California: it is “programmed to receive” and, for anyone with their name on it, the message is that “you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” The implications of this for electoral integrity are staggering.
Nigerian law only allows adults to vote. Over the decade between 2010 to 2020, Nigeria’s adult mortality rate has ranged between 389.09 and 357.9 per 1,000 for men; and 359.8 to 318 per 1,000 for women. In 2020, adult mortality rate in Nigeria was estimated at 34.25 per 100 of population yearly. Applied to the 2019 register and adjusted down to account for the fact that adult mortality rate is counted from 16 years, two years less than the voting age, the number liable to be removed from the electoral roll would be well over six million in any election cycle.
Over three election cycles since 2011, the number liable to be expunged from Nigeria’s electoral roll could be somewhere in the region of about 20 million. Separately, at the end of 2021, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that Nigeria had at least 3.2 million people in internal displacement. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees added that there are at least another 343,000 Nigerian refugees outside the country. Admittedly not all of these are adults of voting age.
However, when you look at the numbers on Nigeria’s register of voters and account for the fact that the baseline data goes back to 2011, there is a high likelihood that up to about 25% of the register are dead, dud, or displaced. When folks complain about “voter apathy” they miss one important point: Nigeria guarantees the dead a right to vote. That is antecedent to any talk of “voter apathy”.
Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, a lawyer and teacher, can be reached at email@example.com.
Tinubu and ghosts of fuel scarcity, new naira notes, By Festus Adebayo
In a piece I wrote entitled A O M’erin J’oba At Tinubu’s Colloquium(April 1, 2018) I warned that the man who has now become the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was making a strategic mistake in assuming that Buhari loved him. Or that he would probably want to relinquish power to him. Using a famous folklore rendered as tale told by the moonlight in traditional African Yoruba, but which Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Minister of Works and folklorist/writer, Joseph Odunjo, brought into vivid perspective in his Alawiye Yoruba literature series, I explained how Tinubu, resting his belief on a mistaken belief that Buhari would requite the good done him in making him president, would make a fatal fall.
Using the animal world as a motif, Odunjo told this story which ancient Yoruba belief used to depict gross human deception and how human beings are easily susceptible to and capable of mischief. Represented as a character with power, majesty and acclaim, the mammoth-sized Elephant, the beast, was the untouchable king of the jungle and lord of the manor whose humongous size was a huge bother to other animals in the jungle. Several efforts were made to oust his prowess, to no avail. So, a plot was hatched using his majesty as his destruction. Tortoise, a cunning and serpentine animal, was procured to do the hatchet job. Tortoise resolved that, given Elephant’s size and height, violence would not bring him to his hilt but a seemingly innocuous strategy of deception, praise-singing and bootlicking.
Tortoise then went into the cave of the Almighty Elephant. His message was that, all animals had purposed to make him their King in the jungle. Elephant was to come to the palace adorned in the full regalia of a King. Prior to the day, Tortoise had dug a very deep ditch that could swallow Elephant’s elephantine and mammoth size by the palace. He however decorated it with a beautiful wool carpet worthy of a king’s royal feet, complete with an ornamented chair just at the edge of the royal carpet. Encircling the carpet, all the animals in the town clapped and hailed the new King dressed in flowery royal robe as he walked majestically towards the royal carpet. They cheered the Elephant on, shouting a o m’erin j’oba, eweku ewele. The Elephant, in turn, fascinated by the splendor and cheer, walked majestically to be crowned and fell into the ditch and unto his death.
My conclusion in that piece about the Tinubu-Buhari silent tango was: “The President is thus prepared to play the Tortoise, sing a o m’erin j’oba and fawn Tinubu the Elephant so as to humour his ego. The strategy would be that, by the time it would be too late for Tinubu to make a U-turn, the Hannibal and Chaka the Zulu would lift up his scabbard, draw out his dagger and skewer the flesh of an Elephant who cannot see that he is on a dangerous path.” Is this folklore apt in the description of what is playing out between the duo today?
As they say in legal parlance, the most recent outburst of Tinubu in Abeokuta, Ogun State, last Wednesday has provoked issues for determination. The issues are in the form of rhetoric. You will recall that Tinubu, on a campaign train to the ancient city, had stirred the hornet’s nest when he alleged that the currency re-design policy of the Muhammadu Buhari government and the current fuel scarcity that has literally turned Nigeria into a Dystopian disaster were orchestrated by a veiled God-knows-who, with the aim of ensuring that he didn’t win next month’s presidential election.
To be sure, the allegation of a conspiracy theory was already in the public domain, long before Tinubu made that allegation. With this final Tinubu affirmation of the ploy woven masterfully in high places against him, the headline of this piece should then have been The Columnist As A Seer. In previous installments entitled Emefiele’s Terrorism Mess (December 25, 2022) and Buhari and Emefiele’s Buga Handshake (January 20, 2023) except for the fuel scarcity addition to the conspiracy theory, I submitted that the Naira re-designation policy could be targeted at the APC candidate.
In Abeokuta last week Wednesday, Tinubu mortally bit the bullet again. In his now familiar drawl, delivered in Yoruba, he hit his bare knuckles on the spatula. “If they like, they can change the ink in the naira note, we will shock them, we will win the election; the opposition (the umbrella party) will be defeated… We will take over the government from them; they are traitors that want to wrest the government from us…We will use our PVCs to take over the government from them, if they like, let them say there is no fuel, we will trek there. They are full of mischief, they want to create fuel crisis, they have started creating fuel crisis…Let the price of fuel continue to increase, they are the ones that know where they are hoarding it. They are hoarding naira notes, they are hoarding fuel, we will vote and we will win,” he told a jubilant but rowdy crowd of supporters. He thereafter revved the people up to a revolution.
The issues for determination from this outburst are tripodal. One is the domain that Tinubu always chooses to rouse Nigerian people to militant action and provoke the beast in them, apologies to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Why the choice of Abeokuta? Is it deliberate? Was Tinubu doing this, conscious of the historical signification of Abeokuta or it occurs by mere happenstance?
Second, who exactly were these arrows shot at? Forget the very jejune and I dare say, lacking-creative-acumen press release issued by the Directorate of Media & Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Council. In the statement, it hung on the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the arrows shot by Tinubu.
“For the records, Asiwaju Tinubu during APC campaign rally at Abeokuta on Wednesday, in his statement, did not mention, blame or accuse President Muhammadu Buhari for the current challenges in the country… (he) was only adverting government’s attention to the sabotage being carried out by some Fifth columnists in the system, possibly working in cahoots with the PDP…Tinubu is aware of the salutary efforts by President Buhari to end the fuel queues, by chairing a 14-man panel…How does an advisory genuinely made by Asiwaju Tinubu to protect and create goodwill for the government of his party become an attack? It can only be so in the jaundiced view of the PDP,” the office said.
But for the dog-eat-dog mentality and saber-rattling deployed as language of communication and accepted as part and parcel of the political language and temperature of Nigeria, the APC PCC should be scandalized nationally by this barefaced cookery. It is a very tame effort at assuming that the Nigerian is a fool and has a very low reasoning capacity. The reasons are obvious.
Was Atiku Abubakar the “they” who wanted to “change the ink in the naira note”? Is the PDP currently in government, to whom Tinubu swore that “we will take over the government from them”? Is Abubakar the “if they like, let them say there is no fuel…they are full of mischief,” and who “want(s) to create fuel crisis” and “are hoarding naira notes, they are hoarding fuel,” to whom he promised that “we will vote and we will win”?
A few days after the Tinubu outburst, media reports claimed that the man, famously dubbed the Landlord of Lagos, made a nocturnal sneak into Daura, Katsina State home of Buhari, in company with three APC governors, on a “fence-mending” with the president. As at the time of going to press, this alleged sneak had not been denied nor, as usual, attributed to the “handiwork of PDP and Labour Party sympathizer” journalists by the Tinubu Ananias and Saphirra clown in the APC PCC. The question I ask is, what is responsible for this sabbatical that honour has taken from political parties’ communication machinery in Nigeria? Methinks that, rather than make mockery of oneself and the decades that one had put into journalism practice, deep thinking should show journalpreneur wolves in sheep’s clothing currently speaking for politicians that they should not allow reversible politicians tarnish what is left of their perceived honour?
Now, was Tinubu right in assuming that “they” are fighting him? I think he was. I had always argued that, rather than basing his political tomorrow on Buhari, Tinubu should have cleaned up his Yoruba home and won its confidence while using it as a bargain for 2023. He rather believed that it was more expedient to do obeisance for the Cow in the hope that he would honour him with his chunky meat. For instance, in another piece I did which I entitled Tinubu the Ap’ejalodo and His Strange Fish Friend, (September 16, 2018) using an ancient tale told in traditional African pre-colony which helped to tame the greed of pre-and post-colonial Yoruba society, as well as any tendency within it to play God, I argued that, as the Yoruba would say, constant removal of perceived bad woods from the log of woods under a cooking pot would boomerang. It was the time Tinubu was said to have made up his mind to remove Akinwumi Ambode. Now that Buhari is playing God with Tinubu’s presidential aspiration, that piece makes sense now for its Karmic significance, doesn’t it?
Even a fool knows that Buhari does not want Tinubu to succeed him. Second is that there is a mutual disdain between the two which both have clothed in shawls over the years. Buhari has, over the decades, built an impregnable moral universe round himself; a universe whose precinct was delineated by him, membership of which he defines from his narrow conception. Tinubu does not fit that definition. Tinubu is also too agitative, too Alutaic, perhaps in the mould of MKO Abiola; too much of a disrupter of long-established rulership codes, in spite of the contradictions of his being a member of that same ruling caste. Atiku Abubakar is a lesser evil for the president and occupiers of his fiefdom to banter with.
The third issue for determination is whether Tinubu deliberately spins those nukes or they are mere Freudian slips. Mainly used in psychoanalytic theories, Freudian slips, also called paraptaxis, was authored by Sigmund Freud. It is defined as an error in speech, memory or physical actions which occur due to interference from an unconscious or subdued mind with or an internal train of thoughts. You will recall that, in June, 2022, hours before the APC congress, Tinubu had made similar spark where he literally called Buhari out.
Considered a denigration of Buhari, he narrated how, without him and God, Buhari could not have been president in 2015 after he lule-edthree times in his bid for the presidency and had to weep on national television. Tinubu concluded that it was his turn to take over power. It was a daring speech which many thought was derring-do that would finally collapse his presidential aspiration. Unexpectedly, that speech finally became a deus ex-machina of Tinubu’s aspiration, giving it a huge leap, we were told. From that speech was extracted the most notoriously mentioned phrases in social and political discourses of today – O lule and emi lo kan.
Finally, should Tinubu have been making those off-the-cuff outbursts when he knows that he would eventually crawl on his belly like a coyote to beg Buhari? I don’t think so. Is it an effective strategy to tame Buhari with revelations of his nocturnal political gambles so that he can be railroaded from his preference of a successor? Maybe, but in war, which Tinubu’s current quest for the presidency can be likened to, you don’t half-decapitate your enemy. You slash their necks with deft, brutal precision. If Buhari holds the key to Tinubu transmuting from the Lord of Lagos to Lord of Aso Rock, those revelations should have been guided confidentially like a licked bowl of soup which the Yoruba say does not make a pendulum-like swing and sound in the bowels of an elder. Revealing them publicly and seemingly making mockery of an unforgiving General like Buhari could be a fatal blow to his presidential ambition.
Umeme, grain and coffee: Why Kenya should fear Uganda’s economic gamble, By Charles Onyango-Obbo
Uganda, the 1990s shining Africa poster boy for privatisation, is engaging in what could be East Africa’s biggest economic liberalisation reverse gear. Last year, the Uganda government formally announced it would not renew the contract of electricity distributor Umeme in 2025, when its concession expires, and that it will form a state-owned entity to take over its business.
The government’s main criticism of Umeme is its margins are too high, so it has failed to lower electricity costs, and the expensive rates have hobbled Uganda’s industrialisation ambitions. Umeme counters that it is just a distributor, and the high electricity costs are passed on from the power generators.
In two years, the debate will be resolved. Uganda will be in the midst of campaigns ahead of the January 2026 election, when President Yoweri Museveni, weighed down by the wear and tear of 40 years in office, will likely be bidding for a record-shattering ninth term, with his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, among those trying to wrestle the crown from his head. It will be the worst possible timing because incumbents rarely make the most enlightened decisions during heated election campaigns. As the West Africans say, there will likely “be a lot of cry.”
Umeme was formed in 2004 when the government of Uganda granted the distribution concession to a consortium belonging to Globeleq, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Development Corporation of the UK, which held 56 per cent, and South Africa’s now inept utility corporation Eskom, which had 44 per cent. In 2006 Eskom exited the consortium, and Globeleq became the sole owner of Umeme.
The regional impact could be significant because, among other things, Umeme shares are cross-listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. If it unravels, Kenyan shareholders would be left crying in their bowls, and we could be back to the feud over regional assets that followed the break-up of the first East African Community in 1977.
Too messy to swallow
The renationalisation of Umeme will not be unique. Kenya just tried to renationalise cash-haemorrhaging national carrier Kenya Airways but found it too messy to swallow. The recently elected new government of President William Ruto has decided to throw it back on the block.
The difference in Uganda is that Umeme is just the shallow end of the pool. There are other moves to renationalise the very lucrative liberalised coffee sector by granting a near-monopoly to a Vinci Coffee Company, owned by controversial and shadowy Italian “foreign investor” Enrica Pinetti, to process and export Uganda’s coffee. That would take Uganda back to the early 1990s when the disastrous Coffee Marketing Board was disbanded.
A similar move is being made to give the Grain Council of Uganda, on paper a non-profit membership organisation, the kind of sway over the country’s grain last seen in the colonial era.
The force behind the Grain Council is the otherwise amiable president’s younger brother, retired Lt-Gen Salim Saleh (Caleb Akandwanaho), a sly operator who is the second most powerful figure in the land. A nationalist and statist, Saleh has led a quiet but effective assault against laissez-faire liberalisation, which he argues has mostly benefited foreigners and left Ugandans with only holes in their pockets. He has taken over a large chunk of the country’s agricultural budget and several “development” functions under the amorphous state-created vehicle Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) that he heads and inserted disciples in key national economic institutions.
Return to old roots
This state of affairs is a dramatic return to old roots. Uganda launched the first of a series of economic liberalisations in the 1990s that were deemed impossible in Africa at the time and anathema in the hyper-nationalist traditions that were entrenched in post-independence Africa.
It was the first country in Africa to radically liberalise its foreign exchange market and still maintains one of the least-interventionist approaches to the money market on the continent. It was also the first in East Africa to pass laws that gave the central bank extensive independence.
It was the first on the continent in the early 1990s to liberalise the fuel market and scrap fuel subsidies. Again, in East Africa, at least, it is the government that meddles least in setting the price of gas at the pump. When fuel prices skyrocketed everywhere following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, it alone was the East African government to flatly refuse to even consider a fuel subsidy and price cap, as all the rest of the EAC states did.
Price of food
Uganda, too, is the country where the price of food is most considered none of the government’s business. When Ugandans read stories and political fights over maize in Kenya, and the government setting the price, to some of them, it sounds like a tale about an alien planet.
The country and economy that Uganda is today are about to change. Some of the changes have to do with the politics of the Museveni succession and how the family and vested interests that have coalesced around the State House view their future security. A lot of it, though, is because of some good things: the rebirth of the EAC; the end of the wars in Uganda and the ushering in of the country’s longest spell of peace; the rebound of a post-KANU Kenya; and the Rwanda post-genocide recovery.
If there are two people in East Africa outside Uganda, who have edged Uganda to the fork in the road where it is today, they are Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and former Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.
The author is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3
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