With the conduct of the 2023 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria’s Fourth Republic has now witnessed seven successive election cycles.
From the first poll of the Fourth Republic in 1999 to the most recent, that is, the just concluded 2023 polls, election conduct by INEC has seen something of an evolution.
While some might argue there have been some improvements in some areas, others would point to more of a decline.
Whether in terms of the gradual infusion of technology to make elections more credible or the arguable decline in voter confidence over the years, INEC has been through a number of defining moments in its 25-year history.
The electoral body made a first attempt at going digital in the lead-up to the 2007 elections. At the registration level, INEC conducted a digital capture of voters, an effort largely seen as an improvement compared to what was on the ground. Still, there were several cases of multiple registrations and multiple voting.
To tackle the issue of multiple voting which continued till 2011, INEC made another technological leap by introducing the Smart Card Reader in 2015 to help authenticate the Permanent Voter Card and accredit the voters before allowing them to finally cast their votes.
The card reader, which was also used in 2019, was supposed to prevent multiple voting but this was far from foolproof. The card reader didn’t always verify voters who had been registered.
This led to the introduction of incident forms, which essentially meant that voters were accredited manually. This opened the door to manipulation.
The passage of the Electoral Act 2022 by the National Assembly and the eventual assent by former President Muhamadu Buhari was met with cheers as it was regarded as a watershed in a bid to tackle the challenges that had long undermined efforts to conduct credible elections.
The amended law saw sweeping changes in Nigeria’s electoral system but most celebrated was still in the area of technology.
Under the new Act, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was introduced as an improvement on the card reader in terms of accrediting voters. The BVAS device would identify a registered voter with either a fingerprint scan or facial recognition before they are allowed to vote.
The new Act further provided for the electronic transmission of election results in accordance with the procedure determined by INEC. With this provision, the electoral body introduced the INEC Results Viewing Portal also known as IReV, which is a dedicated public portal that enables the public to view all polling unit results in real-time as voting ends on election day.
Following the abortion of the Third Republic which featured the often well-regarded June 12, 1993 presidential election, Nigerians saw the first election of the Fourth Republic in 1999 as an opportunity to make amends and transition into a democratic government that would put the country on the path to greatness.
INEC registered 57 million voters in 1999 but only about 29.8 million eventually voted in the election that brought in President Olusegun Obasanjo as the first president of the new republic, representing a 52.3 percent turnout.
The 2003 election which returned Obasanjo to office for a second term saw a significant increase in voting numbers with 60 million registered voters and 39 million votes cast, indicating a turnout of 69.1 percent.
However, the turnout has consistently taken a dip since the 2003 election. With 61 million registered voters in 2007, only 35.4 million voted in the election that ushered in Umaru Yar’Adua as president, representing about 57.5 percent.
In 2011, the number of registered voters rose to 73 million, with 39.4 million eventually voting in the election that returned Goodluck Jonathan as president — a turnout of about 54.07 percent.
By 2015, the population of registered voters fell to 68.83 million, with about 29 million voting, that is, 43 percent. This was the election that ushered in Mohammadu Buhari as democratically elected president for the first time, ending Jonathan’s quest for another term in office.
2019, however, saw another jump in the figure for registered voters — 84 million — but only 27 million eventually voted, indicating a turnout of about 34 percent.
The 2023 election witnessed yet another surge in the number of registered voters but the turnout reached a low with just about 24 million valid votes out of 93 million registered voters, amounting to a 26 percent turnout.