AD275: Nigerians support elections and multiparty competition but mistrust electoral commission

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Thomas Isbell and Oluwole Ojewale

Nigeria’s upcoming elections may be as momentous as they are mammoth: More than 20,000 candidates from 91 registered political parties will square off in presidential, gubernatorial, and parliamentary contests that observers hope will strengthen the country’s democracy and ensure economic development and peace (Gana, 2019; International Crisis Group, 2018). All eyes will be on the presidential race pitting incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). 

The elections will take place in an atmosphere of widespread security concerns and considerable uncertainty regarding the status of pending electoral legislation (Guardian, 2018; Akinwale, 2018). The two leading political parties continue to accuse each other of planning to subvert the electoral process, and rancorous debate surrounds the president’s refusal to assent to an amended Electoral Act calling for the use of electronic smart card readers to authenticate permanent voter cards, the use of central servers to audit and confirm local election results, and the capping of election expenses (Vanguard, 2017; Umoru, Agbakwuru, & Yakubu, 2018).

This analysis of Afrobarometer survey data collected in 2017 does not focus on the campaign or who will win but instead sheds light on the attitudes and perceptions of ordinary Nigerians with regard to elections and government performance in key policy areas. Findings show that Nigerians strongly support elections and party competition but offer mixed assessments of the quality of their elections and largely mistrust the electoral commission. On issues they identify as the most important problems the government should address – including unemployment, management of the economy, and poverty – their evaluations of the government’s performance are negative – though less negative than in 2015.