BY OSCARLINE ONWUEMENYI
ABUJA – One of the novel occurrences of the last General Elections in the country is the experimentation with social surveys or polls that attempt to gauge or even signpost the trend of the events during elections and the position of some players in the electoral sphere, with some of the polls brashly declaring winners and losers across the country.
Whatever guise they may take, polls now provide leaders with capital or impoverish them in their efforts to promote policies. Those who can back up their assertions by pointing to poll results find the going easier than leaders who cannot. With regards to the electioneering process in Nigeria and efforts of government to reform the electoral system, a social survey on the conduct of the polls itself and the aftermath may thus prove beneficial to future policy making and execution.
For example, the latest survey report released by an electoral reform group, Alliance for Credible Election, ACE, has revealed that only about 50 percent of all eligible voters across the country participated in the last Presidential poll conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The report also showed an upward trend in voting as age of voters increased even as it revealed that about 56 percent of registered Muslims voted as against 45 percent of Christians.
According to the report, however, even though about 92 percent of the studied group said they are willing to vote in future elections showing a strong agreement for vibrant democracy in the country, a lower percentage of Muslims (62 percent) expressed willingness to vote in the future than Christians (79 percent).
A member of the Board of Directors of ACE, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma explained during the report presentation in Abuja that the survey conducted with the support of the MacArthur Foundation revealed that the demographics of the population surveyed a higher level of disenchantment among the youth with the electoral process, while more women expressed worry about the preparedness of security agencies before, during and after the elections.
He said, “About 86 percent of the polled groups were satisfied with the way democracy works in Nigeria and only nine percent were not. However, a lower percentage (43 percent) of Muslims was very satisfied than Christians (55 percent).”
On the Presidential elections proper, Chukwuma said the survey disclosed that a higher proportion of Muslims (51 percent) than Christians (45 percent) chose based on the party with the best candidate, while a larger proportion of Christians (38 percent) than Muslims (32 percent) chose based on best policy. The candidates’ perceived and or proven abilities along with their manifesto determined the choice of candidate.
A section of the survey which evaluated the performance of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, showed about 76 percent Nigerians think the Commission was prepared. Another 72 percent believe it was impartial in the conduct of the elections, while 87 percent of Nigerians declared satisfaction with INEC’s performance. This represents a pass mark by all means.
The main areas of concern mentioned, however, were in the procurement and distribution of election materials. A good deal of the voter apathy and cases of disenfranchisement was also blamed on the Commission’s poor management of the voter registration exercise.
A very touchy subject during the election was the issue of security, and it was no surprise to find out that about 44 percent of the people polled expressed fear of violence or intimidation during the process. Interestingly, however, only about 12 percent witnessed any incidence of violence or intimidation during this period. (Among this number, 59 percent said they were major incidents.) Only four percent of the respondents said that they or other members of their household were victims of violence or intimidation in the elections.
On the role of security forces, about 87 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with the security lay out of the elections, with the police and military personnel singled out for laurels. By the same breathe, the police was the security service voters were most dissatisfied with. Another revelation was the respondents’ belief that 44 percent of the victims and their families belief that political thugs carried out most of the violence and intimidation, with only four percent reserved for the police and security personnel.
The most significant suggestion given by respondents to curb violence during voting was to prosecute and punish the culprits.
Another board member of ACE, Mr. Yunusa Yau, noted that in the run up to the 2007 general elections, the alliance in collaboration with CLEEN Foundation ran a series of nationwide public opinion polls to determine voters’ inclinations, preferences and fears, as well as the level of preparations of INEC, political parties and security agencies.
“After the elections ACE ran another series of polls to enable the public benchmark the performance of the above agencies. The polls were successful because they helped in generating reliable complimentary data to official statistics on voters’ interest, confidence level in the electoral process and its institutions,” Yau noted.
He explained that in a diverse country like Nigeria, the opinion polls helped in building consensus on the requirements for credible elections. “The public perceptions established by the opinion polls and the reports of international and domestic observers in contributed in convincing the government to initiate the electoral reform process,” he remarked.
In the same vein, a post election survey conducted following the 2011 general elections was aimed at building a conducive environment for credible elections to take place in Nigeria.
According to the organizers, the objective of the survey was to use the public opinion polls to identify public priorities and consensus on reform issues and also to promote electoral reform as a necessary step for the development of conducive environment for credible elections in the country.
Yau explained that the opinion poll seeks to harvest people’s perceptions and levels of confidence of the electorate in the electoral system and the electoral management body (INEC) and the problem of voter apathy which stems from the lack of trust and confidence in the process.
“We are equally concerned by the problem of low participation of women as candidates in elections and the issue of violence and electoral fraud that has marred the credibility of past elections in Nigerian.
“Consequently, the findings of this survey will be used in consensus building around priority areas for reform, public awareness of electoral reform issues and pressure for better reform. This will add value in promoting participatory governance and deep rooted reforms that are vital in the context in which issues of reform are contentious,” he added.
For the preparation and conduct of the 2011 elections, ACE had conducted a telephone interview survey which was designed to introduce quick and timely inputs to the reform process. The telephone interview surveys were done in November 2009, January 2010 and June 2010 respectively. The June 2010 telephone survey assessed public acceptance of the reform conducted. The sample size of each telephone survey was 2000.
A face-to-face interview survey sampling assessment of the post-reform preparations for the conduct of 2011 elections, sampling 2000 respondents was conducted prior to the 2011 elections. The current survey provides a report card on the performance of the elections and areas for targeted improvements.