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Electioneering in Nigeria and the Burden of a Largely Illiterate Voting Population

This article was somewhat prompted by the tweet below:



To be honest, I had been thinking about the challenges faced by candidates outside the two main political parties of APC and PDP in electioneering in Nigeria. Particularly, I considered the challenges a man like Kingsley Moghalu faces in getting his message across. It gradually dawned on me that seasoned technocrats with political ambitions will struggle a lot in Nigeria. Such a struggle will not be primarily because of cash constraints or ethno-religious leanings of the candidate, but rather a struggle of being understood by the electorate.

To understand why people like Kingsley Moghalu will struggle (and also why Nigerian political campaigns have been mostly reduced to pedestrian chatter), one needs to understand that the majority of eligible voters in Nigeria are largely illiterate. I call this phenomenon the burden of an illiterate voting population.

How did I arrive at this sad conclusion? Well, I considered various data, primarily population data and education data as supplied by the National Population Commission (NPC) and Federal Ministry of Education. Particularly, the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey (NEDS) was very informative.

The NPC population forecast (based on the 2006 census) forcasts Nigeria’s total population as of 2016 to be slightly above 193 million. The exact age group breakdown is as shown below:



Now, the legal voting age in Nigeria is 18 years, but because the NPC data shows a 15-19 years age group, I only considered Nigerians from 20 years and above as eligible voters. With that in mind, the data shows that almost 92 million Nigerians, representing 48% of the population, as being eligible voters. For now, we will not consider registered voters, but assume these 92 million Nigerians can vote IF they so choose. The pie chart below depicts this data:




Next, we consider the level of education across Nigeria based on the NEDS survey. According to the NEDS survey, 37% of surveyed ADULTS had no schooling. See below:



The NEDS survey also shows that only 14% of 20-40 year olds, 19% of 41-60 year olds and 11% of 61+years old had education beyond secondary school. See below



The above data has a number of key implications:

  • Majority of eligible voters will not be found attending town hall meetings listening to seasoned technocrats like Mr. Moghalu.
  • Eligible voters will most likely have no idea why they should vote any candidate, outside of ethno-religious leanings. Topics like the economy, deregulation, re-structuring etc. will escape them.
  • The (educated) middleclass in Nigeria is actually wafer thin and do not have the electoral numbers to determine electoral victories in Nigeria.

So, when people in Nigeria actually believe there can be “robust” type discussions and campaigns of the sort that fetched Barack Obama his first term in office, I simply shake my head. How can a largely illiterate voting population have that sort of discussions?

Finally, most Nigerian politicians have understood the level of the electorate and have reduced political discussions to things like stomach infrastructure. It is definitely crude, but that is the current level of majority of eligible Nigerian voters.