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1.1     Background to the Study

Elections have generally been acknowledged as a cardinal pillar of a democratic political system (Bratton 1998; Schedler 2002; Diamond 2008; Lindberg 2009a, 2009b, 2009c; Omotola 2010a). This is particularly the case where elections satisfy acceptable democratic standards, or, better still, what Lindberg (2004, 2006) calls the ‘democratic qualities of elections’, namely competition, participation and legitimacy and also brings about development. Elections that fall short of these standards can only serve to undermine the consolidation of democracy. Electoral participation is one of the important indicators of the democratic quality of elections. In addition, Electoral participation is considered a prime criterion for defining democratic citizenship and the role of citizens in the political process (Dalton 2006). However, given that electoral participation is, in itself, multifaceted, including, among other things, membership of a political party, involvement in political campaigns, contributions to political debates, funding political activities, contesting elections.

Apart from its qualification as the most important form of Electoral participation, voter turnout has also been seen as an important indicator of the state of health of any democracy, old or new, consolidated or in transition, where a high turnout is usually associated with a healthy democracy and a low one with an unhealthy one (Kuenzi & Lambright 2007; Freitag 2010). More specifically, the article explores voter turnout in Nigeria’s 2011 general elections and the factors underlying it. Without any doubt, this is a daunting challenge. How do we, for example, measure the level and quality of participation, using voter turnout as the core indicator? Moreover, in a country characterized by a high degree of pluralism, where ethno-regional-cum-ethnic and religious identities often take center stage in matters of national significance, including presidential elections, in what ways, if any, do such forces of identity influence the spatial distribution of voter turnout? This is a question that relates to the autonomy of citizens ‘in being sufficiently informed about government to exercise a participatory role’ (Dalton 2006, p 2) without undue external influence. While the comparative literature suggests some measures, critical questions abound, especially in elections characterized by fraud and violence, where results are frequently contested by opposition parties and, in a few cases, altered or annulled altogether by the election tribunal/court. The situation is worse in cases where voter registers, upon which voting and the computation of voter turnout are predicated, are far from accurate. Such incidents were a recurring characteristic of Nigeria’s elections between 1999 and 2007 (Omotola 2010a). It is important that we engage with this largely neglected aspect of Nigeria’s elections to ascertain the form and character of participation.

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