Introduction

Polls work the way democracy is supposed to work, they give everyone an equal chance to be heard…1Scott Keeter, “Public Opinion Polling Basics,” Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/course/public-opinion-polling-basics/

The reality is that there are a lot of errors that can accumulate in a single poll, . . . which can have enormous consequences within a polarized electorate.2Scott Keeter, “Public Opinion Polling Basics,” Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/course/public-opinion-polling-basics/

Although the sixth presidential election in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is scheduled for February 25, 2023, it can become a sideshow to apparent existential threats to Nigeria as a country and Nigerians themselves.3Ebenezer Obadare, “The Nigerian State Is the Greatest Threat to Nigerian Democracy,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 10, 2022, https://www.cfr.org/blog/nigerian-state-greatest-threat-nigerian-democracy Despite these ominous signs, campaigns by political parties have continued to feature familiar headaches.4Kabir Yusuf, “Key issues that will shape Nigeria’s 2023 elections – Report,” Premium Times, September 27, 2020, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/556316-key-issues-that-will-shape-nigerias-2023-elections-report.html?tztc=1 This essay examines new developments such as the phenomenon of pre-election polling and its implications for post-election violence.

A known cause of post-election protest is the violent expression of disappointment by supporters convinced that their candidates could only have lost due to rigging or electoral fraud. Recent instances in the United States of America on January 6, 2020, January 8, 2023, and historically in Nigeria in 1964/1965, 1983, and 2011 exemplify this phenomenon. In all these instances, the raison d’être of the spontaneous violence was that the outcome negated the expectation of the followers who were convinced that their preferred candidate was rigged out.

Pre-Election Polls on Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Race

As a feature of modern democracies, pre-election opinion polls are respected scientific tools provided they are free from intellectual bias and disguised partisanship, which is why there must be full disclosure of their sample, representativeness in terms of geographic and demographic spread, methods, instruments, and the margin of error provided in the final analysis. Therefore, it must be based on evidence and not on eminence.

Except for Rabiu Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), there are results of polls by eminent organizations predicting victory for the three other leading candidates. For instance, ANAP,5In the run up to the 2015 elections, ANAP predicted a slim victory for Mr. Goodluck Jonathan against Mr. Buhari which ended up being the reverse. Bloomberg, Stears, New Nextier, and Daily Trust have conducted pre-election polls predicting the victory of the Labour Party’s candidate, Mr. Peter Obi.6“For the third straight time, poll predicts Peter Obi winner of 2023 election,” Business Day, February 15, 2023, https://businessday.ng/paywall-free/article/for-the-third-straight-time-poll-predicts-peter-obi-winner-of-2023-election/ Pre-election polls by Fitsch Solutions and Country Risk Research as well as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicted victory for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC). Polls have also predicted the triumph of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Waziri Atiku Abubakar.7“Atiku projected to win 2023 presidential poll ― report,” Nigerian Tribune, February 13, 2023, https://tribuneonlineng.com/atiku-projected-to-win-2023-presidential-poll-%E2%80%95-report/; Murtala Adewale, “Shettima faults poll ranking Atiku to win 2023 poll,” The Guardian, December 28, 2022, https://guardian.ng/politics/shettima-faults-poll-ranking-atiku-to-win-2023-poll/ Already, results of pre-election polls have become contentious as the frontrunners8Kunle Daramola, “‘Intensely partisan’ — APC campaign rejects Nextier poll forecasting Obi as preferred candidate,” The Cable, February 6, 2023, https://www.thecable.ng/intensely-partisan-apc-campaign-rejects-nextier-poll-forecasting-obi-as-preferred-candidate; Ayodele Oluwafemi, “‘My supporters aren’t on social media’ — Kwankwaso rejects polls projecting Obi as likely winner,” The Cable, February 11, 2023, https://www.thecable.ng/my-supporters-arent-on-social-media-kwankwaso-rejects-polls-projecting-obi-as-likely-winner have rejected polls predicting the victory of candidates other than themselves.

Situating Pre-Election Polls Results in a Fractious Context: Need to Worry?

Looking toward an election in the period known as the most volatile in Nigeria’s history, what do multiple, contradictory, and contentious polls portend for the predictability of post-election violence after the 2023 presidential election?9Peter Moses, “Soyinka Backs Obasanjo, Says Nigeria Has Never Been So Divided,” Daily Trust, September 15, 2020, https://dailytrust.com/soyinka-backs-obasanjo-says-nigeria-has-never-been-so-divided/ Mindful of the fact that the 2011 election was “the best run and the most violent”10Dorina Bekoe, “Nigeria’s 2011 Elections: Best Run, but Most Violent,” United States Institute for Peace, August 19, 2011, https://www.usip.org/publications/2011/08/nigerias-2011-elections-best-run-most-violent based on lives and belongings lost, I posit that both active and latent causes of potential post-election violence in 2023 deserve attention.

Pertaining to the polls, some analysts have identified opacity and inadequacies in their methodologies and outcomes.11John Ayoade, “2023 Election: Prophets, Pollsters and Endorsers,” This Day, 2023, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2023/02/03/2023-election-prophets-pollsters-and-endorsers/; Chidi Amuta, “2023: Of Polls, Projections and Partisanship,” This Day, 2023, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2023/01/01/2023-of-polls-projections-and-partisanship/ As a product of elites and members of the intelligentsia, the potency of opinions expressed in these polls to stir post-election violence should not be casually dismissed especially when considering the plausibility of existing active violent groups across the country becoming sympathetic to any of the candidates.12Reno Omokri, “How IPOB Can Turn Things Around For The Southeast,” This Day, 2023, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2023/02/14/how-ipob-can-turn-things-around-for-the-southeast/ Also, disputes arising from the pre-election polls can interact akin to an adverse drug reaction, with thuggery, flagrant disregard for Peace Accord,13Zebulon Agomuo, “Dangerous vibes from politicians: Whither the peace accord?”, Business Day, October 21, 2022, https://businessday.ng/politics/article/dangerous-vibes-from-politicians-whither-the-peace-accord/ and the misuse of the press and social media for misinformation as already identified by INEC14Romanus Ugwu, “INEC lists insecurity, thuggery, social media as threats to 2023 elections,” The Sun, October 12, 2022, https://www.sunnewsonline.com/inec-lists-insecurity-thuggery-social-media-as-threats-to-2023-elections/ and other stakeholders, to ignite violence.15Toluwani Eniola, “How Influencers, Politicians Mislead Nigerians Ahead Of Elections,” Daily Trust, February 13, 2023, https://dailytrust.com/how-influencers-politicians-mislead-nigerians-ahead-of-elections/

Conclusion and Recommendations

Given the fragility of inter-group relations and the tense atmosphere within which the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria is being held, the polls might have inadvertently entered the list of predictors of post-election violence. They can be instrumentalized by election deniers to pose credibility questions that may mar the election outcomes for which necessary safeguards should be effectively put in place.

Therefore, to prevent party supporters from being used for such an untoward outcome, the National Peace Committee (NPC), INEC, development partners, and other non-partisan stakeholders in the polity should set standards for conducting pre-election polls. Such standards should include full disclosure of their funders and political leaning, methodology, sample, questionnaire, mode of interview, and, more importantly, weighting, that is, statistical adjustments for those that matter for the results, but were not reached during the polling.

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