Nigeria's upcoming elections are likely to be the most competitive in the country's history, with the parties running neck-and-neck and the outcome "too close to call", according to a major survey of public opinion published in Lagos on Tuesday.
The survey, carried out by Afrobarometer, the leading continent-wide researcher of African public opinion, portrays Nigerians as people who are deeply unhappy with the country's trajectory, who believe the government is performing badly, and who also distrust the electoral process.
But it nevertheless shows that they still believe elections are the best way of choosing leaders and that the vast majority say they will probably turn out to vote on February 14. While many are still scared of political intimidation and violence at the polls, those numbers are lower than they were two years ago.
At the time the survey was carried out in December, it showed that President Goodluck Jonathan's approval rating had dropped from 49 percent in 2012 to 40 percent last December.
Asked about their voting intentions, 42 percent of respondents chose the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), and 42 percent the principal challenger, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
When asked not who they would vote for, but who they expected to win, 40 percent said the PDP and 38 percent the APC. These figures are within the survey's margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percent.
The authors of the survey report released on Tuesday note that "the campaign environment is fluid and highly competitive," and conclude that "the race remains too close to call."
They add: "Support for the opposition is at the highest level recorded in any Afrobarometer survey, and at the least, the challengers are set to make their strongest showing since the restoration of multiparty elections in 1990."
In its major findings, the survey report records that three in every four Nigerians say the country is going in the wrong direction, four percentage points up from 2012.
Big majorities - between seven and eight of every 10 Nigerians - say the government has done badly in creating jobs, fighting corruption, managing the economy and providing a reliable supply of electricity. Sixty-seven percent say the economy is in bad shape, up from 57 percent in 2012. Just over half (51 percent) say the government has not been responsive in dealing with armed extremists.
But the vast majority of those surveyed - 77 percent - still believe in elections and 88 percent believe they are free to choose whom to vote for without feeling pressured. While fear of political intimidation or violence still runs at 50 percent, it is down from 65 percent in 2012.
Still, Nigerians are sceptical as to whether their votes will remove from office leaders who don't do what people want. Only 10 percent are confident this will happen, while 68 percent say elections do "not at all well" or "not very well" in removing unopoplar leaders.
Just under two-thirds do not know if the Independent National Electoral Commission is ready to hold credible free and fair elections; 18 percent say they are ready, and another 18 percent say they are not. Only seven percent have "a lot" of trust in the commission.
Across the country, between 73 and 85 of people in all regions will probably" or "almost certainly" vote. And across age groups, percentages ranging from 74 to 87 percent say the same thing. This is despite low levels of trust in political parties generally: 29 percent trust the PDP (the same as in 2012) while 31 percent trust in opposition parties (up from 24 percent in 2012).
Regional political divisions are clearly shown when voting intentions are broken down by party:
- South South: 65 percent will vote for the PDP; 20 percent for the APC
- South East: 61 percent PDP; four percent APC
- North Central: 45 percent PDP; 35 percent APC
- North West: 59 percent APC; 20 percent PDP
- South West: 46 percent APC; 19 percent PDP
- North East: 44 percent APC; 43 percent PDP
The Afrobarometer survey was carried out by Practical Sampling International, working with the Lagos-based CLEEN Foundation (formerly the Centre for Law Enforcement Education). The report was written by Nengak Daniel, programme manager for the CLEEN Foundation, Raphael Mbaegbu, programme officer for the foundation, and Peter Lewis, director of the African studies programme of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.