November 25, 2021

Anambra’s poll turnout: Ndigbo must show more enthusiasm for politics

Bola Tinubu

By Olu Fasan

EVERYONE who values technocratic competence and visionary leadership must rejoice that Professor Charles Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, won the Anambra State governorship election on November 6.

Professor Soludo is one of Nigeria’s brightest and best, a first-class economist and a great reform leader. So, I heartily congratulate him on his victory.

Yet, it’s sad, one must say, that the shine was somewhat taken off the well-deserved victory by the dismally low turnout in the election. Professor Soludo was being hyperbolic when he said in his acceptance speech that his election was “an overwhelming sacred mandate of the people”. Well, sacred it is, but overwhelming it is not!

In a piece titled “People versus politicians”, the veteran journalist and columnist Dan Agbese analysed the Anambra poll thus: “The state has 2,466,638 registered voters; 253,388 of them were accredited for the election. But Soludo won with a total of 112,229 votes to take home the ultimate political trophy in the state”, he wrote, adding pungently: “You would think it was a village council election”.

Indeed! You would think it was a village council election, wouldn’t you? I mean, how could someone be elected executive governor of a state with 112,229 votes out of 2,466,638 registered voters, a measly 4.5 percent, with a miniscule ten per cent turnout? Of course, under Nigeria’s Constitution, Soludo was, warts and all, duly elected governor of Anambra State.

Section 179 (2) of the Constitution states: “A candidate for an election to the office of governor of a State shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidates – (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state”.

So, under the Constitution, what only counts is the “highest number of votes cast”, not the turnout. Thus, under Nigeria’s first-past-the-post system, a candidate can secure just 50,000 votes, or even fewer, and become a state governor provided that’s the “highest number of votes cast at the election”!

But if all that matters is the highest number of votes cast, regardless of the turnout, and if there’s no concrete effort to educate, mobilise and get out the voters, we will continue to witness abysmally low voter turnouts, entrenched and widespread voter apathy. That will undermine the electoral system and erode the legitimacy of the democratic process, with the bond between the people and the politicians becoming increasingly fractured.

To be sure, voter apathy is a worldwide phenomenon. But Nigeria is one of the worst countries where voter turnouts are woefully low, where most of the voting age population, and, indeed, registered voters, don’t vote.

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In a brilliant scholarly paper on voter turnouts in presidential elections in Nigeria, Olalekan Adigun from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, found that, in 2015, only 43.65 per cent of registered voters and 32 per cent of the voting age population voted; in 2019, it was 34.75 per cent of registered voters and 26.87 ofthe voting age population!

Several factors are universally acknowledged as causing poor voter turnouts. These include election violence and voter intimidation; militarisation of elections; dislike of candidates and/or their parties; failure to mobilise and get out the voters; disillusionment and lack of trust in the electoral system and in government; and poor organisation by the electoral body. All these factors heavily militate against voter participation in Nigeria’s elections.

Thankfully, the Anambra poll defied the apocalyptic predictions of violence. But all the above factors, notably fear of violence,played out in the election. Yet, nothing can justify the fact that only ten per cent, one in ten, of the registered voters actuallyvoted in the election. That’s the height of voter apathy and an utter failure of politics!

But there’s a deeper dimension to the abysmal turnout in the Anambra state election: Ndigbo’s seeming lack of interest in politics. Although voter turnouts are generally low in Nigeria, they are particularly low in the South-East. Even in 2019, when an Igbo, Dr. Peter Obi, was the presidential running-mate in one of the two leading parties, the PDP, the turnout in the South-East was 26 per cent, the lowest among the six geo-political zones.

Arguably, the stakes were high, and the prize savoury, for Ndigbo in the 2019 election. For if PDP had won, with Obi as Nigeria’s vice president, the Igbo would have been in a pole position to produce president in 2023, given that Atiku Abubakar, PDP’s presidential candidate, vowed to serve only one term in office. But, alas, with 26 per cent turnout, the South-East barely voted in that election!

Last year, in a speech at the sixth World Igbo Summit, Dr. Pius Anyim, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said the South-East had the least voter turnout, warning that this must change if the Igbo must produce president in 2023.

“Some have even posited that the Igbos should limit their interest to commercial and entrepreneurial concern,” Anyim said. While admitting these are Ndigbo’s “areas of famed comparative advantage”, he said they’re “political animal” too!

Yet, the perception persists that the rank and file of Ndigbo are not interested in politics; that they are keener on trading activities – their natural endowment. Of course, some, led by Nnamdi Kanu, want secession. But these are not the mindsets of people who want national political power.

I’m a strong advocate for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023 and that won’t change. But it’s unhelpful if the Igbo themselves are not enthused by politics. Surely, Ndigbo can’t just be commercially astute people; they must, deservedly, want to run Nigeria. Yet, that won’t happen if they lack enthusiasm for politics as their perennial abysmal turnouts at elections, sadly, suggest!

Vanguard News Nigeria