By Tonnie Iredia

During last week’s governorship election in Anambra state, many concerned Nigerians held their breath for some days and could only heave a sigh of relief when a winner finally emerged. 

Some political analysts saw the outcome as a double triumph with the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, of the much respected Chukwuma Soludo the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) as the winner. But there were two immediate issues no one really cared about. 

The first was the complaint by Andy Uba, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC – the party in power at the federal level that he was rigged out. Although many may have,for sundry reasons perceived Uba’s complaint as that of a bad loser, we cannot in earnest dismiss it because anything can happen in a Nigerian election. 

It could in fact be that the APC was outrigged because Nigerian political parties and their candidates have no faith in our electoral process; rather, they spend ample time and resources seeking to win at all cost thereby subverting the rules of the game. 

The second issue that was probably overlooked despite its significance was what was described as an abysmally low voter turnout when compared with the official figure of registered voters for the election.

According to INEC, of the 2,466,638 registered voters in Anambra State, only 253,388 were accredited to vote last week Saturday. What this implies is that only 10 per cent of the registered voters in the state voted during the election. Put differently, only one in every ten registered voters in the state elected a new governor. 

If 90 percent of voters didn’t have a say in the election, wherein lies the often touted tenet of democracy as a game of numbers? Should the game of numbers not be a reference to the majority rather than whatever number manages to vote? 

While this is not our real concern today, it is important to establish that the transparent apathy of voters must not be misunderstood for lack of adequate sensitization on the importance of active participation of voters in elections.Indeed, many voters are fully aware of the merits ofparticipatory democracy.

The argument that the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB was responsible for last week’s low turnout is weighty but not completely correct. Listening to what prolific political scientist, Sam Egwu narrated on national television as his ordeal as the Supervising Resident Electoral Commissioner for the election, it is obvious that IPOB was one of the negative factors in the election. 

But the point cannot be overstressed because Anambra has never recorded any appreciable turnout in its elections since 1999, except the 2007 experience where the contest all through Nigeria was a charade.  IPOB or no IPOB, no governorship election in Anambra state has ever recorded up to 50 per cent of voter turnout.

In 2010, only 302,000 out of the 1.84 million registered voters in the state turned out to vote on election day. This transformsto some 16 per cent of voters. In 2013, the turnout which moved up to a mere 25 percent dropped to 22 percent in 2017. 

This trend of poor turnout is however not an Anambra affair. It has been the trend in many states across the country.In Edo, the governorship election which held in September 2020 recorded a mere 25 percent turnout. 

Ondo State which had slightly better results had been falling for some years. Her turnout of 38 percent in 2012 dropped to 35 percent in 2016 and further dropped to 32 percent in 2020. At federal level, the story has been the same with the last Presidential elections in 2019 recording 30 million out of about 84 million eligible voters which isa mere 35 percent. 

Even at local elections, results that are often collated from the governor’s bedroom, only feature the ruling parties winning all seats but very little is said of turnout. In cosmopolitan Lagos, local government election held in July this year was too low to report. It was from foremost election observer group, Yiaga Africa that we learnt of an incredible outcome of less than 20 percent.What this suggests is that Nigerians are increasingly losing interest in elections all over the country.

A number of analysts have enumerated several factors responsible for the trend. While some say many people deprecate the high degree of violence which attend to our elections, others say, the electoral process is too cumbersome adding that apart from the long hours spent at registration and voting centres there is also the display of partisanship by many state actors during elections. 

Anyone who has attempted to participate in any Nigerian election particularly, election observers who witness several malpractices can hardly controvert the conclusion. But the main contention of this piece is that there is a factor that is usually not mentioned while dealing with the subject of voter turnout in Nigeria. 

Except ample light is thrown on the factor, we shall continue to miss a vital point that calls for action. This over-riding factor is the tendency of our people to use inaccurate figures as a baseline for analysis.

Nigeria has never had a credible register of voters notwithstanding the numerous exercises over the years. In 1983, we reportedly had 65 million registered voters in Nigeria – a figure which in 1999, dropped to as low as 57 millionfor a country whose population ‘jumps’ every year. 

In 2003, INEC ledby Abel Guobadia revealed an expenditure of N45billion on a computerized registration of voters. Regrettably, the claim was refuted by its successor led by Maurice Iwu.  Since the era of Attahiru Jega till today, technology has greatly helped us to improve the register but the large number of unclaimed voters’ cards, queries the validity of 84million voters in real terms. 

If not, against what figure are we computing our voter turnout? What evidence is there that Nigeria hasanything near 84 million voters when its political class is always manufacturing figures? Is it not in the attempt to preserve imaginary figures that our federal legislators recently foughtand lost the battles of their lives against electronic transmission of election results?

In the 2015 election, President Goodluck Jonathan scored less than 13million votes, yet his Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria TAN had gathered as early as October 2014, a figure of 17million signatures of Nigerians allegedly beggingthe former President to seek reelection in 2015. 

Similarly, although the voters’ register for the 2019 elections had a figure of 84 million registered voters, the numerous support groups of President Muhammadu Buhari had pledged well over that figure of votes for his reelection during the campaigns. 

It is to attain imaginary figures such as these that we rubbish our voter turnout figures. The question is: whenever reference is made to voter turnout, which column do we record the numerous votes that are lost in centres that were set ablaze or those whose ballot boxes were snatched?

For Nigeria’s population figureto remainas an estimate for about three decades, defines our regard for accuracy. We also need to point out that there arecases where voter turnout is exaggerated with examples from Bayelsa and Adamawa governorship elections in 2012. 

In Bayelsa, the media and election observers were unanimous that the event was characterized by voters’ apathy. Yet, official results showed that many places recorded as high as 90% turnout. 

In Adamawa, INEC distributed 200 instead of 1000 ballot boxes in Thukudou/Sukufu/Zar wards of the state comprising 14 polling units. At the end of the day, there were results from the 1, 000 ballot boxes inclusive of those not distributed! 

Well, things appear changing for good, butwe urgently need to allow INEC’s current reforms to sanitize our electoral process.

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