Despite the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty before Saturday, Nov. 6 governorship election in Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria, voters came out to elect a new governor for the state.
After the main election and the supplementary election on Nov. 9, at Ihiala Local Government Area of the state where election was suspended earlier due to an unspecified security threat, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) returned Charles Soludo, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the winner of the election.
Soludo, who was the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), polled the most votes in 19 of the 21 local government areas of the state. He had a total of 112,229 votes.
His two closest rivals – Valentine Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had 53,807 votes and 43,285 votes respectively.
The 2021 off-cycle election, however, recorded the lowest turnout figures since the return to democracy in 1999 as only 10.27 per cent of the nearly 2.5 million registered voters turned out to elect their governor. .
This is a decline from the figures in the past three governorship elections in the state, which have still been low at 16 per cent in 2010, 24 per cent in 2013, and 22 per cent in 2017.
Insecurity contributed to low voters turnout – CDD
The independent election observation group, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) linked the low voters’ turnout in the state to the general insecurity in Southeast Nigeria, recalling that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) cancelled its sit-at-home order at the last-minute to election.
The sit-at-home order by the proscribed group was a protest against the arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu, its leader, by the Nigerian Government. Nigerians in the Southeast region who have defied the sit-at-home order have been attacked many times by members of the group.
CDD said the voters’ turnout was the “challenge of conducting elections in situations of high insecurity.”
“The militarisation of what ought to be a civic activity and the fears and uncertainty it generated among voters and even critical election stakeholders, undoubtedly contributed to low voter turnout,” the think tank said in its in post-election report released on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
In the build up to the election, the police deployed 14 Commissioners, 31 Deputy Commissioners, 48 Assistant Commissioners, and 34,587 police officers to the state. Other sister security agencies and the military also made significant deployments during the election.
The security situation in the Southeast and indeed many parts of the country is likely to have a profound effect on the future election, according to CDD.
“As we look ahead to the 2023 general elections, CDD is concerned that if Nigeria’s many conflicts are not resolved, the cost of conducting elections in troubled parts of the country, particularly northwest and southeast Nigeria, where non-state armed groups continue to enhance their capacity to threaten the state security, will place a huge financial burden on the country. But importantly threaten support for democracy,” the group said.
“While IPOB’s posturings and actions undoubtedly impacted the turnout rate, CDD’s pre-election engagements with stakeholders in the state found that many Anambrarians question the rationale for voting when doing so has yet to produce desired socio-economic benefits and democratic dividends. This is not peculiar to Anambra.”
Bad signal for 2023 general elections?
In addition, CDD said the Anambra governorship election experience is an indication of the difficulties that might affect the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
“The failure of the current democratic dispensation to cater to citizens’ socio-economic wellbeing and safety, expectations that politicians with the biggest purses can buy their way to public office, the prevalence of fake news and fears that the federal government will use federal might to subvert the will of the people all drove voter apathy,” CDD pointed out in the report.
It cautioned that the electoral body, INEC should extensively prepare and train officials before introducing and adapting technology for the conduct of elections.
“Glitches with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) raised important questions about the need for extensive preparation and training before adapting technology. But there was a noticeable improvement in the supplementary election in Ihiala Local Government Area (LGA) and overall the use of BVAS highlighted the benefits of integrating technology to prevent electoral malpractice.”
Late arrival of electoral materials has always been a recurring challenge in all the elections in the country, but CDD says INEC has to review its logistic formula ahead of the general elections in 2023.
“The late arrival of election materials and poll officials calls for a review of INEC’s current logistics template, particularly under the prevailing insecure conditions,” CDD advised.
The group urged INEC and other stakeholders to do all within their power to avoid inconclusive elections as “it dampens confidence in the transparency and credibility of elections.”
“We call on the federal government to take urgent measures to address worsening insecurity in the build-up to the 2023 elections, as this has clear implications on voter turnout. We urge INEC to swiftly address the hiccups with the BVAS and strengthen the infrastructure supporting the device.”
“There is a need for more investment of financial resources and time in tackling electoral disinformation. Use diverse and non-violent tactics to increase pressure on the government.”
“As part of promoting democratic accountability and presenting themselves as an alternative, Opposition parties are encouraged to monitor the activities of the elected; opposition could even present itself as a unified front working as a democratic opposition to monitor incumbents.”
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