In terms of wealth, Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos, is the richest state in the country. Also arguably the most populous, Lagos is prided to have a burgeoning educated population and is considered Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan city.
But all these do not translate to civic responsiveness for the state’s residents as data has shown that an overwhelming majority of eligible voters among Lagosians, as people who live in Lagos are often called, have a penchant for boycotting elections.
A state-by-state breakdown of the election turnout in the last two general elections in the country shows that Lagos sat afoot the ranking on both occasions.
The state had back-to-back lowest voters’ turnout in the 2015 and 2019 elections.
In 2015, voters’ turnout in the state was 29 per cent. By 2019, it fell to 17.25 per cent.
On the other hand, voters in poorer states like Jigawa, Sokoto and Katsina States had 55.7, 50.3 and 50.7 per cent turnout respectively in the last election.
Election apathy is being watered by the country’s existing legislative framework for elections, the executive director of Yiaga Africa, a not-for-profit civic organization, Samson Itodo, said.
“You can only vote where you registered. That makes it difficult for people to transfer their registration from one place to another. We need to get to a point where people can vote anywhere they are,” he noted.
Since 1999, one party (in various forms) has run Lagos State and has won virtually all local, state and federal elections in the state.
The All Progressives Congress (APC), and its predecessors, has had a tight grip on the state and it has shrugged off every opposition in the state’s elections in the last two decades. All governors of the state since 1999 have been members of the APC or the party that morphed into the APC after repeatedly changing its name (AD, AC, ACN before APC).
All incumbent senators from the state are members of the APC. All but three of the state’s 24 federal House of Representatives members are from the APC.
The non-APC federal legislators from Lagos are Tajudeen Obasa of Ojo federal constituency; Olatunji Soyinka of Surulere II federal constituency; and Ajokpa Oghene of Amuwo/Odofin federal constituency – all of whom are members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the APC’s main opposition.
For the first time since 1999, the 40 state assembly members elected in 2019 are all members of the All Progressives Congress.
Could people be boycotting the elections in Lagos because of the one-party system it runs, especially because there are no strong opposition parties?
The coordinator of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Chido Onumah, says it is a contributory factor.
“There is a level of cynicism, rightly so, that the votes of Lagosians do not count. They believe that no matter what they do, it is the candidate of not just the ruling party but the godfather of Lagos politics, Bola Tinubu, that will be declared (the) winner,” Mr Onumah said.
To this, a member of the APC and the Lagos state chapter chairman of the Yoruba Afenifere Youth Organization of Nigeria (YAYON), Sodiq Onifade, disagreed. He said boycotting elections because a party holds sway is “not a genuine reason.”
“Because previously some states were operating one-party system before the APC overtook the mantle of leadership in those respective states,” he noted.
The constant apathy towards voting in Lagos State was again reflected in the legislative by-elections held last month.
Of the 1,168,790 registered voters in the Lagos East senatorial district, only 104,405 voted, according to INEC – about nine per cent attendance rate. Or, simply put, only nine in every 100 registered voters voted.
Comparatively, that was the poorest return of all the 11 states where by-elections were held.
Mr Onumah said the trend should concern anyone who wants to understand why democracy is not flourishing in Nigeria, especially in Lagos, which has a relatively higher population of enlightened citizens.
“There is mistrust on the part of citizens and a deliberate attempt on the part of the dominant ruling class in the state to constrict the right of citizens to choose who governs them,” he noted.
Winning with a 9 per cent attendance rate implies that the APC’s popularity in the state is only among a few eligible electorates.
Analysts believe that for more political competitiveness and to make the state a multi-party state, opposition parties would need to identify those that are not voting and convince them to vote.
Mr Onifade agreed too, but he doubts his party can be unseated in Lagos just yet.
“They (opposition parties) have tried that several times,” he said, adding that “the problem is that there are some disgruntled elements within the party (APC).”
Match up in December 2020 by-elections
In North-east Bauchi, the House of Assembly by-election that was conducted in Dass federal constituency returned a 41.9 per cent voter turnout. Of the 58,112 total registered voters, 24,376 votes were cast.
In the Bayelsa Central Central Senatorial District election, the turnout was 33.9 per cent as 141,392 votes were cast out of the 417,408 registered voters.
The turnout was higher in the Bayelsa West Senatorial by-election of the south-south state, which was won by the immediate past governor, Seriake Dickson. Of the 234,609 registered voters, 133,503 valid votes were cast, making 56.9 per cent turnout.
By-elections were held in two state constituencies in Borno, and despite the threat of insurgency both had better turnouts than Lagos.
While the Bayo constituency by-election had 38.1 per cent turnout, the Nganzai constituency by-election had about 26.7 per cent voter turnout.
Although the Enugu State Assembly by-election for the Isi-Uzo state constituency recorded a low 19.4 per cent voter turnout, it was still higher than the figure from Lagos.
Turnout in the Bakori LGA State House of Assembly by-election was 27.2 per cent.
In the Plateau South senatorial district by-election, the turnout was about 23.6 per cent with 157,803 total votes recorded as against the 667,424 registered voters in the district.
Even in the Kogi State Ibaji State House of Assembly by-election which had a low turnout of 19.4 per cent, it fared better than Lagos State’s turnout of 9 per cent.
Likewise, the Bakura constituency in Zamfara State by-election recorded a turnout of 44.6 per cent with 40,809 votes cast from the 91,480 total registered voters.
Repeated efforts to get a comment from the APC hierarchy in Lagos were unsuccessful. Lanre Ogunyemi, APC Lagos spokesman, and Joe Igbokwe, a vocal chieftain of the party and its former spokesperson, both declined to comment after several attempts through calls, text, WhatsApp and Facebook messages.
Mr Itodo said at the heart of the disinterest towards elections in Nigeria is the failure of the political leadership to deliver on their electoral promises, largely due to ideological blankness of the nation’s political parties.
Some residents in the state who said they do not vote affirmed this.
Olowolagba Tobi, 25, said he did not vote in 2019 and he does not have the intent to even do so anytime soon “because we are tired of fake promises.”
He said he won’t change his mind until “I know the essence of doing so.”
Mr Itodo said as a way out, “we need to raise the bar of public leadership. Political leadership should not be based on sycophancy. We need to ensure party reforms and leadership inclusiveness.”
Mr Onumah said voter apathy is part of the general structural malaise in Nigeria which can be solved through the devolution of power to states and local governments. He urged more young people to get involved in the electoral process.
“We can make progress if more young people get involved in the political process, both in terms of running for office and voting during elections,” he said.
“They are the only ones to end this hegemony. They should translate the gains of #EndSARS, the ability to mobilise, etc., to the political arena.
“There is the other issue of not letting politicians use them to rig or disrupt elections. This of course is a challenge because many young people have been pauperized by the state and the political elite that they are now at the mercy of politicians,” Mr Onumah added.
Mr Itodo noted that while it was key to create more polling units due to obsolescence of the existing ones, it is equally important to update the voter’s register to capture the current status of the electorate.
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