Residents of Anambra State, on Saturday morning, commenced voting to elect the next governor of the state.
There are over 2.5 million registered voters in the state while 18 political parties are taking part in the election. The state, with over four million residents, consists of 21 local government areas.
There are about 5,720 Polling Units (PUs) across the state but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said there would be no voting in 86 PUs because there are no voters there.
Although there are 18 candidates for the election, three of them are considered major contenders. These are Charles Soludo of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Valentine Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Although there are over 2.5 million registered voters in the state, observers say the voters’ turnout will be low.
Both the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) and Yiaga Africa have predicted low voters’ turnout in Saturday’s election.
A similar prediction was made, after a survey, by SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical research firm. The survey revealed that over 60 per cent of registered voters have decided not to participate in the election. Reasons given by some of the respondents include insecurity and lack of trust in the electoral system.
Findings by PREMIUM TIMES, however, show that Anambra has a history of low voter turnout for its governorship elections.
Voter apathy, a pattern
Since 1999, elections in Anambra State have been marred by low voters’ turnout.
Governorship elections in the state have never witnessed up to 50 per cent of voter turnout – except in the 2007 election which was characterised by allegations of massive rigging.
Of the 1.84 million registered voters in the state in 2010, only 302,000 turned out to vote on election day. This translates to about 16 per cent of voters.
Similarly, in 2013, only 465,891 of the total 1,770,127 registered voters actually went out to vote on election day – translating to about 25 per cent.
And in the 2017 election, less than a quarter of the total number of registered voters actually participated in the polls. The electoral umpire had said of the 2,064,134 residents registered as eligible voters for the election, only 457, 511 – about 22.16 per cent, actually came out on Election Day to be accredited.
However, not all the 457,511 accredited people actually cast their votes. The INEC figure revealed that only 21.74 per cent of the registered voters (448,771) actually cast their votes.
Possible reasons for the low turnout
Insecurity/ IPOB threat
Just as it played out in previous elections, threats from the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), a secession group, put fears in the minds of residents.
IPOB is calling for the breakaway of the Igbos from Nigeria to form an independent Biafra. The group has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian government.
In the previous election, the secessionist group had claimed credit for the low voter turnout across the state.
Until two days ago, the group, which had used force to enforce its earlier sit-at-home protests in the South-east, had declared a sit-at-home in Anambra urging residents not to take part in the November 6 governorship election in the state.
The sit-at-home, which had been condemned by many, was meant to commence on Friday, a day to the election.
Although it later cancelled the one-week sit-at-home, residents still fear possible attacks during the election. PREMIUM TIMES also reported how roads and shops were deserted on Friday, a day to the election.
About 54 per cent of the respondents in the SBM Intelligence survey said they would not vote because of IPOB.
Lack of trust:
Residents’ hopelessness or lack of trust of eligible voters in the electoral system as well as the government has also proven to be a contributing factor to the voters’ turnout.
About 26 per cent of respondents in the survey gave a lack of faith in the electoral process as their reason for not voting.
Other electoral offences:
Elections in Nigeria have also witnessed cases of violence including ballot box snatching.
The remaining 15 per cent of respondents in the SBM survey blamed their decision to stay away from the polls on the possibility of such violence.
These fears exist despite assurances of a peaceful election from both INEC and security agencies.
The implication of voter apathy in elections like this could give room for election malpractice, a CDD report says.
“The high voter abstention rates mean that instances of election malpractice such as vote-buying or rigging — which have proven impossible to eradicate in Nigerian elections — will have an even more dramatic impact on the final outcome.
“Also, the heightened possibility of low voter turnout risks weakening the mandate of Anambra’s next governor, given the likelihood that he will be elected by only a fraction of the entire voting population.
“Such a circumstance will serve to increase the already high degree of alienation a substantial proportion of citizens feel towards the state, as indicated in the emergence of non-state armed groups such as IPOB and the ‘unknown gunmen,” the report read.
The report also says that voter apathy would likely also serve to reinforce the argument repeatedly advanced by groups such as IPOB that the Nigerian electoral system is fundamentally flawed.
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