Anambra’s poll: Soludo’s victory and the damper of voter apathy
Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), won a well-deserved victory in the Anambra State governorship election held on November 6 this year. The victory is well deserved because Professor Soludo is one of Nigeria’s brightest and best. A first class economics graduate and scholar, he is also a great reform leader, whose time as CBN governor was marked by transformational reform and change, notably the bold and far-reaching banking consolidation exercise. Anyone who values technocratic competence and visionary leadership must rejoice that Professor Soludo will be the next governor of Anambra State. And I congratulate him on his victory!
That said, one must also add, with some sadness,that the shine was somewhat taken off Soludo’s well-deserved victory by the dismally low turnout in the election. Professor Soludo was hyperbolic when he said in his acceptance speech that his election was “an overwhelming sacred mandate of the people”. Well, sacred the mandate is – every electoral mandate is sacred – but overwhelming itis not!One can hardly describe an election won on a miniscule 10% turnout and with 4.5% of the registered voters as an overwhelming mandate.
The veteran journalist and columnist Dan Agbese put it pungently in a piece titled “People versus politicians” (The Guardian, November 12, 2021). He analysed the outcome of the Anambra governorship 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.Then he added the stinger: “You would think it was a village council election”.
Truth is, Agbese was right. You would think it was a village council election, wouldn’t you? I mean, how could a state have 2,466,638 registered votersand someone is elected executive governor of the state with 112,229 votes? That’s just about 4.5% of the registered voters!
Of course, none of the above detracts from the fact that Professor Soludo won the Anambra State gubernatorial election. 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”.
Clearly, as the Constitution makes clear, what only counts in becoming a state governor isthe “highest number of votes cast”, not the turnout. Thus, under Nigeria’s Constitution and the 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”!
Yet, that’s problematic from the perspectives of a healthy democracy. For if all that matters in elections 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, as well as 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.
Of course, 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.
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 of the voting age population! The turnout in 2019 was the lowest in the recent history of this country.
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, and, although the Anambra poll defied the apocalyptic predictions of violence, it, too, was dogged by those militating factors.
Take the fear of violence. The sit-at-home order issued by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), though later withdrawn, loomed large over the election. Intra-party conflicts, with lawsuits and countersuits, certainly increased people’s dislike of the candidates and their parties, which, in any case, failed woefully to mobilise and get out the voters. Then on election day, there was excessive deployment of military and paramilitary personnel to the state, often a major disincentive to voter turnouts. And, despite the overall commendation effort of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there were significant hitches, such as the malfunctioning of the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS), which failed to recognise voters’ faces and fingerprints, and the late arrival of INEC officials and election materials, which caused disruptions in terms of accreditation and voting.
So, the Anambra State governorship election was beset by the usual factors that cause poor voter turnouts. Yet, nothing can justify the fact that only ten per cent, one in ten, of the registered voters actually voted in the election. That’s the height of voter apathy and an utter failure of politics!
Yet, there is a deeper dimension to the abysmal turnout in the Anambra state election that cannot be overlooked or ignored because of its wider political implications. That’s the South-East’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.
Last year, Dr Pius Anyim, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, made the same point in a speech at the sixth World Igbo Summit. He said the South-East had the least voter turnout among the geopolitical zones andwarned that this must change if the Igbo wanted to produce president in 2023. Dr Anyimsaid people were already asking about the Igbo’s interest: Is it secession or the presidency in 2023? “Some have even posited that the Igbos should limit their interest to commercial and entrepreneurial concern”, Anyim said. He admitted these are Ndigbo’s “areas of famed comparative advantage”, but said the Igbo are “political animal” too!
Unfortunately, perception matters. And the general perception is 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.
To be sure, the Igbo are commercially astute and entrepreneurial people. But, for relevance, they mustwant to run Nigeria too. Yet, if the Igbo want to govern Nigeria, they must be enthused by politics; they must engage with the electoral process. Sadly, it’s voter apathy among the Igbo in Anambra State that put a damper on Professor Soludo’s otherwise well-deserved victory. But if they want the presidency, they can’t be the zone with the least voter turnout in Nigeria. Ndigbo must end its voter apathy!