• Sunday, September 24, 2023
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Widespread voter apathy in Saturday’s polls underpins citizens’ disconnect with governance


Aside from the violence and large-scale electoral fraud that characterised the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections, the polls also witnessed widespread voter apathy across the country.

A number of foreign observer missions to Nigeria for the 2019 general elections, including the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM), the Commonwealth Election Observation Mission, the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), among others, on Monday expressed misgivings over the conduct of last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections. The observer missions raised concerns about operational shortcomings on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), delays and malfunctioning of smart card readers in some parts of the country, reduced confidence in the electoral process, violence recorded during the elections, among others.

But there was also widespread voter apathy, which political analysts say arose out of voter intimidation and electoral violence, as well as the last-minute postponement of the election from February 16 to February 23.

Analysts say the poor voter turnout is a reflection of citizens’ discontent and disconnection with governance at all levels.

Though this comes with grave implications for the citizens, the truth remains that a large number of Nigerians are excluded from what is now termed ‘dividend of democracy’ as they have nothing to show as government presence or impact on either their lives or their businesses.

“Why should I waste my time to vote for somebody who will not, on getting into office, remember or think of me; somebody whose actions, programmes or policies will not have any direct impact on my life, those of family, or my business?” queried a young man, who chose to play football with numerous others on the election day, in response to a question posed by BusinessDay.

The young man, a businessman who introduced himself as Christian Ejiofor, may have spoken the minds of many other Nigerians, young or old. And this is at individual level.

Though the results of the presidential elections received so far show that the voter apathy cuts across many states of the federation, a closer look at the results also reveals that it is more pronounced in a certain section of the country, the South-East region.

Notwithstanding that Peter Obi, a South-Easterner, is a major stakeholder in the election as a vice presidential candidate on the platform of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), voter apathy was quite obvious in Anambra State, as reflected in the results of the polls in the state.

Out of 2.4 million registered voters in Anambra State, only 675,273 voters, less than 50 percent, came out to vote. A breakdown of the voters shows that 524,738 votes went to PDP while APC polled 33,298 votes. This figure, according to analysts, could have come from Onitsha alone, the state’s sprawling commercial capital.

The Anambra results are a big improvement on the results of the polls in Abia State where the total votes cast are less than 300,000. While PDP got 219,689 votes, APC polled 85,058 votes. Aba, the state’s commercial capital, could have given these votes recorded for the entire state.
“I share the view that many people, especially the South-Easterners, show apathy to electoral process in Nigeria for obvious reasons of being excluded in virtually every scheme in Nigeria, but it seems to me that majority of them do not even know the implication of voter apathy at a time like this,” noted Ayodeji Adediji, an ex-banker, in an interview with BusinessDay.

Adediji pointed out that bad people find their way into government because the ‘good’ ones refuse to come out to be part of the process that throws such bad people up.

“The only sure way to bring down an insensitive and oppressive government is through the ballot box; similarly, the way to get ‘good’ people into government is by supporting them when they join the fray,” he said.

Adediji noted that the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was failing in very important aspect of its duties, including voter education.
“It is only through voter education that negative mindsets such as we have seen can be changed,” he said.

Generally, when a government proves to be overtly bad, it undermines not only effective governance, but also the growth of the economy. And it becomes very bad when government policies and programmes fail to support private enterprise by making business environment challenging.

BusinessDay had, in an earlier report, noted that Nigeria might see worse days ahead if citizens failed to use the power of the ballot box to put an end to the prevailing hunger, widespread poverty, mounting unemployment and economic stagnation in the country.

It has been observed that many companies and industrial concerns have left the country in the last three years for what experts attribute to “government’s anti-business stance” that does not support growth in both the services and productive sectors of the economy. The fear is that these developments might increase in tempo if the status quo persists and, for the real estate sector, this has grave implications as the sector, at the moment, is struggling.

“The implication of these developments for the property market is that the high vacancy situation in the market will become worse; more buildings will be empty and that will affect their market value,” Roland Igbinoba, president/CEO, Pison Housing Company, affirmed in a telephone interview.

“The upper residential market will suffer the same fate because it is only the corporates and expatriates that rent houses in that segment of the market,” Igbinoba said.

He added that even retail market would continue to struggle because of the drop in consumer purchasing power which is currently affecting that space.