BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA
The Presidential and National Assembly elections of February 25, 2023 have come but reactions continue to trail the announcement of the All Progressives Congress standard bearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as the winner.
While the main opposition parties and their candidates have rejected the outcome of the polls as a sham and have gone to court to reclaim what they termed as their mandate, a pall of apathy looms large over the March 11, governorship and state assembly elections. The all-pervading enthusiasm that preceded the February 25 election seems to have evaporated and waned considerably across the land. It is now feared that the next round of elections may be badly marred by low voters’ turnout.
Some voters have gone on social media to announce that they have destroyed their voter cards, some vowed not to have anything to do with March 11 and subsequent elections in Nigeria because they consider it a waste of time, resources and energy. However, the presidential candidates across board have embarked on massive campaigns, appealing to their supporters to turn out en-masse to vote for their candidates, especially the governorship candidates of their parties. Even with the appeal, there are still indications that the election may witness low turnout.
“ME, GO AND DO WHAT AT THE POLLING UNIT? IF I HAVE NOTHING TO DO, I WILL SIT IN MY HOUSE AND WATCH FILMS. WHETHER I VOTE OR NOT, INEC AND THESE GOVERNORS HAVE ALREADY WRITTEN THE RESULTS FOR WHO THEY WANT TO BE THE GOVERNOR. SO THEY DON’T NEED OUR VOTES. EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IS WHAT THEY WILL DO THAT DAY. SO, WHY WASTE MY TIME?”
People, especially the youths, are said to be aggrieved because the results of the last exercise as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission did not tally with their expectations. The elderly and Nigerians of other classes, in showing resentment to the outcome of the presidential and national assembly elections, tend to hold that INEC cannot conduct free, fair and transparent elections.
In 2015, after President Muhammadu Buhari emerged victorious in one of Nigeria’s most bitterly contested presidential elections, the country erupted in wild jubilation and celebration as voters were eagerly looking forward to the gubernatorial and state house of assembly elections. His emergence was captivating such that the then 72-year-old for mer military leader stormed ahead as the final ballots were counted, ending an election which saw tens of millions of Nigerians turn out for the closest political contest that Africa’s biggest economy has ever seen.
His APC gained 15.4 million votes as against 13.3 million for President Goodluck Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party which was in power. Comparatively, the wild jubilation that was expected to greet the victory of the APC in the justconcluded presidential election has yet to happen. This, according to social commentators, was because the general perception was in a different direction.
Arguably, this year’s presidential election was fought more along ethnic and religious lines with disillusioned young people on the one side. It was therefore not difficult to situate the fact that the President-elect emerged with the smallest popular vote since 1999. It leaves political observers with the herculean task of trying to explain how Africa’s largest economy with the largest population can elect a president with less than 9 million votes.
By INEC pronouncement, Tinubu got 8.79 million representing 36 percent of the vote. His main rival, Atiku Abubakar, polled 6,984,520 votes or 29 percent and Labour Party’s Peter Obi got 6,101,533 or 25 percent. In the 1979 Nigerian presidential election, Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria won with 5.68 million votes. There was a progression four years later in 1983 when Shagari won re-election with 12.08 million votes. In the 1999 election Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP was elected with 18.7 million votes, in 2003 Obasanjo was again re-elected with 24.5 million votes.
In 2007, Umar Musa Yar’Adua of the PDP was elected with 24.6 million votes. Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, a Vice President to Yar’Adua, who took over after his death, was elected President in 2011 with 22.5 million votes, almost twice the number of the second place finisher, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari himself was then elected in 2015 under the banner of the APC with 15,424,921 votes and Jonathan’s PDP got 12,853,162 votes. In 2019, Buhari’s APC garnered 15.2 million votes.
Over 87 million people are eligible to vote in the forthcoming gubernatorial election but with the low voting number despite the high turnout in the just concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections, it is clear that the turnout has been getting progressively lower. The argument on the street is that the performance of INEC will adversely affect the gubernatorial and state assembly election.
A group of angry protesters did not only denounce the Commission outside the national collation centre in the capital, Abuja, but declared that with INEC the conduct of the gubernatorial and state assembly election is a wild goose chase. European Union observers said the electoral body’s poor planning and communication undermined trust in the process. With trust lacking, the possibility of recording a large turnout for the March 11 gubernatorial and state assembly election is in doubt.
It has been argued in some quarters that the fear of voters’ apathy has compelled some governors to begin early mending of fences with those they saw as hardcore opposition during the February 25 polls. For instance, the governors of Lagos State and Rivers State have allegedly extended dinner invites to the captains of Igbo business men and women in their states. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State recently invited the representatives of Ndi Igbo business men and women to the meeting cum dinner in what was seen as a conciliatory step to plead with them to support him after the outcome of the presidential poll which Peter Obi, of Labour Party won in the state.
This was also the step taken by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, even though he is not contesting for any elective position, he has been working tirelessly to install his successor. Political analyst and lawyer, Ezra Enwere, said the two governors’ decision to meet with the Igbo people in their states was a good and wise step that can avert an impending political doom.
“There is wisdom in what the two governors did by inviting those they felt could contribute to their victory at the polls. In politics there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies; it’s all about permanent interest. So I commend them but let’s see how it pans out,” he noted. Many Nigerians had looked to the election to put the country back on track after eight years of President Buhari.
Following several repeated promises by the INEC chairman that the commission was prepared to conduct elections devoid of flaws, there was a mad rush by the youth, women and men who never bothered themselves with participation in Nigeria elections in the past, to go for registration in the hope that for once they would vote and their votes would count.
The time of permanent voter cards collection was like a beehive. The locations where the cards were designated for collection were flooded by the enthusiastic youths eager to vote in the election, most of whom are first timers. A disappointed youth, Dankan Joseph lamented, “Everybody was expecting a free and fair election. But it’s obviously been rigged. What happened last time is happening again,” he said, referring to previous elections that were tainted by allegations of vote rigging.
The youth who disclosed that the experience of the last election has confirmed his earlier belief that Nigeria can never conduct a free, fair, transparent and credible election and vowed not to participate in any election in the future, also accused the INEC of writing results before the election.
“IN KANO, PEOPLE WILL TROOP OUT IN THEIR NUMBERS TO VOTE. THE GOVERNORSHIP ELECTION IS MORE IMPORTANT TO US THAN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. DEFINITELY, WE WILL COME OUT TO VOTE TO DECIDE OUR NEXT GOVERNOR, INSHA ALLAH”
“There will not be any difference. They have already written the results. INEC knows the governors the same way they knew that the APC candidate had won before the day we voted. I don’t have time to waste, it’s enough with their deceit. I can’t spend my money travelling to Jos to vote and at the end they will announce their choice not our choice,” he said. In a telephone conversation, Abdullahi Gafar, a Kano resident, expressed fears over the forthcoming elections in the state. He said the state will certainly be a fierce battle ground if the activities of the gladiators in the last presidential election are to be used as yardstick. “The question right now is how the election will be here in Kano.
You know we have gladiators like the incumbent governor, the two former governors. They all want to determine who will be the next governor and they are in different political parties. Kwankwaso won a landslide in the presidential election and also got some seats in the National Assembly. He will do everything to consolidate by winning the governorship. The incumbent also wants to decide his successor. All these will heat up the state.” He said if there will be voter apathy, Kano State will not witness it.
“In Kano, people will troop out in their numbers to vote. The governorship election is more important to us than the presidential election. Definitely, we will come out to vote to decide our next governor Insha Allah, our choice will win,” he said. Recall that African Union observers noted “isolated incidents of violence” in the presidential election.
Kano, Lagos, Imo, Rivers were flashpoints. In the March 11 elections there are indications that these states might be tenser than what they were on February 25. Jude Giddom, a Port Harcourtbased businessman, told The Point in an interview that he has no business going to the polling unit for any reason. His grouse is that “elections are won without people’s votes.” “Me, go and do what at the polling unit? If I have nothing to do, I will sit in my house and watch films. Whether I vote or not, INEC and these governors have already written the results for who they want to be the governor. So they don’t need our votes. Exactly what happened during the presidential election is what they will do that day. So, why waste my time?” he said.
However, the national chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, has joined his presidential candidate, Peter Obi, in appealing to the party’s loyalists nationwide to troop out in their hundreds of thousands in their various states to cast their votes for the party’s governorship and House of assembly candidates.
“I am asking our Obedient movement not to be dismayed. You should troop out and vote for our candidates. We cannot afford to shun the governorship and state house of assembly election. While we work towards reclaiming our mandate, we must keep our eyes open and make sure we protect our votes,” he said. Residents of the Federal Capital Territory also said they have no role to play in Saturday’s election.
They will go about their businesses since there is no governorship candidate. But they are concerned and worried about the outcome. Oluwole Olusola, an FCT resident, said his desire is that the governors should allow voters to exercise their constitutional rights by voting for the candidates of their choice without molestation in the states. “I seriously envisage voters’ apathy in the states.
Since people are not happy with INEC over the presidential election there is the possibility of recording scanty turnout. But I am worried that shunning the election can only encourage rigging the most. So my advice is that the people should put behind them the outcome of February 25 polls and look forward to the forthcoming elections of governorship and House of Assembly members this coming Saturday.” Governorship elections will be held in 26 states. Eight states will not participate because of the off cycle election held in those states.
They include Kogi, Bayelsa, Imo, Edo, Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun. But the state house of assembly will hold in all the states. Governors who lost the presidential elections to other political parties as sitting governors will mostly be under pressure using the outcome of the election as a wakeup call.
They will do everything possible to reclaim the state in the governorship election. Such states like Nasarawa, Kaduna, Plateau, Katsina, Kano, Lagos, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Rivers, Oyo and many others will be the concentration of interest. The LP which has no governor but did extremely well in the presidential election by winning in some states will go all out to make sure victory is theirs in some states.